On Friday April 10th about 20 people gathered in Brussels, Belgium. We were from all over Europe: Hungary, Slovenia, Germany, Ireland, London, the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Belgium and Denmark and we came together to move towards a EU framework for national strategies to combat Afrophobia and promote the inclusion of people of African descent and Black Europeans.
Afrophobia (a term that rightfully warrants a thorough discussion on the merits of using such a term in the first place) attempts to put a name to a force that many people of African descent have all too commonly had to face around the world: of living within an oppressive sometimes subliminally, sometimes more openly, racist society. The failure of many to see the direct relationship between the way in which the policy of racism privileges a certain group and disenfranchises many others is strange to me. What is startling is that anti-Black racism as a phenomenon per se is not even officially recognized in many European countries, despite the fact that this is the continent that created it. Like I have said many times before, I would like to shake the person's hand who came up with racism. But that would be to assume that it was just one person.
The steering group was coordinated by the European Network Against Racism, an organization that is behind two important publications, Recycling Hatred: Racism(s) in Europe Today in 2013 that asks the vital question, "How do older and emerging forms of racism coexist and manifest themselves in Europe today? What is the impact of the communities affected? How can we influence racist and xenophobic attitudes and discourses and develop policies to counter them? and in 2014 Invisible Visible Minority: Confronting Afrophobia and Advancing Equality for People of African Descent and Black Europeans in Europe which looks into the issues impacting the lives of Black Europeans and people of African descent in Europe? What are their experiences, and which specific stereotypes and prejudice do they face?"
I simply do not understand how it can be allowed that a mentality that has so almost inalterably changed the world knows so little about the nuances of the effects of this, in a larger global and human context. It seems odd that racism towards Blacks is not officially recognized when we have been the only race in the world that has had a PR campaign against our humanity ever since Bartolemet de Las Casas suggested our use instead of the Indigenous Indians, for whose cause he so gallantly defended. Forgive me if this is written in error here -it is something I learned in school and if you know otherwise, do correct me. But Bartolemet de Las Casas is often considered to be the world's first human rights activist. Isn't it interesting that a man who encouraged African slavery is still looked upon as a hero to many? Tell me world, since when has such hypocrisy become acceptable?
|a tree showing the racial hierarchy as taught by Europe|
How can it be that a continuity of control (which is still in place) and that was founded on the premise of exploitation justified by race (profit could not be made without the peculiar institution of slavery, the European Industrial Revolution could not have taken place without slave labor- of both her own people and Africans) and that required the best PR mechanism ever- the media, deny a people that was/is integral to this system's success claim of racism towards them?
Let me slow down for a moment. Human beings I believe can be beautiful and kind. We can also be quite messed up. Usually, when we're being messed up, it's because we're not feeling good. We're tired. Stressed. Afraid. When we make decisions out of these spaces, it's not usually generating more positive energy. In fact, it only joins a whirlpool of all the other shit that's happening in the world. As human beings though, we have the capacity to change that.
But it's hard to change that when we walk around believing that something is acceptable when it's actually not. There's so much stuff in that whirlpool of shit and there's a lot of external factors that's influencing what we end up believing. Many know that war is wrong, for example. But many also believe there are justifiable reasons for going to war. Protecting your own country for example. So if you could convince a lot of people that a war was about protecting your own country, you'd get a lot of people to support your war, even if, in the end, the war is about controlling another country's resources and people.
Now this is the same logic with race. The fact of the matter is that besides the military, the U.S.'s biggest global export is Hollywood. Hollywood is worth a lot of money- no shit, right? When you look at the budgets of some of these movies, it's like holy moley! Right? And Hollywood is good at making movies - sure it might require suspending your better judgement sometimes, but it's done so well - visually it's delicious. It pulls you in and you take a break from the general whirlpool of shit. You're relaxing and watching a movie and get transported into a story and for a while you are transported smack into the middle of a superhero's life or the orange uniform of a prisoner ...
Orange is the New Black is the name of a popular American series that takes viewers into the world of the U.S. prison system where about 2 million Americans live, everyday. Out of this 2 million, about 1 million of them are Black. The U.S. is in actuality the country who locks up the most people in the world (25%) despite only comprising about 5% of the entire world's population. Orange was the color adopted by the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11 to declare a "high risk" terror attack- just one color shy from red which was of course a "severe risk."
I've traveled a lot. I have been extremely privileged to have lived in Brooklyn, Trinidad, New York, Maui and Copenhagen during the times I did. I also have been to countless other cities and countries and there is something that always manages to get my attention. And that is that no matter where I go I meet other people of African descent who express much concern over the state of affairs no matter where we find ourselves. There is a consistent form of micro-racism that at its very best is taunting in its defiance of being called out.
|in this well-intended response to a currently appalling campaign poster that equates Islam with Nazism- this person doesn't even put a person of African descent despite it being an "Anti-racism" poster.|
And the only way that this can exist is through a belief that it is not all who are worthy, it is not all who are deemed equal and it is not all who deserves to live. Otherwise how can it be that footage of killing unarmed Black men seems to have become the national pastime? Images are powerful, more powerful than words. And they travel at the speed of light.
