Why we can still talk about racism in Europe


(Cover by Nick Slater illustration)

Something I learned during my many years of studies in Human Rights is that racism, in Europe, is not limited to the discrimination of people of color. Xenophobia and the fear of anyone different has become the new form of colorless racism, a virus spreading fast through Europe due to nationalistic and far right discourses, both in politics and in the media.

But is racism really rising in Europe and if so what are the causes? Cases of racist discrimination in Europe are no longer only linked to the color of people’s skin but rather to the cultural background, religion and country of origin. People migrating from Arabic countries are very likely to be discriminated based on their culture and people of Muslim religion on their believes. However, while xenophobia is the new form of racism in the Old Continent, people of color are not out of the woods. People of African descent, in fact, still suffer of strong racial discrimination around the EU. According to the FRA ( The European Agency of Fundamental Rights), people of color still suffer of race-related violence, discriminatory police profiling, and discrimination in the search for jobs and housing.

The old myth saying that nordic countries, in Europe, are the most accepting of diversity has been proven wrong by statistics. Finland had the highest rates of race-related harassment and violence, approximately 63% of people of color declared having suffered of some sort of discrimination due to their skin color. Racist violence was at 14% in Finland, the highest in the EU.

When it comes to police profiling, on the other hand, Italy comes among the first EU countries to be arresting or questioning people based on ethnicity and skin color. Around 70% of people of color interviewed in Italy reported being stopped by the police unjustly due simply to their appearance. Italy scores first on another challenging issue, that of housing. Along with Austria, Italy is among the first countries in the EU that discriminated people of color when it comes to access to housing.

That being said, it is important to clarify that EU countries don’t have the same racist attitude towards the many different ethnic identities. A Survey of the 28 EU countries shows that people may react differently is their daughter was marrying a person of African descent than if she was marring a person of Arab descent. Lets take into considerations the few countries we have already mentioned first. Finland, for instance, seems particularly inclusive when discussing inter-racial marriages with people of color, showing positive attitude (70-79% of respondents in favor). When asked about marriages with people of Arab background, however, people seem to change their minds completely on tolerance, only 30-39% of respondents in favor. Italy seems to be in a similar position, being more tolerant with black/white interracial marriages and less prone to Arab-European unions. Even Sweden, a country that classifies very high for its low levels of racial discrimination, has a slightly less positive response to allowing their children to marry a person of Arab origins. You can see the maps yourself in the lower graphs published by the Bezzelford site in 2017.

We can agree that racism in Europe comes with different color shades and is not solely focused on skin color per se. How many times do we hear people saying “I’m not racist, but…”, as if the fact that they do not discriminate based on skin color justifies their discriminatory comment?

With the refugee crises and increased mixed migration flows (a term that will better defined in following articles) people of different ethnic backgrounds suffer greatly from increasing racial hatred and intolerance, often spread by populist movements. Discriminatory comments and racial slurs have been freed from their taboo status and legitimized by politicians in power who gain political attention thanks to their intolerant views and fear-spreading skills. International and regional human rights instruments protecting people from discrimination are no longer implemented in certain EU countries and institutions themselves feel entitled to violate international law based on the demagogic discourses of public figures and the large spread hatred on social media.

Can we do something about it? Yes. Human rights education is the key. People should be informed about international treaties and instruments legally bounding states to defend people from racial discrimination in all sphere of life. We should make sure these instruments are implemented nationally and respected, in the opposite case reported to the competent courts. If you wanna do more, get informed at: https://fra.europa.eu/en or https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/cerd.aspx

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