Kenyan activist and Africa representative in the KAV in Frankfurt, Virginia Wangari Greiner, has stirred up a discussion in the state of Hesse that few are ready to have.
In an application titled, “No racism in the landscape of Frankfurt”, Ms. Greiner through the Municipal Immigration and Foreign Nationals Representation(Kommunalen Ausländer- und Ausländerinnenvertretung (KAV)) requested for the city council assembly to support the demand to rename two pharmacies in Frankfurt using brand names with racist connotation. The request demands the removal of the two names and logos, namely: “Mohren-Apotheke” and “Apotheke zum Mohren“.
Although the words “Mohr” and “Neger” have traditionally been used in Germany as brand names, many people continue to use them today without any understanding of their historical significance and the racist undertones in such words.
Furthermore, the companies in question use logos of black heads with a stereotypical image of black people with thick red lips, short course hair a colourful turban and huge gold earrings. “Stereotypes that should long be forgotten, continue to be more widespread”, Greiner’s application read.
For the “Zum Mohren” Pharmacy, which is located where a formerly famous hotel, “Zum Mohren” stood in a listed historical building, there’s an engraved blackhead in the building facade. “The city of Frankfurt am Main must weigh whether human rights outweigh the protection of historic monuments. In any case, the pharmacy should be advised to change their name”, the application argued.
“In a democratic society, we should not use names that belittle or insult certain groups of people,” says Alexander Pollak, spokesman for SOS Mitmensch. “However, the awareness to this is insufficient yet difficult to communicate”, Pollak complained.
Talking to Frankfurter Neue Presse, Greiner explained:”This is not about publicity, nor just about the small logo, it’s about images that are used to stereotype a group and further discrimination. We want to start a dialogue and find a solution to how we all can live together harmoniously. I know there are various opinions on the issue, but I speak for myself and as an aggrieved party. I do not want us as Africans to be stereotyped as dark skins with thick red lips and huge gold earrings. How do I explain to my child about such images when we see them plastered all over Frankfurt?”
Why would a pharmacy be named Mohr you ask? According to Zeit, one explanation would have been a marketing strategy back in the day for pharmacies to show that they not only offered medicine from around but also exotic remedies from far away lands i.e. where the Mohrs came from.
The pharmacy requested to change their names claim the name is because Africans were known as healers back them. To which Greiner does not agree,”The use of the name was not as harmless as they claim. The original connotation was negative. That aside, who during the colonial era knew that Africans have progressive medicines? When did you ever hear of a pharmacy outrightly advocating for African medicine? Which African medicine do you even know of here? The name is a clichée. It has nothing to do with respect for African medicinal knowledge.”
However, the number of companies carrying such names continue to reduce, some by freely renaming the company while others hit tough times and have to close shop due to financial strain. Some companies have instead chosen to keep the name but add the typical German umlaut to become “Möhren“.
This is definitely not the first discussion on renaming companies that use racist names in Germany, the city of Berlin last year agreed to rename six streets. The streets that earlier carried names of colonialists will be renamed to carry the names of African legends, among them Wangari Maathai and Yaa Asentewaa.