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The Emerging Fight Against Racism in Western Europe

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The Emerging Fight Against Racism in Western Europe

The death of George Floyd, a black man killed after being choked under the knee of a white police officer in the US, has sparked an anti-racism movement across the world including in Western Europe. In Belgium, more than 10,000 people rallied in front of Brussel’s Palais de Justice under the slogan of “Black Lives Matter”, calling out the country’s history of racism and demanded investigations of recent cases regarding police violence towards the people of colour. In France, protests organized by families of police brutality victims have spread within several cities and have been attended by thousands of protestors. In other countries across Western Europe such as the UK, Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland, thousands of people abandoned the coronavirus lockdown to demand justice in regards to police treatment towards the people of colour and systemic racism. There are even several cases of vandalism that targeted statues of people considered to be racists, such as the statue of Edward Colston and Winston Churchill in the UK and King Leopold II in Belgium. Countries in Western Europe considered to be lacking a good track record when it comes to tackling racism or even admitting it exists, even though the political concept of imperialism and colonialism are believed to be pioneered in the region. However, this new wave of anti-racism movement might change the current status-quo in regards to this specific issue and capable of making an impact within the political sphere.

Civil rights movement in Western Europe could be seen as being less advanced compared to the US, mostly resulting from the differences in racial relations throughout the history of these two different locations. In Western Europe, most migration from Africa to Europe is relatively recent, starting in the 1960s. There are even surveys that show big percentages of Western Europeans which think positively towards the past colonialism implemented by their countries in the past. For example, a survey by YouGov showed that 32% of British people perceived the British Empire as something to be proud of and 33% believed that former colonies are better off being colonized.  The combination of these historical facts and the present point of view shaped the region’s treatment toward the issue. For instance, there are fewer institutions to support protest movements and anti-racism agenda in Western Europe. There is no European equivalent to the American Civil Liberties Union or the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. A survey by King Bauduin Foundation revealed that, in Belgium, Afro-Europeans are four times more likely to be unemployed than white Belgians even though they are more highly educated on average and 80% say they have been victims of discrimination and the target of racial slurs. Another survey by the European Union Agency For Fundamental Rights revealed that 30% of black people living in Europe had experienced racist harassment in the previous five years and 5% said they were physically attacked. Racism in Western Europe might be less visible, but no less intense than in the US.

The new wave of anti-racism movement across Western Europe has shown some promising results, which could really improve people’s awareness towards the issue within the region. In Belgium, the statue of King Leopold II in the city of Antwerp has been removed by the government after being defaced and set on fire by protestors. A petition to get rid of all statues of the former king, whose rule over the Belgian Congo generated mass wealth for Belgium and killed up to 10 million people, has gathered more than 80,000 signatures. In the UK, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has promised to increase the representation of people of colour in the public realm such as street names, public squares, and murals. In France, the police force has now been banned from using chokeholds to carry out arrests to reduce the possibility of police brutality. The interior minister also announced that 30 investigations have been launched regarding the allegations of police using racial slurs throughout the year. In the Netherlands, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte promised that in a few years there will be no more “Zwarte Piets”, which is a blackface festival in the Netherlands. In General, this new wave of anti-racism protests has contributed towards the increase of people’s awareness regarding this issue, especially within the political sphere.