The murder of George Floyd has prompted Europe to question its own racism, even if it does not always seem that easy. Racism needs to be understood as an ideology that puts one human group over one or more other groups, with abusive behaviour as a logical consequence. But it also needs to be understood in its singularity, different from parallel themes like migration and exile. To overcome racism, democracy needs to be completed, with a guaranteed and equal access to freedom, justice, and equality – Progressives have a role go play here.
Shame came to us, poor humans of the current time, faced with the groans of the US citizen George Floyd, yet another victim of an absurd police violence which, now, is mediatised in real time. A dramatic episode, as surprising as it is predictable, because of the recurrent killings of black Americans by other Americans, certainly vigilant, but white. Faced with such an exhibition of racial animosity, America, Europe, and the rest of the world have remained somewhat dumbfounded, but everything seems to indicate that the macabre tradition is to continue.
Racism, let us remember again, is an ideology, a behavioural paradigm, based on the theorisation of the superiority of one human group over another, or over several others. I propose this definition in the light of the astonishing conceptual dithering that prevailed these days in the debates in many Western media. While it seemed obvious that George Floyd is the nth victim of racism, killed mainly for the colour of his skin, many new commentators but also speakers in many demonstrations across Europe raised parallel themes, like migration and exile, showing themselves de facto incapable of grasping the cruelty of racism in its singularity.
“The historic European racism is endemic. It occurs in many social and institutional sectors.”
Europe, as we know, has trouble recognising its own racism. However, on the old continent, discrimination and hostility towards black Europeans is also a harsh reality. As in the USA, they are based on a simple and confusing principle: the presumption of guilt. Like George Floyd, before taking any action whatsoever, the black European also appears to be an alleged culprit, liable to reprimand, reproof and extrajudicial punishment.
On racism, the European democracies suddenly discover themselves to be ancient, backward, negrocide. It seems easy now to point the accusing finger at the police, naturally prone to violence. Unfortunately, however, the historic European racism is much more endemic. It occurs in many social and institutional sectors. It negatively influences the lives of the more than ten million black residents in Europe, and often also kills them. The social and institutional relationships between these black Europeans and their white fellow citizens often suffer from asymmetry and paternalism particularly prejudicial to the dignity of the blacks of Europe. In our public services, in our schools, in our workplaces, in our real estate agencies, in our banking institutions, in our hospitals and so on, the blacks of Europe have the feeling of being perpetually discriminated against, marginalised, racialised, humiliated, dismissed, stolen – because of the colour of their skin.
This pandemic dimension of racism unfortunately reminds us that racism is also an economic and historical theory. Rooted in the relations of inequality and exploitation between Europe and Africa, it served as a legitimisation framework for the triangular slave trade, for imperialism, colonialism and the coercive appropriation of African resources by a Western elite dedicated to kill. The anti-racist Black Lives Matter demonstrations also demonstrate a good understanding of the close causal link between these dehumanising paradigms of European economic activity of erstwhile and racism, hence the spectacular toppling of statues of the former slave trader such as Edward Colston’s in Bristol, in the south of England.
Admittedly, following the murder perpetrated against George Floyd, and in spite of the measures of social distancing, our public places were taken by storm by many demonstrators, angry with the omnipresent racism. If such initiatives seem to bring hope for a better social tomorrow, the fact remains that our institutions seem strangely incapable of translating the will of these demonstrators into effective regulations.
“How to get out? One word is enough: democracy.”
For actors involved in politics like me, a question remains central, but one that does not have a real answer appearing on the horizon: how to make the fight against racism a priority issue in our institutions, in our regulations? The question is even more serious in that many European politicians and legislators have shown themselves fond of argumentative racism. A quick glance at the panorama of ideologies that organise and polarise European political parties displays a mosaic tinged almost homogeneously with supremacism, sovereignism and populism. These political doctrines hardly hide their close relationship to racism. Unfortunately, they often show up even in allegedly more universalist political discourses.
How to get out? One word is enough: democracy. It is a word that evokes values of freedom, justice, and equality. Completing democracy in Europe is to succeed in ensuring that whites, blacks and other citizen can grasp the moral precedence of otherness, and restrict its own racist impulses, which generate desolation and which can kill. Progressive forces must be on the frontline in bringing this humanist culture into the institutions, and into society.
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