On January 20th I wrote a post under the title "Racism is a problem of communication" and other assorted white myths. In the post, I mentioned the German town of Hoyerswerda where, in 1991 a refugee center was set on fire by right wing racists who wanted to inflict as much harm as possible on the immigrants living at the center. In the post I mentioned that the town was opening a new center to receive, once again, immigrants. The local politicians framed the racism as “a problem of communication that made white people look bad”. Back then I wrote:
Two things worth noting here. On the one hand, “racism as bringing shame to the country”. Racism is not exposed because of its inherently violence towards People of Color or because of the long lasting consequences on the lives of PoC. Racism brings “shame” to white people. The affect of racism (as in, who is affected by it) is not on the victims but on how “badly” it reflects on the white dominant culture. On the other hand, “racism as a matter of feelings” and “racism as a result of bad communication”. Rather than expose racism as part of a centuries old history behind white supremacy, racism becomes a problem of “self expression”, reduced to a few problematic individuals that cannot “express themselves” properly.
Last week, a group of immigrants moved into the town. This happened:
The destitute east German town of Hoyerswerda waited 23 years for a second chance to prove they were a welcoming place, after a mob chased foreign refugees and migrants in 1991. When that chance arrived this week, it took them about 36 hours to blow it.
They got their chance Wednesday afternoon when 36 refugees, including 10 kids, from places including Syria, Pakistan and Morocco arrived at their brand new center. A Moroccan man was attacked Friday morning.
A primary difference, of course, between the attacks in 1991 and Friday was that this was an isolated attack.[…]
Friday’s attack took place while one of the newest residents of the city of 35,000 was standing on the ancient and very quaint city square. A resident riding by on a bicycle slapped him, then turned around and came back and hit him again, at least a couple times.
And again, the white tactics of deflection are deployed: an isolated incident, different from the previous one, etc etc. Rather than address the structure underlying these attacks and highlighting the brutal genealogy of racism that 23 years later is present like the previous time, we are offered apologia and minimization.
Racism continues being a consequence of white supremacy, no matter how the dominant culture wants us to believe it’s just “isolated incidents” or “a few bad apples”.
An American journalist has received a death threat after commenting in an article that one of the attractions at the Dutch Efteling amusement park had racist overtones.-
From the article:
Gisela Williams’ review praises the Efteling as a European alternative to a Disney theme park with its fairytale attractions, special effects, lack of queues and affordable food.
However, towards the end of the article Williams refers to one ‘unpleasant part’: ‘the way dark-skinned people were depicted’.[…]
Commenters on the Elsevier website said Williams is ‘ripe for the psychiatrist’, should keep herself busy making such comments about the USA and should take up cooking instead.
The criticism has since reached Williams herself. ‘I received my first death threat today. Believe it or not it was regarding my recent WSJ article on a fairytale amusement park,’ Williams said on Saturday, using the microblogging service Twitter.
The throw-away reference to the fairground attraction is the latest international news article to mention racism in the Netherlands. At the end of last year, there was widespread attention for the racist overtones in the Zwarte Piet character during the Sinterklaas celebrations and for Dutch entertainer Gordon, who made fun of a Chinese talent show contest.
In The Netherlands, death threats for pointing out racism are a common tactic. Mainstream media like that owned by The Telegraaf Media Group regularly incite to violence towards people who resist racism. This is not merely a subgroup of fringe racists but a common rhetorical device to silence any kind of political intervention towards the ingrained racism within the dominant culture.
Of course I am horrified that yet again this is happening. However, this is just one instance making international news while the practice remains a daily reality for local media in the Dutch language. What makes it particularly interesting is that in the same breath these violent media will staunchly defend “freedom of speech”. Obviously, they refer to the freedom to continue being racist. The same standard need not apply for those who speak against it.
Content warning for images of violence against undocumented migrants
Image above via The Local. Caption of the image at the site reads: “A Spanish Civil Guard officer helps out a sub-Saharan immigrant after entering Spanish territory”. File Photo: Desiree Martín/AFP
This week I’ve written about my opposition to the European Parliament’s recommendations for undocumented women migrants. As a feminist I am expected to support measures that supposedly improve the conditions of women. And yet, I see a photo like the above and I cannot avoid the deeply symbolic value: the agent of the State is a Spanish woman in charge of disciplining those who dare cross borders.
The photo above is part of a feature about the deaths of 13 migrants who tried to cross the border between Morocco and Spain in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta on the morning of Thursday, February 6th (as of this writing, yesterday morning). Ceuta and Melilla are two Spanish sites in African territory. Morocco has held a very long dispute over these territories in what they effectively consider an act of colonialism on their land. Because the European Union recognizes these territories as part of Spain, they are included in the violent tactics to prevent undocumented African migrants from crossing the border. A wired fence has been erected in place to prevent people from crossing through. Moroccan border police works in cooperation with Spanish authorities and Frontex (the EU border control police) to prevent these crossings. People travel very long distances sometimes in inhumane conditions to make it to this area.
