Conflict Alerts # 104, 3 June 2020
The site of the anti-racism protests might be separated by thousands of miles, but that didn't stop the 'Black Lives Matter' protesters in Europe from marching in solidarity with their US counterparts on 31 May. Hundreds gathered and marched in a peaceful protest in London, Berlin, Amsterdam and Netherlands, holding signs with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and chanting, "No justice, no peace." The protests in different parts of Europe took place after violent protests broke out in the US over the video that showed George Floyd, an African American, gasping for his breath as a policeman knelt on his neck in Minneapolis.
Issues at large
First, entrenched social-economic and political discrimination. George Floyd's killing is a stark reminder of how deep-seated racist violence is across the Western liberal democratic countries including Europe. The protests in America found an equal voice of support in Europe as the race-related violence, discriminatory police profiling, and discrimination in the search for jobs and housing is commonplace in several European counties. A research study by the EU's agency for fundamental rights in 2018 showed that people from several African countries face "widespread and entrenched prejudice and exclusion" across the Union.
Second, the protests reflect a frustration of everyday structural racism. The protest in Europe is really about the frustration and desperation that several black communities feel in the face of institutional racism. This is not solely an American problem rather anti-black racism is all-pervasive in the Western countries. This was evident from the 2011 protests that took place in London after Mark Duggan, a black man, was shot and killed by the police. Across France, major protests and riots broke out in 2005 after the deaths of two black teenagers who were electrocuted while trying to evade the police. The same year, Oury Jalloh, a Sierra Leonean asylum-seeker, died in a fire in a police cell in Dessau, Germany.
Third, the colonial perception of exclusion feeds systemic racism. The perception of the Western societies of what it means to be black has not changed significantly as the ideas are largely dominated by a few historical events like slavery and colonialism. The difference based on colour has shaped the hierarchies within Western civilization and has now fed the structural marginalization. The voice of the black community is often underrepresented or have fallen prey to a single narrative dictated only by the colour of the skin. The media has done little to offset this collective under/misrepresentation, rather the language used to represent the community is that of a problematic coloured narrative. By harping on the colour of the person while reporting one puts a moral compass on how a particular community needs to be viewed or represented in society.
First, the everyday racism has manifested frequently through local conflict between the administrative authorities, police and the community. This conflict has always been normalized to an extent that until a death occurs the stark realities to how deeply faulted and underrepresented the majoritarian liberal system go unnoticed. Only rarely an incident happens that triggers one to the core. This protest in Europe seems to be doing the same as the protesters prepared a long list of names who have died in police attack in the region triggering a public memory of loss and marginalization.
Second, this largescale protest is undoubtedly a trigger and has joined the global protest movement against the history of systemic discrimination. The protest is rather unique as it questions some of the living memories of discrimination coupled with the historical memories of slavery and apartheid as it still begs for reconciliation and acceptance. Hence it remains to be seen how the protest seeks that path of reconciliation with the larger majoritarian society or turns into a wave of violence only to be cramped heavy-handedly.
Sourina Bej is a Project Associate at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS)