The state of denial about anti-Black racism in Europe must end

Written by Karen Taylor on 8 September 2017

The state of denial about anti-Black racism in Europe must end | Photo credit: Press Association

The violence that erupted in Charlottesville was widely condemned in European political and media circles, but they are more reluctant to recognise or address similar issues closer to home, writes Karen Taylor.

Anti-Black racism, or Afrophobia, is what most people instinctively associate with racism. There are an estimated 15 million people of African descent living in Europe. Yet paradoxically, people of African descent are the most invisible 'visible' minority on the European political agenda. 

The European Union and its member states urgently need to tackle the structural racism that prevents the inclusion of Black people in European society. The European Parliament has taken an important first step by holding a discussion on Afrophobia in Europe in its civil liberties committee on 7 September.

But much more needs to be done given the widespread racism and discrimination faced by Black people across the EU and in all areas of life, including employment, education, health and the criminal justice system. 

In recent months, Europe's eyes were on the United States following white nationalist violence in Charlottesville. This protest was widely condemned in European political and media circles, as are instances of police violence against Black people in the US.

They are much more reluctant to recognise or address similar issues closer to home, despite the fact that Black people in Europe are particularly exposed to police violence as well as racist violence and abuse from members of the public. 

In Sweden for instance, Afro-Swedes are the minority most exposed to hate crimes, with a 24 per cent increase since 2008. 2017 has seen numerous examples of violence against Black people at the hands of the police, including the death of Rashan Charles in the UK in July, and the violent and abusive arrest of Theo Luhaka in France in February. In Germany, the case of Oury Jallow, who died in a police cell in 2005, will finally be reopened for investigation.

Racial profiling practices by police also disproportionately affect people of African descent. In Paris, people perceived as 'Black' were overall six times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than White people. In Germany, the repeated denial that Black people are being racially profiled leads to a failure to effectively investigate and prosecute perpetrators of racial profiling.

When it comes to employment, discrimination continues to take place at alarming levels, despite the existence of EU-wide anti-discrimination laws. For example, in the United Kingdom, applicants with an African sounding surname need to send twice as many job applications as those with a White British sounding name to get an interview. Even when Black people have excellent qualifications, they can be limited in their access to and progression in the workplace and are often under-employed in positions that do not match their skills.

Worryingly, many European countries fail to acknowledge the legacy of the slave trade and colonialism, which led to deeply rooted stereotypes about Black people. These prejudices continue to this day and feed into the collective imagination and traditions such as blackfacing celebrations in several European countries, such as Saint Nicholas and Black Pete in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Despite this history of racial oppression and current levels of anti-Black racism, European countries continue to be in a state of denial. It is high time to make meaningful efforts to recognise the reality of Afrophobia and ensure that Black people in Europe have equal opportunities and outcomes. 

The European Union can and should lead the way in this area, marking the International Decade for people of African descent, proclaimed by the UN in 2015. Encouraging specific measures at EU and national levels to address racial inequalities and discrimination experienced by Black people would be an important step in the right direction.


About the author

Karen Taylor is a board member of the European Network Against Racism 

Share this page