This photo, also from 20minutos should how the fence between Spain and Morocco is set up. On one side, the armored border police, on the other, immigrants walking on the beach area.
Yesterday 13 migrants (twelve men and at least one woman) died while trying to get through the fence. Their bodies were washed by the sea while they tried to swim around the barbed wire. 20minutos reports in Spanish (translation here and throughout mine)
The provisional death toll of undocumented migrants from sub Saharan Africa has raised to 13 after a group of 250 people attempted to cross through the beach. Francisco Antonio González Pérez, the government’s delegate in Ceuta emphasized the “unprecedented violence” displayed by the immigrants to attempt entry and admitted to the use of anti riot materials such as rubber bullets and blank ammunition in order to scare the immigrants off.
On another report about the deaths, 20minutos explains how the tragedy occurred:
According to Government Delegate forces, the immigrants assaulted the border [NOTE: the word used by Spanish media is “asalto”, not that I am purposefully translating to pick biased terms, this IS the way media is reporting the deaths] at 7AM when they arrived from the hills close to Ceuta and stormed racing towards the border path. Some immigrants, in an attempt to avoid the Moroccan border police took to the sea. During the avalanche at least four died from crushing and another four by drowning [Note: this was an earlier report when all bodies had not been yet recovered]
20minutos also has a video at the site with images that show what the border between Spain and Morocco looks like. I have written about the militarization of EU borders and how the expansion of Frontex operations go hand in hand with discourses that portray undocumented migrants as a menace and a threat to European security. These images drive my ideas home much better than words ever could. From the video, some images:
The tragedy took place after Moroccan security forces and Spain’s Civil Guard Police repelled the entry of up to 400 sub-Saharan immigrants, Spanish daily 20minutos reported.
The news comes just days after a video filmed by a Melilla-based NGO worker showcased how Spanish authorities were illegally handing back to Morocco dozens of sub-Saharan immigrants who had jumped the security fence into the Spanish North African enclave.
“Morocco doesn’t accept injured immigrants,” reads the video narration in reference to the controversial barbed wire put up several months ago in a bid to dissuade immigrants from crossing the border.
The law stipulates that immigrants who enter Spanish territory should be taken immediately to the closest police station where they are identified and have the right to a legal and medical assistance as well as an interpreter.
Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz admitted on Tuesday that there were “isolated cases” in which Spain’s Civil Guard breached legislation.
The footage also contradicts comments made by Spain’s delegate in Melilla, Abdelmalik el Barkani, who denied irregular expulsions ever took place.
Ceuta and Spain’s other north African enclave Melilla have the European Union’s only land borders with Africa.
They are seen as stepping stones to a better life in Europe for sub-Saharan migrants, who often risk their lives attempting to enter the tiny Spanish enclaves, either by sea or by storming the six metre (20 foot) barriers that separate them from Morocco.
The video mentioned above can be watched in its entirety here. However, since the captions are in Spanish, I have made a few screen captures and I’m providing English translations beneath each one so that those who watch the video know exactly what they are watching.
Melilla, January 2014, there’s been a fence crossing (a “fence jump”) 2 km from this spot.
This is the spot where immigrants are summarily expelled illegally (NOTE: an illegal expulsion is one where the undocumented person is not allowed to present their case in front of a court of law or immigration authorities)
The border door that communicates with Morocco is open. A person lays on the ground for two hours, next to the door towards Morocco.
SUVs arrive continuously, with their trunks full of people who have been detained in the city and are temporarily kept in the nearby ditch.
Almost all of these people appeared to be injured. Some of them cannot move and are literally dragged around.
Usually Moroccans do not accept injured people.
During more than two hours the traffic of vehicles with their trunks full of immigrants was incessant, some of the immigrants were severely injured.
With the European elections coming close this May more racist rhetoric is used by populist politicians that are forging pan European alliances. We constantly hear how the EU needs to defend itself from this immigrant menace and how European wellbeing is under constant threat from the invasion of undocumented migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. We must protect ourselves at all costs! we often hear in European media. The deaths of thousands of migrants escaping the structural poverty and conflict brought upon them by a long history of colonial interventions and global neoliberal capitalism is obviously a fair price to pay so that Europeans can sleep soundly in the knowledge that they are protected.
I will start by doing something that I usually steer clear from which is to “explain” the European Union in a couple of sentences. This is, I am aware, reductionist and possibly erroneous in the sense that one cannot quite describe a system of government in simplistic terms. Yet, I believe it is necessary to do so in order to frame my ideas around certain resolutions.
