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Black Lives Matter: European Edition

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Hundreds of demonstrators gather on the Champs de Mars as the Eiffel Tower is seen in the background during a demonstration in Paris, France, Saturday, June 6, 2020, to protest against the recent killing of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis, U.S.A., after being restrained by police officers on May 25, 2020. Further protests are planned over the weekend in European cities, some defying restrictions imposed by authorities because of the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Good essay by the historian Tiffany Florvil on discrimination against Black people in Europe.

From Bristol, England to Copenhagen, Denmark and from Munich, Germany to Antwerp, Belgium, antiracism protests have demonstrated that Black Lives have always mattered not only in the United States, but also in Europe. The toppling of statutes and monuments, especially of the English slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol and King Leopold II in Antwerp, who brutally ruled over the Congo from 1885 to 1908, have once again forced a reckoning with slavery, colonialism, and neocolonialism while also shedding light on their afterlives. These new protests demonstrate how much racism is not a mere American import newly arriving in Europe. In fact, race, racism, and racialization are the edifices on which Europe was built. European empires grew and prospered based on the processes of enslavement, genocide, oppression, and dispossession. This tradition is evident with Germany’s genocide of the Ovaherero and Nama in 1904 to 1908 and the Holocaust, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, the police massacre of peaceful Algerian protesters in Paris in 1961, and the recent deportations of the Windrush Generation of Caribbean Commonwealth citizens from England. Although European nations consciously made an effort to reject biological or scientific racism after the horrors of the Nazis and the Third Reich, especially with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) “Statements on Race,” European nations still maintained those tenets of racism in the everyday. Moreover, European notions of identity, citizenship, and belonging have long been predicated on both the unspoken and spoken belief in whiteness and white supremacy. In this way, Europeanness is normalized as white, and nonwhite Europeans, residents, and migrants are excluded from the national community. 

Activists in Paris, Berlin, and Amsterdam have brought attention to these issues, which directly impact Black, People of Color, and migrant communities in Europe. These protests are a clarion call, pushing Europeans to acknowledge the embedded nature of structural and everyday forms of racism and to critically assess and confront its colonial history. Europe might claim to be postcolonial or even postracial, but the protests remind us that its colonial history remains omnipresent, especially with the disappointing responses to COVID-19, Brexit, housing inequity, austerity policies, the mainstreaming of right-wing politics, and much more. Additionally, Black Lives Matter movements in Europe also draw attention to the prevalence of police brutality, police corruption, and racial profiling. Europe has never been immune to subtle and overt forms of racialization. As a matter of fact, it is the same Europe that has seen a resurgence of neofascist, ethno-nationalist, and right-wing populist groups and politics across Europe (Italy, England, Hungary, and so forth), in which their virulent racism targets and harms people of African descent, People of Color, and migrants. It is also a Europe that continues to turn a blind eye to the deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.

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