Black people continue to experience some of the highest rates of discrimination in Europe, and the refugee crisis has made things even worse, writes Karen Taylor.
Karen Taylor is a board member of European Network Against Racism (ENAR) and policy and advocacy director at Each One Teach One (Germany)
This week the European Parliament hosts a landmark event, the first ever week for People of African Descent (PAD) in Europe. Titled Honouring Black Europe, this week is dedicated to the Black European experience; the contributions Black people have made in Europe now and throughout history, but also the ongoing realities of racism, discrimination and violence.
This week highlights the need for an urgent rethink of European policy vis-à-vis Black people and other minorities. In an increasingly contested Europe, minorities need to feel substantively included – politically, socially and economically – if the EU project is to stay relevant to them.
The EU power base has failed to reform itself alongside its changing population, ideals, and culture. There are an estimated 15-20 million people of African descent living in Europe and a significant number of black people have lived in Europe for centuries. This population is heterogeneous and diverse and so are their realities and experiences, which remain very often invisible.
Black people experience some of the highest rates of discrimination in Europe. According to an EU Fundamental Rights Agency survey, in the last 5 years, 39% of people of African descent in Europe have experienced discrimination.
Most recently, European media have portrayed black people primarily as refugees crossing the Mediterranean, or as enslaved people passing through Libya, facing horrific human rights abuses. The policy response has been one of increased policing of borders, and a focus on returns of refugees to third countries.
Less visibly in the news cycle, black people have long contributed to Europe. Following World War II, citizens of the British Empire from the Caribbean travelled to the UK as part of the ‘Windrush Generation’.
They became nurses, doctors, teachers, manual workers, cleaners, and drivers and helped to rebuild post-war Britain, contributions which remain unacknowledged today.
There have been black people living and making history in Germany for more than 300 years, such as the famous Afro-German poet, activist and educator May Ayim. When black activists – especially women – are visible and vocal, they are exposed to critical levels of orchestrated hatred, such as journalist Rokhaya Diallo in France.
Throughout Europe, black people are susceptible to violence and racial profiling at disproportionate levels. They experience systematically higher unemployment rates than the national average in all countries, and in schools, black students face discrimination and exclusion based on their skin colour.
Despite this, there are no EU or national policies developed specifically to combat racism and discrimination against people of African descent in Europe.
This could be due to the overwhelming lack of diversity in the European Union institutions, particularly of black people.
There are just three black MEPs in the European parliament. One of them, Cécile Kyenge, who is hosting the week, has faced extreme levels of racist abuse in her own country, Italy. Without a seat at the table of power, it has been extremely difficult to shape the EU agenda. This week may bring the largest number of black politicians and activists ever to the European Parliament, a stark contrast to the typically white halls of power.
The EU Week for People of African Descent comes at a vital time. In light of discussions on the future of Europe after Brexit, the EU is searching for a way out of its identity crisis. “Whatever happens, it must be a Europe built by Europeans,” the European Commission has tweeted.
The future of Europe is increasingly one of colour. The hundreds of black policymakers, academics and activists travelling to Brussels this week will want to know what room there is for black people in Europe’s future.
In order to truly ‘Honour Black Europe’, the European Union must recognise the experience of racism, discrimination and exclusion against black people in Europe with a Resolution, and develop an EU framework for national strategies for the inclusion of people of African descent.
The aim must be to ensure substantive equality, security and inclusion of people of African descent in Europe. This strategy must also create sustainable funding streams for black activists and grassroots organisations fighting racism on the ground across Europe.
Now more than ever, the EU must demonstrate that it values Black Lives. And we all must acknowledge that we can be ‘Black’ and also ‘European’.