I met a UN Official the other day, who worked in various borders around the world. He told me that many of the guards who work in many of these borders, usually have a preconceived notion of who the people they are dealing with at these borders are. He said that many didn't seem to be aware that it was their job to protect these people, not imprison them. Europe has a refugee issue and it will be interesting to follow how this will be solved. Considering the wealth that Europe has gained from the world's resources, it seems a mere pittance on what is being offered in return. But again, if we don't think there is enough then we act like there's not enough. And we get stressed. And hold on tighter to what we have. Because hey, there's not enough and I have to look out for me.
I'm also afraid to report that what we see happening within the U.S. prison system can be paralleled to the detention camps here. Many people say that you can't compare what is happening in the States to what happens in Europe but my answer is, who is comparing? We're adding another piece of the picture and the picture should be complete: We must be in a position where we better understand the forces that are behind the many migrations that continue to flow out of the motherland and the devastation politically/economically that colonialism and neocolonialism has wrought, so that we can address them and ensure that there is better protection in place for a groups of people who although are spread throughout the world, proudly claim a common ancestry to a land and a people, and are clearly under attack. How many Africans are currently in refugee camps in Europe?
Angola still has not recovered it's pre-slavery population - to just give an idea of the extent of the Atlantic Slave trade on Africa and her people. The African holocaust is real. The wiki on Angola is interesting, because reading it reminds us that there were many cultures and people whom the European encountered in Africa. Treasure is usually buried and so is it with history as well. I learned a long time ago that the gems of history is not readily given to you. You have to search for it. And when you do history comes alive in a way that teaches you, alerts you, prepares you and most importantly truly tell about the rich diversity of human beings.
Human beings have been traveling the world forever. You don't really believe that Christopher Columbus was the first European to sail to the so-called New World, do you? If Nordic accounts are correct then we all know the Vikings did it first. Or the Chinese. Or Africans. Point is we have been traveling way before Columbus. The difference is folks didn't conquer each other on the scale he would usher in, the dawn of this age in which we are in now, the dawn of the power of the Son/sun.
But what's all this about paper anyway? Do we really believe, in the end that the truth is always written down? And if so - that they are still in existence? But if your imagination cannot stretch that far, there are accounts - balanced accounts from different perspectives that prove that imagery has always and continues to be used as a tool to dehumanize others so as to exploit them or even get them out of your way.
It's a bit of a conundrum to have to speak about human rights because the existence of such an idea is also based on the idea that for some, there are none or very few. Aide has, like everything else including water, been rendered a commodity. This means that causes, if they are to be successful, must be connected to a purse. This in turn means that just like any other commodity - the cause itself has to make itself sexy to attract those funds. What is sexy is what is current. And the media is good at telling us the sexier causes than the ones that crack the idea of what we think the world is all about. If Europe wishes to sustain an image as a champion of human rights - it means being accountable. And part of being accountable is recognizing the unique history that many of her member nations have had with countries all over the world, and dealing with the consequences of these relationships. One of these relationships is the one that was forged with the continent of Africa and her involvement in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and the money that has been gained from this. It would mean recognizing that although not every one of African descent did not descend from slavery, there is still a common thread of homeland that ought to be on every one of our minds, and a serious questioning of the state of things now and how they are connected to the past in order to truly understanding how we can move forward.
There was an attack on a Jewish store here the other day. It made me very sad. There seems to be a historical amnesia going on, an Alzheimer's like state where many have forgotten that it was not that long ago that Bosnia happened and before that, the Nazi concentration camps and the German occupation of Denmark. The only way concentration camps could have ever occurred was through the idea that the people in them were not worthy enough to be out of them. If that was not the case there would never have been camps to begin with. The only way a group of people could be targeted is if there is a belief that these people are less than human. This is why in the end many didn't find the Mohammed drawings all that funny - there was an anti-human element to it. It was dehumanizing. Most of all for the creator of it, I believe. However we must remember. We cannot afford to forget. The facts may be uncomfortable but some lessons unfortunately are. We can't hide from the truth. And the only way forward includes the necessary step of Europe acknowledging her unique relationship to the continent known as Africa and her people, and that this relationship is the backbone of Europe's success and this success was dependent on one of the most successful dehumanization campaigns undertaken ever. That a institutionalized racism was enacted that although may have been erased from most books of law are allowed to thrive in dubious interpretations and faulty logic. If Europe is to fight racism then she must reckon with the mother of all racisms: and that her its relationship to people of African descent and Black Europeans.
It is only until she has done so that she can claim that she is free. And if you look back in the annals of history, there truly was a time when she was.
Thank you to all of the participants of this steering committee, ENAR and the African Empowerment Center of Denmark.