Eradicating the legacy of slavery

Declarations marking slavery as a crime are important as a symbol of progress, but we need more than words; we must ensure the legacy of slavery is eliminated, writes Younous Omarjee.

By Younous Omarjee

Younous Omarjee (FR, GUE/NGL) is a co-president of Parliament’s nti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup

16 Apr 2021

The murder of George Floyd gave rise to demonstrations throughout the world. These reached as far as the European Parliament, which proclaimed, at my instigation, on 19 June last year that slavery was to be considered “a crime against Humanity”.

France had acknowledged this back in 2001. While this vote was symbolic, the symbol itself, just like the memory, is one of major importance. Millions of people of African descent have been waiting for this acknowledgement; it was special since so many of them, as I often observe, feel forgotten.

We only need to look around us - at the heart of the European institutions - and see how many persons of colour have progressed to positions of responsibility. This absence speaks volumes about the current structures, which are the legacy of a racist and colonial heritage.

“Everywhere that it is possible to do so, it is essential to bring out all those people who personify Europe from the shadows: Europeans of African descent, Europeans of Asian origin, the Indians, the Roma…”

Everywhere that it is possible to do so, it is essential to bring out all those people who personify Europe from the shadows: Europeans of African descent, Europeans of Asian origin, the Indians, the Roma… Not only because they would be the symbol of diversity, but also because they are fully-fledged citizens.

In the European countries that have built their power on the crime against humanity that is slavery, acts of discrimination are acceptable as long as they are discreet, as long as they don’t draw attention to themselves. This configuration of society and political life has got to change. This is the direction that this vote is working towards.

It is not a case of flogging oneself, or of waving the whip, but rather one of questioning our past, our relationships with others, so as finally to pull down the relationships of domination, however ancestral they may be. The worst theories of racial hierarchical organisation were born in Europe and served as justification for slavery, the holocaust and colonial policies.

All of this history forges a mental universe, one which continues to be the structure of European societies; their vision of the white man, and that of the black man. And since a glance at the other reminds us of our condition, at times so as to enclose us in the judgements and the fears that it mocks.

I believe unconditionally in the power of education, of culture. If France is breaking up from issues of racism and growing Islamophobia, it is because President Macron is playing with fire and placing himself in the debt of the extreme right. Issues of racial inequality need to be examined at the same time as social and economic inequality.

It is, and always has been, the common thread of my political commitments. The struggles must support each another, the reflections fight amongst themselves, without mutually excluding one other. Such is the precondition for their success in the face of oppression. Humanity will emerge stronger from this coherence with its values, and, in the end, will reinvent itself.

Because, in reality, all racist crimes oblige us not only to denounce them but also to question our society, and to see that it develops radically to address them.

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