Omar Ba is one of the main leaders of African community in Belgium and active for years in the struggle against racism. He tells us why racism is a huge problem in Europe and what should be done.
Bleri Lleshi: First things first. How would you define racism? Is it important to have a definition? What is the difference between racism and discrimination?
Omar Ba: Racism is an ideology that has its roots in the idea that people are different and not equal, and that one culture or civilisation might be superior to others and develop representations, stereotypes and stigmas. A theory which can result in Apartheid, segregation and discrimination in behaviours and policy’s and this ideology is still an actual reality in all forms possible.
I think a definition is crucial of the understanding of the problematic and it seems that a lot of people just do not understand what racism does implement in views, behaviours and consequences. And maybe if they understood they would be more eager to support the anti racism struggle that a lot of people in Belgium and in the E.U perceive as an attack on their way of life which is far from being the truth. Racism is an attack on the human way of life not the struggle to eradicate it.
Discriminations are a consequence and result of institutionalized racism, which allows a preferential treatment based on physical appearances, religions, and others. And this exist sand is a daily reality for millions of EU citizens with another color or religion or culture.
BL: Often you hear people even intellectuals claiming that everyone is a racist?
OB: Thank God no! My conviction is that nobody is born racist. Racism is taught by education, representations vehiculated by stereotypes and stigmatisation in the institutional education system, media and political rhetoric. Not everybody is racist but too many people are passive concerning this societal issue.
Everybody has been influenced in a way of another by it and some are more aware of it then others. That is just the problem of the society. The integration discourse has overruled every good sense about the discussions concerning racism and shifted the responsibilities. The victims are considered guilty of not delivering enough efforts to integrate/assimilate. The integration discourse, which pretends that integration is the key to the racism and discrimination problems, is the proof that the far-right even though they have never ruled, have dominated by making their vision and approach an evidence.
Racism in all its forms is a violation of basic human rights and should not be tolerated in a democracy and certainly not be a pretext.
BL: Which forms can racism take?
OB: Racism is certainly multiform and has different roots as I mentioned earlier. The most problematic, hideousand dangerous is structural racism,which affects every aspect of the daily life of individuals and creates and sustains social and economic segregations. Such as: limited access to employment for minority group; not having chances for a good education and qualifications which impacts on a durable manner the social mobility of minority group; the problematic access to a descent housing for families and individuals; problematic social integration due to interpersonal racism which reinforces social apartheid; and racial profiling by police and repressive migration policies.
Figures do not lie and in different reports from European Network Against Racism (ENAR) and other European and international institutions Belgium has been pointed out as not doing enough, but other European countries are not doing much better neither. There is a need of urgent and definitive solutions in the entire EU.
BL: Belgium has indeed high figures of racism on labour market and education. What are the reasons?
OB: Because policy makers never took serious the problematic of racism during the last thirty years and do not seem to realise how racism has infected different levels of society. I said before on different forums that racism is not only a problem of far right ideologists and far right parties, but also from those democratic political parties that always have been in a position to implement change but never did, nor had the will to seriously tackle racism on a consequent manner. This reveals the evidence that it is a collective responsibility of all political parties. After an insufficient and inefficient approach for almost 30years, it is time for a new approach that takes seriously this inhuman issue.
The equality bodies do not have the clear mandate to tackle racism efficiently at all and it is a good indicator that the political institutions do not want to prioritise anti racism. For years civil society has been alarming policy makers and have never been taken seriously. The most civil society organisations do not have the resources to engage in this battle. This is clear when we look at the overload of problems they are being daily confronted while they do not have the structural means to persistently put enough pressure. Moreover they are obliged to compromise on some issues to survive seen the biggest ones of them depend on subsidies and are obliged to function on an inefficient frame of integration policy which does not focus on tackling discriminations.
Concerning education: The education system is meritocratic and not talent oriented. It does not empower students. Moreover considering racism and discrimination are so profoundly inserted in society and seen by too many people as evidence and not a problem. This allows people to think that the victims of racism are the problem and not the perpetrators.This reasoning influences some teachers and school direction. Because of this for many years education has sacrificed generations of youth of minority groups to be oriented in the wrong schooling directions that affects they motivation and made of many school drop outs. The results are an evidence of this subtle apartheid and segregation in the social mobility of people. The most youth of the 2nd and 3rd generation goes out of school without a high school degree and in universities the representation of minorities (in particular in Flanders) is outrageously minor and this for many decades.