The European Union is a governing body that is based in Brussels. The closest comparison I can draw from existing political systems is akin to the Federal Government in the US. The different European countries, in this set up, can be loosely compared to the different States in the US. Again, this is a facile comparison and there are many differences but the centralized nature of EU administration (especially in relation to the European Parliament or European Court can somewhat be compared to “Washington” as the central administration of US politics).
So, the website of the European Parliament has published a resolution they passed on January 6th with a list of recommendations regarding undocumented women migrants in the EU. Here are the key points of these recommendations: (emphasis mine on some key points)
The Committee on Employment and Social Affairs calls on the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions in its motion for a resolution:
1. Notes that the irregular status of undocumented women throughout Europe makes it virtually impossible for their fundamental human rights, including the rights to education and health, to be respected, thus making these women particularly vulnerable to all forms of exploitation, low wages, unstable working conditions and social exclusion; considers that the best way of permanently improving their situation is to bring them within the legally established systems, since their irregular situation deprives them of social security and other employment benefits; notes that they may be further disadvantaged by furthermore, illiteracy and by language and adaptability barriers;
2. Calls on the Member States to take the following action: to put an end to discriminatory practices; to fight undeclared work and labour exploitation, inter alia by means of labour inspections; to recognise undocumented women as victims and allow them to access basic health services, employment and education; to enable them to have access to the legal system and to confidential advice in emergencies without fear of this resulting in measures to terminate their residence; to ensure that such action also involves the European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion, as well as networks of existing aid organisations, churches and civil society organisations; and, where necessary, to establish specific forms of data protection for the women concerned;
Note: victims of what? Because surely in order for a victim to exist there must be a victimizer. I consider the State to be the victimizer in the case of undocumented women migrants in the sense that the situation is part of a long history of inequalities related to Europe’s colonial past, corporate interventions in the so called Global South and neoliberal globalization that deprive migrants of a livelihood in their countries of origin.
3. Calls on the Member States and the Commission to recognise undocumented women migrants explicitly as a vulnerable social group, exposed to trafficking, discrimination and exploitation on the labour market;
Note: I would urge anyone interested in the mechanisms that the State uses to further violate the rights of undocumented women under the guise of “fighting trafficking” to read this article by Molly Smith in The Guardian. Alternatively, follow her on Twitter. Another woman that has many important things to say about this topic is Laura Agustin. Her blog (with plenty of material) can be found here and she’s also very active on Twitter here.
4. Calls on the Member States and the Commission to focus on the working conditions of undocumented women migrants, as a crucial step towards defining and recognising the difficulties to which they are exposed on the labour market and in order to ensure that their fundamental rights are respected;
Note: Oh really? Focus on the working conditions like that time undocumented women domestic workers who were neither trafficked nor working against their will were reported by the bus drivers who cooperated with the police and immigration authorities to have them deported because the women (all of them visibly of color) “looked illegal”?
5. Encourages the Member States to work actively to extend the possibilities for undocumented persons to become legal, in order to facilitate their access to the labour market and improve their inclusion in society;
6. Stresses that undocumented women in particular are often the victims of precarious, isolated, unhealthy or working conditions, are very often employed below their education level, in some cases experience abuse and violence, and are prevented by extreme dependency on their employers from asserting their fundamental and labour rights; calls on the Member States and the social partners to help undocumented women be brought within the legally established systems, thereby enabling them to better exercise their rights - including through the application of Directive 2009/52/EC providing for minimum standards on sanctions and measures against employers of illegally staying third-country nationals - respecting labour law and collective agreements;
7. Calls for the implementation of ILO Convention No 29 on forced labour; calls for consideration to be given to the special situation of women involved in forced labour – including not just forced prostitution but all involuntary work, the domestic sphere included – and for protection to be given to the undocumented migrant women concerned;
8. Stresses the need for the Commission and the Member States to strengthen labour inspections in order to combat the exploitation of undocumented women migrant workers and the violation of their fundamental human rights;
9. Calls for the creation of special forms of data protection for undocumented women, including victims of human trafficking, who turn in such situations to hospitals, doctors, the authorities and NGOs seeking for help or guidelines, to women’s shelters, counselling services or religious counsellors and for the protection of workers in such establishments who acquire information about irregular residence; believes help and support should be given in accordance with Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims, and calls for this directive to be implemented in all Member States; stresses the need for women with irregular or unclear residence status to be able to access medical care without risk of expulsion;
10. Condemns all forms of violence, human trafficking, abuse and discrimination against undocumented women; stresses the need to ensure access to the help on offer in such situations without fear of this resulting directly in measures to terminate residence;
Note: again, notice how much emphasis there is on human trafficking which completely erases the agency of the undocumented women migrants. As if the only reason a woman would migrate is through trafficking and not because of structural conditions in their home countries.
11. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to provide sufficient female contact staff, care professionals, officials, assessors and other staff; calls for such measures out of respect for other religions and cultures and the need to protect against discrimination;
12. Stresses that undocumented women are vulnerable to abuse, and that barriers for them to engage in legal procedures are often to be found in the fear that their safety is not guaranteed, arising from a lack of shelters and procedural obstacles; calls on the Member States to ensure that such women are able to report any abuse suffered and are protected from any form of reprisal; believes that measures should also be introduced to assist such vulnerable women, including provision of shelters; calls on the Member States, accordingly, to take the necessary measures to identify such abuse and to guarantee access to justice;
13. Draws attention in particular to the situation of undocumented women who are pregnant or have children; stresses that they need special protection and a legal entitlement to healthcare and have the right to a birth certificate for their children in accordance with Article 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; emphasises that they must have access to appropriate medical care and to registry offices without having to fear that this will result in measures to terminate their residence; calls for special forms of data protection for women who in such situations turn to doctors, clinics and registry offices;
Note: my face, I wish you could see it right now.
14. Calls on the Commission and the Member States, through more extensive and integrated research, to close the gaps in reliable data and existing knowledge on the number and situation of undocumented persons in Europe, to draw the attention of the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) to the situation of undocumented women, and to take greater account of women in this category when implementing the inclusion targets of the Europe 2020 strategy;
15. Encourages the Member States to grant the children of women with irregular or unclear residence status access to the education system without the threat of this leading to prosecution and/or deportation;
16. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to reduce inequalities in employment between migrant workers and EU workers by offering secondary education and vocational training so that women, especially migrant women, can acquire new skills and are thus not restricted to low-paid jobs;
17. Calls, in the context of efforts to prevent migration by providing development aid to the migrants’ countries of origin, for the focus to be placed on women’s education and rights;
Note: neocolonial interventions under the guise of “aid” for “women’s empowerment” while the European Union continues promoting and pushing for European corporations to drain resources and exploit the very same workforces that eventually seek migration as a solution to their structural problems back home. Not a word about how H&M (a Swedish corporation) or Zara (Spanish), to use two examples though there are dozen similar ones, contribute to the exploitation of textile factory workers in Bangladesh. In the same breath, the Austrian Minister of Home Affairs calls Bangladeshi undocumented migrants “farm animals” and accuses Greece of “letting the barn door open” to allow them to come into the EU.
18. Asks for the opinion of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs for the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality on gender aspects of the EU Framework for National Roma Inclusion Strategies to be taken into account in this context.
I have spoken before about the fact that I do not support gendered recommendations or legislation that are solely based on benefiting undocumented women. To begin with, and going back to my simple explanation of the European Union as a governing body in the first paragraph, the reason I do not support this kind of legislation, even though it might seem contrary to my feminist politics is that the EU member States have very rigid and exclusionary definitions of “woman”. In most of the EU, woman = cis. That alone excludes the very specific ways in which trans women, gender queer and/ or other gender variant people are not part of these recommendations. Yesterday, I shared on Twitter this link about the appalling track record of Denmark in regards to the treatment of trans people (Content warning at the link for terrible language and cissupremacist explanations). Member States such as Denmark (to use this example, though Denmark is not the only EU country where trans people are subjected to State violence) do not need to expand their “legal definitions” of woman in order to comply with the recommendations above. They can continue promoting a cissuspremacist view of gender and the EU Parliament (just like the Federal Government in the US) cannot force such changes. I won’t quote from the article because the language used is quite dehumanizing and possibly triggering but to sum it up: Denmark only recognizes trans people in so far as they have undergone surgeries that render them sterile/ infertile and only after they have gone though extensive medical treatments including therapies, medications, assessments, etc. And this is just one example of how State definitions of gender operate solely within a cis binary (there are cis women and cis men, anyone who does not fit these narrow categories is effectively not considered worthy of gender based protections).
Another reason I do not support these gender based recommendations is because there are myriad ways in which men are affected by State violence that are very closely tied to stereotypical ideas around manhood and masculinity. To use again, another relatively recent example, the rights of an undocumented African father were violated by the State when his child was given for adoption in the UK. The mother’s rights were violated due to her alleged mental health issues (she is an Italian citizen) but the rights of the father were equally destroyed because as an undocumented man he was unable to travel across the continent to attend the Court’s hearings of the case. Children, regardless of their gender, have a right to a family life that contemplates the rights of both parents equally. The rights of an undocumented African man to be a father to his child are equally important to the rights of any woman to be a mother. More importantly, children have a right to both without State violence getting in the way of their well being.
Last but not least, rape culture manifests in very specific ways when the bodies of People of Color are on the line. Men of color have been historically subjugated through rape and sexual abuse. Their centuries old dehumanization has hinged on simultaneous ideas of hypersexualized behaviors and rape as “corrective” tools to further dominate them. I have written before about the sexual violence experienced by undocumented migrant men and how this seems to be an invisible topic within migrant rights discourses.
While undocumented women face unspeakable violence that is very gender specific, I cannot get behind more “white savior” narratives that single us out as “deserving” of protection while the definitions of gender, womanhood, parenthood and family rights are left in the hands of a State that continues to use colonial ideas on our bodies. Moreover, I cannot support definitions and codifications that erase violence that perpetuate these very same colonial histories and violences to this day. The same State that coded us as “less than” is not the best qualified to create the legal frameworks that supposedly contain the “solution” to these historical wrongs.
Last Sunday the Göteborg International Film Festival and International Writers’ Stage Gothenburg co-hosted a conversation between Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Swedish film critic Jannike Åhlund (JÅ). It got weird quickly.-
This is a must read and a must watch (with content warnings and caution of erasing discourses, gaslighting and other assorted tactics of white deflection) for any person interested in European ideas around race, People of Color, colonialism and history (Sweden’s but also the other European Empires). Especially on how these erasure rests on a foundation of exceptionalism and being “better” than those white supremacist masses that do not have “nice things” such as welfare policies, “human rights”, peddled “equality”, etc.
On January 15th, I wrote “In the name of European safety: the gang rapes of undocumented and refugee women”. In the post I pointed to the European Union’s responsibility for the situation of migrants crossing through Libya trying to reach Europe with one caveat:
The last available data I could find is from 2009. There is no further information about the funding of these detention facilities in the post Gaddafi regime.
Today Statewatch has released a new batch of data regarding the post Gaddafi situation and the EU’s involvement in stopping undocumented migrants while they are in Libya to avoid dealing with asylum requests once they reach EU territory. From “Italy/Libya: Documents unveil post-Gaddafi cooperation agreement on immigration”:
Within the framework of bilateral cooperation, activities that were previously agreed to build a health centre attached to the “reception” centre in Kufrah will resume to provide first aid services to “illegal” migrants who arrive there from the surrounding areas.[…]
The Italian authorities will be immediately informed, whereas Libya has committed to reinforcing its land and sea borders to counter the departure of migrants from its territory. Italy commits to “immediately enact” its programme to supply Libya with the technical means and equipment that it asked for to improve surveillance of its borders. Activities concerning the project for a border monitoring system in the south of Libya will be resumed, as will the Sah-Med (Sahara and Mediterranean) project, both of which were agreed with support from the European Commission.[…]
As the title of Guido Ruotolo’s article that accompanied publication of the Tripoli Declaration and the official record of the meeting between interior ministers Cancellieri and Al-Taher Abdulali noted, it appears that cooperation will follow the trail beaten when Gaddafi was in charge. It should also be noted that most migrants who arrive in Italy from Libya are not Libyan citizens, thus references to “returns” largely concern migrants who crossed Libya as a transit country en route to Italy, reminiscent of the readmission of third country nationals who have suffered human rights violations in the north African country over the last few years.
In closing, the article states:
The EU and Italy are imposing tight border control regimes abroad in order to enact free movement within the EU. In doing so, they are attempting to cut off largely unregulated and age-old migration flows that are acknowledged as beneficial for the countries concerned, just like freedom of movement was introduced by EU countries for their own benefit. Effectively, the EU is paying countries to impose policies that are detrimental for them and to establish anti-immigration apparatuses that foster racism and lower human rights standards, at a huge expense.
Moreover, the EU is promoting, funding and training a system that results in systematic gang rapes and unspeakable sexual violence for migrants. Since the crimes happen in what is presented as a “non EU regulated” area (though funded through European taxpayers) there need not be any accountability or justice for the victims. As long as they do not reach EU borders, the State can continue claiming they are not “our” responsibility.
It has only gotten worse ever since. This week “Man jailed for ‘anti-white racist’ attack in France”. However, this one is not quite like the other one. If a Black woman could be convicted of “anti white racism”, then the definition of racism had to be stretched even further (reverse racism is not enough of a claim for white supremacy, expansion is required until the word racism loses all meaning and victims are left with absolutely nothing). So… this from the article is a bonafide expansion, once and for all, of what racism actually means or entails:
A man was sentenced this week to four years behind bars for an “anti-white racist” attack on a Frenchman on the platform of a Paris train station. The convicted man was also white.[…]
The victim first laid eyes on his two attackers when they asked him for a cigarette while he was on the platform waiting for a train. When he refused to hand one over he began to be insulted with a second alleged attacker, who has not yet been caught, calling the victim “a dirty white” and “dirty Frenchman”.
He was then set upon by both men and attacked with broken bottles. The victim was left seriously injured.
To French prosecutors, the abuse was not just ordinary insults, the words were a clear sign the beating was racially motivated. The court agreed and followed prosecutors’ recommendations in imposing the four-year sentence, one year of which is suspended.
The article contains gems such as these:
'Anti-white racism is just like any other form of racism - it cannot be ignored'
"We are acting just like we would for any kind of racism case, whether it’s anti-Semitic or anti-black," Vice president of LICRA Philippe Schmidt told The Local in an April 2013 interview. "We cannot just pull a blanket over our eyes because this is a case of anti-white racism.”
A bit of decontextualized, faux outrage commentary had to be added as well
The issue of anti-white racism is a sensitive subject in France. Up until recently it was a concept invoked mainly by members of France’s far-right organizations.
Because really, how could it possibly be that these ideas trickled down from the extreme right into the mainstream?! it couldn’t possibly be that mainstream media played a role amplifying them uncritically and, in turn, they were picked by “moderate” politicians and public figures to get themselves into the spotlight at the expense of minorities and excluded groups? No, these ideas just “came to be” into the public opinion and “inserted themselves” into mainstream discourses by spontaneous generation. The 2011 conviction of a Black woman couldn’t have possibly played a role in getting to the point we are at now, right? Ah, “reverse racism” is finally institutionalized and given the proper legal framework that white supremacy requires.
There are migrants in the European Union caught in a de facto “legal limbo”. They are referred to as “unreturnable” because they cannot be deported. Often times the reason they cannot be deported is because they are stateless, people without citizenships or passports. In some cases, the countries where they were born no longer exist. In others, such as the case of a Roma man born in Macedonia, they are stateless because the countries where they were born refuse to acknowledge them as nationals. Other “unreturnables” have lost their passports (or they never had one to begin with) and the embassies of their countries of origin refuse to issue them new travel documents. There are many reasons why an undocumented migrant can become “unreturnable” in Europe. When that happens, they become targets of pointless detentions and subjected to further loss of rights. Detaining an “unreturnable migrant” is pointless because the detention can never be followed up by deportation (which is the justification to detain undocumented migrants to begin with). As a result, “unreturnable people” are detained for weeks, months or years and then released with absolutely no support system only to risk detention again in a never ending cycle of State violence.
“Point of no return” is a project led by the Flemish Refugee Action Foundation that interviewed 39 “unreturnable migrants” about their personal histories and the numerous detentions they have faced in Belgium, France, Hungary and the United Kingdom. Click through to read their stories and the lack of legal support for their situation across the EU.
Two seemingly disparate news caught my attention today, namely:
The Netherlands: Most of the Dutch are happy with their lives in general
The first item, from Germany is about a very violent racist attack that took place in 1991. From the article:
In September 1991, a mob of right-wing radicals armed with Molotov cocktails, tracer ammunition and stones attacked hostels for contract workers and asylum-seekers in the city of Hoyerswerda in the state of Saxony and terrorized residents for five full days. The young men who attacked the home, filled with frightened people from Mozambique, Vietnam and Romania, were brimming with hatred.
The attacks made international headlines not only because it raised the specter of xenophobia in the states that once belonged to East Germany, but also because local residents simply looked on as the violence escalated. Some even applauded the thugs. Police in Hoyerswerda were unable to get the situation under control and ultimately officials at the hostel removed the foreigners and took them elsewhere.
Hoyerswerda marked the beginning of a wave of violent outbreaks against foreigners that continued during the early 1990s, with shameful attacks in Rostock, where an asylum-seekers’ home was attacked, but also in the western German cities of Solingen and Mölln, where a total of eight people of Turkish origin were killed when arsonists attacked their homes.
But this is the part that caught my eye (emphasis mine):
Twenty-three years have passed since the attacks that brought shame on the entire country. Now, the city of Hoyerswerda has announced its plans to open a new hostel in a special education school that closed last year and is currently being renovated to provide accommodations for asylum-seekers.
And later on this:
'We Need To Be Good About Communicating'[…]
Preacher Michel also feels strongly there’s no chance of the events of 1991 recurring in the city. “There was considerable turmoil after the Berlin Wall fell — many people were unsettled, and even the police didn’t know exactly what they had authority over.” He believes there was a feeling at the time that people couldn’t truly express themselves — a situation that no longer exists today.
Two things worth noting here. On the one hand, “racism as bringing shame to the country”. Racism is not exposed because of its inherently violence towards People of Color or because of the long lasting consequences on the lives of PoC. Racism brings “shame” to white people. The affect of racism (as in, who is affected by it) is not on the victims but on how “badly” it reflects on the white dominant culture. On the other hand, “racism as a matter of feelings” and “racism as a result of bad communication”. Rather than expose racism as part of a centuries old history behind white supremacy, racism becomes a problem of “self expression”, reduced to a few problematic individuals that cannot “express themselves” properly.
This exact same white approach towards racism is deployed in The Netherlands as well. Here’s this item from two weeks ago:
D66 campaign leader Ingrid van Engelshoven said she did not believe any more international organisations in the field of peace and justice would locate to The Hague if the PVV is in charge.
In addition, established institutions may leave the city, she warned. ‘I can well imagine the PVV’s standpoints would conflict with international organisations’ ideals and they would consider leaving if made a good offer by another city.’
Racism affects white reputation. Racism is an “embarrassment”, it makes us look “bad”, it could make us lose money. Addressing racism, then, does not become an issue of justice towards its victims but of preventing whites from being embarrassed and enduring potential material consequences.
Which brings me to the second news item of today about Dutch happiness. From the article:
The Dutch are happiest with their homes and least happy about their finances but most are nevertheless satisifed with life, according to new research by the national statistics office CBS.
Here’s the thing: I’ve written about the high rates of depression among PoC in The Netherlands. “Happiness” as a sociocultural project is very important to Northern Europeans. In The Netherlands, not a month goes by without one of these “studies” that decree the Dutch to be “one of the happiest people on Earth”. Foundational myths are based on recurring ideas of “conviviality” and “coziness”. In these instances, happiness and conviviality are not just individual goals but a Nation building project. In The Netherlands, this “conviviality” is expressed by the concept of “Gezelligheid”. In Germany, it’s through Gemütlichkeit. In Denmark, a similar state is invoked with the word hygge. In all these instances, conviviality is an important part of social interactions. I contend that this white conviviality is at the root of the discourses around racism that I mentioned above. “Racism is bad because it kills our convivial/ cozy vibes”. Whiteness is exposed for its unwelcoming nature. The racism exposes a culture that is anything but convivial for PoC. Because of that exposure, racism becomes “bad for white people”.
At the end of the day, none of these ideas around shame and material loss for white people address the real problem: justice for People of Color and the correction of a historical wrong that continues unabated.
Each of these items would deserve its own post with its own analysis but quite frankly, I am a bit burned out today. I can only offer so many words before these issues take a toll. So, here’s a roundup of items regarding the ongoing dehumanization of migrants/ People of Color in Europe:
At The Guardian, Diane Taylor writes “The UK dehumanises immigrants – no wonder tragedies happen in detention”. From the article:
Asylum seekers are widely perceived to be a large group of undeserving people who scrounge benefits and gobble up social housing and jobs that should be reserved for British citizens. The facts – that asylum seekers only make up about 5% of migrants, are banned from working, and often have zero government support or accommodation – are drowned out by scaremongering from rightwing tabloids and politicians.[…]
Hardwick manages to claw back some of the humanity we have lost by highlighting shocking individual cases, including the pregnant woman who was tipped out of a wheelchair
Also at The Guardian, Diane Taylor and Rowena Mason write “Home Office staff rewarded with gift vouchers for fighting off asylum cases”
Home Office officials are being rewarded with shopping vouchers for helping to ensure failed asylum seekers lose their attempt to stay in the country, new documents reveal.
Official guidance obtained by the Guardian shows that immigration staff have been set a target of winning 70% of tribunal cases in which asylum seekers are appealing against government decisions that they should leave the UK.
These officers are also incentivised by Home Office reward schemes involving gift vouchers, cash bonuses and extra holidays, according to information received under freedom of information laws.
This is such a textbook example of the marriage of capitalism and racism. What better way to “incentivize” dehumanization and Othering than through the promotion of consumerism? For every failed asylum seeker, a shopping reward as a tool to enforce white supremacist capitalism.
At Enet English (Greek Independent Press), Investigation into alleged Greek coastguard abuse of migrants. From the article:
"The Hellenic Coastguard commandant has ordered the investigation of three distinct cases of alleged ill-treatment of third-country nationals by staff of the Hellenic Coastguard for the period between August and December 2013," Shipping Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis informed Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, on January 10.
In November, a German-based human rights organisation produced a report that said refugees attempting to enter Greece through the Aegean were being systematically, illegally and, in cases, brutally pushed back by the Greek authorities, in contravention of international law and with the complicity of the European authorities. Amnesty International has also raised its concerns about the same issue.
Ireland, 700% gap in reports of racism to gardai [Irish Police] and PSNI. From the article:
A MASSIVE 700pc gap between racist incidents reported to gardai and those reported to police in the North has prompted a call for an urgent review of reporting in the south.
The figures suggest that many victims in the south “are still choosing to suffer in silence rather than come forward,” according to the Immigrant Council of Ireland, which has reviewed statistics for the two jurisdictions.
At Open Democracy, Clare Sambrook writes “Man, 84, dies handcuffed in hospital: UK border control by the GEO Group”. From the article:
At Gatwick Airport last year, on Wednesday 23 January, British immigration officials detained an elderly Canadian man. He was taken to hospital. Then he was locked up at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre. A doctor examined him, reporting to the authorities that he was “frail, 84 years old, has Alzheimer’s disease …demented”.
