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Racism: Europe is not innocent

In London, after George Floyd's death, thousands demonstrated against racism in the UK

Europe cannot point its finger at the United States. There is open or racial discrimination in many EU countries and the call for change is growing louder. The demonstrations never stop.

EU Commissioner Margaritis Schinas is responsible for protecting the “European way of life”. The Greek politician sees himself as responsible for the issue of racism. “We have fewer problems than the United States, our social systems are better,” said Schinas at an event organized by the Delphi Economic Forum. But he admits that there is still a lot to do in Europe with regard to equal opportunities in life, “a lot of issues that we still have to deal with”.

The French illusion

Discrimination when looking for a job is also one of the “issues we still have to deal with”. For Paris law student Kesiah Etame Yescot, this is bitter everyday life. She was turned down in rows in search of an internship in a law firm. The place was already occupied, it was usually said.

France Anti-Racism Demo | Law student Kesiah Etame Yescot (DW / L. Louis)Law student Kesiah Etame Yescot: “There is a lot of hypocrisy in France”

“They want to make us believe that they accept us. But I think there is a lot of hypocrisy here. It is not like George Floyd in the USA, where you see racism at 1000 kilometers, it is more hidden. In France it is noticeable you do it based on a lot of little things, looking for a job, or being stopped on the street for no reason. “

Kesiah took to the streets with thousands of French people last weekend to protest racism and discrimination. This was also caused by the cases of police violence in France, most recently the death of Adama Traoré in 2016. 

Germany | George Floyd protests (picture-alliance / ZUMAPRESS / S. Babbar)Deadly racism: At a rally in Munich, demonstrators commemorate George Floyd and Oury Jalloh, who died in a prison cell in Dessau in 2005

It’s not just about brutal treatment – “Racial Profiling” is part of everyday life in the French suburbs. A survey by the Council of Europe among 5000 young men of African or Arab origin found that the police stopped them twenty times as often as other French residents. 

The mass protests in France have brought the first result:  Interior Minister Christophe Castaner has banned the police grip around the neck when arrested. Although he denies that his police are generally “racist”, he admits “that some police officers are racists”.

Colonial rule and genocide

There were demonstrations not only in Paris but also in Brussels. “We came because this is the capital of Europe,” says one of the organizers. Brända Auchimba is annoyed by the “everyday discrimination and assault by the police that stops African and Arab boys on every corner”.

In addition, however, she wants the statues of the Belgian King Leopold II (1835 – 1909) to be taken from the pedestals. The Belgian colonial rule in the Congo is part of the repressed past of the country. It was not until 1998 that historian Adam Hochschild brought genocide and the exploitation of the country back into national memory.

Belgium | Brussels | Anti-Racism Demo | Organizer Brendä Auchimba (DW / M. Luy)Protester Brända Auchimba: “African and Arab boys will stop at every corner by the police”

Around ten million people died under the colonial regime of Leopold II in the Congo. To this day, the Belgian textbooks remain silent on this part of the story. “I hope people understand how we feel when we see these statues,” says Brända. In Antwerp, the mayor has now shipped the Leopold statue to the museum.

Cultural struggle in Britain

In London, even the mayor is on the side of the monument watchers. Labor Party Sadiq Khan, son of a Pakistani family, had the statue of slave trader Robert Milligan from West India Quai in East London cleared away: “It’s a sad truth that a lot of our wealth came from the slave trade – but we have to do not celebrate in our public places “.

The conservative, also Pakistani-born British Home Secretary Priti Patel, on the other hand, dislikes this kind of protest. Protesters who threw the statue of slave trader Edward Colston into the harbor basin in Bristol would have to be prosecuted for “their profoundly shameful acts”. 

Great Britain Bristol | Protest Against Racism Statue of Edward Colston (Reuters / Mohiudin Malik)No more false veneration: in Bristol, demonstrators threw the statue of slave trader Edward Colston into the harbor basin

“Britain is not innocent. The government and police have never been accountable for many black lives,” said a protester in London’s Parliament Square. “It is good to see the collective grief and the willingness to change our situation here. That is what it is about,” says his companion.

Solidarity with George Floyd has also sparked rage in Britain about everyday racism, social disenfranchisement, police attacks, and discrimination. This includes, for example, the “Windrush scandal”: officials had immigrants from the Caribbean deported who had lived in Great Britain for decades – just because they had never been formally naturalized.

“Identified as a problem”

“There are many examples of individual and institutional police racism in Europe,” says criminologist Ben Bowling from Kings College, London. The extent of police violence in the United States, however, is more extreme, where 1,000 people are killed by the police every year.

Ben Bowling, Prof. Criminology Kings College (DW / M. Luy)Criminologist Ben Bowling: “Minorities are marginalized”

The problem, according to Bowling, “is how the organization deals with minorities and marginalized groups per se. You can see in the UK how the police react to black and Asian people.  You can see it clearly in Germany, France, and everywhere in Europe, where minorities are marginalized and identified by the police as a problem. “

But there is more: “The discrimination goes beyond the police, it has to do with the economy, with education and the family”. The countries in Europe should recognize that their future is multicultural and diverse and that every citizen must have the same life chances.

“I am ashamed”

Europe is still a long way from this recognition. Only 24 out of 705 members of the European Parliament are of African-Asian descent, although they make up around ten percent of the European population. One of them is the Swede Alice Kuhnke from the Greens: “I’m ashamed because we don’t really represent the people in Europe. So we have to make sure that there will be more MPs in the future who look different and have different backgrounds.”

Kuhnke is a rapporteur for the EU’s anti-discrimination directive, which has been on hold since 2008. The legislative proposal, which prescribes equal treatment of all citizens in social matters, is blocked by many member countries. Half of the European countries do not even have an action plan to deal with racism.

The Swede hopes that the demonstrations in the EU will give something a boost: “I am convinced that we can now take advantage of the excitement and awareness of so many. But it must not end with nice words about equality, that must finally happen in the Reflect EU legislation “.

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