‘Numbers count’ is a statement we often hear, especially when speaking of democratic weight and power as a means to influence a group’s socio-economic conditions. So far, however, people of African descent and Black European are the most invisible ‘visible’ minority on the European political agenda. This despite the fact that there are an estimated 7 million people of African descent and Black Europeans in Europe and they are particularly vulnerable to racism and discrimination across the European Union.
International Day for the Abolition of Slavery was on 2 December, and it is an opportune moment to reflect on Afrophobia, the specific form of racism experienced by people of African descent, and to call for its recognition at EU level.
Indeed, 150 years after the abolition of the slave trade, Black people continue to be perceived and constructed as second class citizens in European societies. The dehumanisation of Black people and racist theories devising a hierarchy of races based on skin colour were the ideological foundations of slavery in Europe and still shape the prejudices of the majority population towards Black people today.
Much of Europe’s Black population has been settled in Europe for several generations with a long history of citizenship, and has contributed to its socio-economic, cultural and political fabric. Yet visibility has posed an obstacle to inclusion, with Europe’s Black population being disproportionately more impacted by racism and discrimination, causing major disparities between Black and majority populations in almost every sector of society throughout Europe.
They are, for example, particularly vulnerable to racist speech and violence. A recent report on Afrophobia in Sweden, which is also the first of its kind, reveals that Afro-Swedes are the Swedish minority most exposed to hate crimes according to statistics on hate crimes, indicating a 24% increase since 2008. Afrophobic hate crimes are characterised by a high proportion of physical violence, that often take place in public spaces. In England and Wales, Black people are also five times more likely to be stopped and searched than White people. They suffer unequal treatment in all areas of life including employment, housing, education and access to services. A survey by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency shows that 41% of sub-Saharan African respondents had been discriminated against on the basis of their ethnicity at least once in the previous 12 months.
However, despite a long history of racial oppression and the recurring and increasing levels of Afrophobia, there is a general reluctance to recognise and acknowledge its existence in the European Union.
EU decision makers, including the new European Commission and European Parliament, must take steps to publicly recognise this form of racism and thus describe a reality that so far remains invisible – especially given Europe’s role in the slave trade and colonisation. Such recognition is a necessary basis for all legal and policy attempts to reduce the effects of racial discrimination against people of African descent and Black Europeans across Europe.
They should also develop effective strategies to counter the structural and everyday racism that prevents the inclusion of many Black people in European society. The adoption of the European framework for national Roma integration strategies demonstrated the EU’s political will to fight discrimination against its largest ethnic minority and has highlighted the vulnerable situation of the Roma population in Europe. Black Europeans and people of African descent need to benefit from a similar targeted strategy which will ensure their social inclusion and protection from discrimination.
Considering the results of the EU parliamentary elections and its possible impact on particularly visible minorities like people of African descent and Black Europeans, it is more important than ever for the EU to actively address Afrophobia.
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This piece was reprinted by Migrant Tales with permission.
* Jallow Momodou is vice chairman of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) and chairman of the Pan African Movement for Justice in Sweden.