The international day against racism is a call to stand up against racism and discrimination; an urgent call considering the rise of racism in Europe.
No other EU country has fewer migrants active on the labour market than in Belgium. Racism is a huge problem in Belgium, yet ignored by politicians.
In fact Didier Reynders, Belgian Foreign Minister was recently criticised in international media for wearing black face paint for the Noirauds parade in Brussels. A colonial and offensive act to black community in Belgium.
Chika Unigwe, acclaimed Nigerian-Belgian writer wrote “In other civilized countries his political career wouldn’t survive this, but in Belgium he just continues.” Human Rights Watch condemned the act of Reynders arguing that tradition and charity could not justify racism, while the director of the centre against racism in Belgium declared that Reynders wearing black face “Has nothing to do with racism”.
This shows the little sensitivity Belgians have towards racism.
A global issue
Racism is an issue all over the globe. Europe is not excluded; from Greece to UK racism reports have been growing, in countries such as Ireland even doubling. The first and biggest survey on racism in Europe in 2009 by European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) showed some alarming figures that EU politicians have not taken seriously so far.
55% of immigrants surveyed by the FRA believe that discrimination on ethnic origin is widespread in their country. 37% say that they have been discriminated in the past 12 months. However 82% did not report their most recent experience of discrimination. FRA states that: “Thousands of cases of racist crime and discrimination remain invisible.”
Many immigrants are facing racism and discrimination but the most discriminated groups are North Africans (36%), Sub-Saharan Africans (41%) and Roma. One in two says to have faced discrimination in the last 12 months.
The racism Roma people have historically faced in countries such as Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovenia is not acceptable in a democratic country which claims to uphold human rights. However, the fact that all these countries successfully acceded to the EU shows just how seriously discrimination is considered at the EU level.
Recent reports by FRA and other organisations such as European Network Against Racism (ENAR) confirm that anti-Semitism and islamophobia are also rising all over Europe.
All of this raises a fundamental question: for how long are the EU politicians and those of the member states going to wait in order to tackle the virus of racism in Europe?
There are solutions to this problem. We need clear laws on European and national level which tackle racism. It is not the case at the moment.
For example the national anti-discrimination law in Belgium is easily violated and too tenuous to have any veritable effect. In Belgium since 2007 there is anti-discrimination law. However, the social inspection has drawn up only one official report for discrimination on labour market in 8 years.
The figures of FRA show that not only politicians are failing but also civil society. It is up to these organisations to (re) organise their work on racism in order for more people to find their way to them and denounce racism. To succeed it is important to be locally strong in particular big cities and work together at the European level.
Education is also of great importance. Many of us are not conscious about racism and what it is racist.
We cannot fight racism if we are not conscious of it. To be conscious we need to know the history of racism, from crusades, white superiority to colonialism. We need to become conscious of the prejudices, stereotypes, discrimination that exist and know its roots. Racism is a social phenomenon and through education we can tackle it.
As citizens we all have a responsibility to set an example in our daily lives and speak out against racism. We should stand up to discriminatory behavior and spread a message of diversity; that is lauding the richness that diversity can bring.
Bleri Lleshi is Brussels based political philosopher and author of various books. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.