BL: What do you see as the main roots of racism in Belgium and Europe?
OB: Different European nations went through the past in a journey of world conquest, which resulted in many atrocities as slavery and colonisation.
More than 500 years affected not only the colonised population but at the same time confirmed the general Eurocentric feeling of superiority towards populations other than White Europeans. This happened during slavery by the assumption of the clerical authorities that by example Black people could not be considered as full human but closer to animals, thus they could be treated as such. The result is slavery during which people were treated as cattle and transported to work as cows in plantations in the Caribbean’s, North and South America during more than 400 years. Moreover on the African continent you had the colonisation that officially started in 1885 after the Berlin Conference with the partition and exploitation of the African continent until the late 50’s and 60’s. For country’s as Zimbabwe and South Africa even later.
During the colonisation which was promoted towards European population as a massive humanitarian project to civilise and liberate Africans from the darkness of the primitive state, a whole system of propaganda was created with the support of scientists, intellectuals, colonizers etc.. See literature, schoolbooks, cinematic representations of Black people the zoohumains in Paris, Brussels, London etc… This is a part of the roots of present racism.I just explained the story of black people as there are other people facing racism.
The Roma people have been since centuries portrayed as scums, inferior and a lot of Roma’s were exterminated during the Nazism period in Germany in 1939-45 and until today they are victims of any kind of persecutions in different parts of Europe.
The more then 25 years perpetual negative media portrayal and stigmatisation of Islam and installed fear of each manifestation of it plays a big role. This combined with the far-right impunity to insult, harass and stigmatise groups of populations etc…
The responsibility of the media is tremendous in consolidating and grounding racism in the collective imaginaries.
On the other hand migration and demographic is proving that Europe may in the next decades be more heterogeneous then it actually is today and minorities today might be majorities in some big cities in the future.
BL: What are the consequences of racism?
OB: Too many to name, but here some of them: socially and economically segregated societies and massive feeling of exclusion of minorities, which can generate frustrations and tension, but also oppression of creativity and talents. On top each year having to see the negative figures on different basic rights as employment, housing, education, poverty…
BL: Did the anti-racism struggle fail so far in Belgium and elsewhere in Europe?
OB: Once Angela Merkel stated that:“ Multiculturalism in Europe had failed”. I say that European countries policies for real equality have failed and that there never was a strong and determinate will to eradicate racism. Neither togive all Europeans from any skin colour and religion equal access to the opportunities that society should guarantee to all EU citizens,with no barriers of any kind at any level. In that matter anti-racism has failed because policy makers did not fully engaged themselves to tackle it.
I think that the anti-racism movement during the last 35 years did a lot and tried to sensibilise policy makers and the population toward a more tolerant society. The problem is that only civil society cannot eradicate racism. In Belgium and France there is the same civil society approach which was promoting diversity toward a deaf and non willing politic class who too often want to negotiate to not be too demanding. In these conditions it is hard to book some concrete results and definitively tackle racism from the European societies. It reminds me the words of Aimé Césaire: “A civilisation which is not able to resolve problems caused by its functioning is a civilisation in degradation.”
BL: Your future vision on the struggle against racism in Belgium and Europe?
OB: The struggle against racism is now more than ever vibrant and minorities are more outspoken about this at all levels. It is no longer a shame to say I have been a victim of racism and to name it as such. And I think that policy makers are aware that these important demographic groups throughout Europe are no longer accepting this issue to be marginalized and considered as a non-debate.
Not only minorities, but also white Europeans are also being aware that to construct a common strong future for Europe we need not only to see each others as equal but to be treated as such. More and more voices are no more hesitating to ask for the implementation of quotas. There is an awareness growing and I am optimistic to witness once unity among all civil society actors and some policy makers. Plenty of individuals are willing to protest together; to march together; to struggle together; to vote together,in order that racism can be eradicated and that structural solutions are implemented to assure their children of a racism free Europe!
BL: What is your final message?
OB: Tackling racism should be a concern to all society, at all levels ranging from policy makers, economic actorsto civil society and citizens. To win this struggle we need to be united and decided to look at each other as human beings and never accept to lose our humanity by accepting dehumanising life conditions to our fellow human brother or sister because one is black, brown, Muslim, Jew, Roma, etc..
Europe needs diversity and it is a chance for the E.U to have so much diversity of talent and potential at disposal so let us tear down the barriers of racism to reveal it!
The 2nd of April Omar Ba will dialogue with Nadia Fadil on anti-racism at Muntpunt.
All info right here