The doctor marked his papers: “UNFIT for detention or deportation. Requires social care.”
The British Home Office chose to ignore the medical advice and continued to detain him.
On 8 February he was taken to hospital in handcuffs, then returned to his cell. Two days later he was taken back to hospital and kept in handcuffs for five long hours. His condition worsened. The cuffs stayed on. His heart stopped. Medical staff tried and failed to resuscitate him. The handcuffs were removed. His name was Alois Dvorzac.
Bonus Australian newspaper feature: What do you think about Australian Customs not retrieving the bodies of the asylum seekers who were in the boat that capsized off Christmas Island?
From Italy MP ‘blacks up’ for anti-migrant speech - Europe - Al Jazeera English (emphasis mine)
A right-wing Italian politician smeared his face with black greasepaint in parliament, advising Italians to “become a bit darker” if they wanted to take advantage of the country’s supposed hand-outs to black immigrants.[…]
"At the end of the day, maybe in this country in order to achieve anything we need to be a bit darker.
"I say we can all put make-up on and make ourselves a bit darker, and then we can all go around painted black and say we want the same help that non-EU citizens get.”
The Northern League has accused Cecile Kyenge, the country’s Congo-born minister for integration, of using her post to “favour negritude”.
When I wrote about the racist constructions used in the European Union as a project of Empire, this is precisely the kind of ideology I was referring to. In this construction, to be Black, to be of color, to be Other is to never be fully acknowledged as belonging. This from the article:
Kyenge is Italy’s first black politician and has experienced multiple incidents of racism, not least from the Northern League.
Its leader Roberto Calderoli compared her to an orang-utan last year. He was later charged with defamation aggravated by racial discrimination.
Kyenge has also had bananas thrown at her during public appearances and the political party’s official newspaper has started printing her daily agenda, detailing her official appointments.
Here’s a hint of why these issues are nowhere close to be fixed:
In response, Nichi Vendola, the head of the left-wing SEL party, tweeted: “Can someone tell the racists that we’re in the Third Millennium and are a civilised country, despite them.
“The racists think they’re in Alabama or Mississippi of a half-century ago or in South Africa during apartheid.”
These places that Vendola points out as examples of horrific racism were made so through a history of European colonialism. The racism and violence that took place/ is taking place in those locations is a direct result of a European ideology that was imposed in them. To now point to them as “examples” of anything without any historical contextualization of how they came to be, where those ideas originated, etc, is to further push the myth of an enlightened Europe that somewhat bears no responsibility for how white supremacy came to be and how, to this day, the European Union is founded and expanded on these ideas.
TRIGGER WARNING FOR GRAPHIC DETAILS OF ASSAULT, TORTURE AND SEXUAL ABUSE. Further disclaimer: I usually steer clear of graphic depictions of rape, abuse or torture because I do believe they can (and often are) used as “media porn” without any motive behind their use (i.e. without a political or analytical context). However, I am making an exception because I wholeheartedly believe that these stories provide an essential element to contextualize EU wide immigration policies and border interventions.
On the news today: Migrants in Italy testify over alleged rape
Migrants who survived a shipwreck in which 366 people died testified in court on Monday ahead of a trial against a Somali people smuggler who allegedly raped and tortured them during their voyage from Eritrea.
The seven Eritreans who gave evidence at the hearing included an 18-year-old girl who cowered in the arms of a police officer in court when she saw her suspected rapist, Elmi Mouhamud Muhidin, Italian media reported.[…]
Prosecutors during Monday’s hearing alleged that Muhidin was the director of the detention facility in Libya where the migrants were held before being taken to the coast to begin their ill-fated sea journey. The closed-door hearing took place in Palermo in Sicily.
The investigators said that a total of 20 women who boarded the ship had been raped by Muhidin and his henchmen and that only the girl who testified on Monday had survived the nighttime shipwreck just off Lampedusa.
Back in October, when I covered the Lampedusa tragedy, I wrote about the urgency of a feminist analysis on the gender specific aspect of mass death of women at sea. I pointed to the discrepancy between casualty figures of men and women. I’ve also written about how rape culture manifests in the migrant/ refugee experience of undocumented people who are unable to report their abuse and who are left with no legal recourse to obtain justice. So today, when I read about this trial, I was mostly interested in the context of these rapes and the ongoing manifestations of torture and abuse of migrant women, mostly from Africa.
When I approached this today, I immediately tried to find more background information behind this tidbit: Muhidin was the director of the detention facility in Libya. In my research, I came across this previously reported item at Al Jazeera, Lampedusa boat victims raped and tortured
Dozens of the people who were on the boat that sank near the Italian coast last month were raped and tortured in Libya before starting their journey, Italian police said.
The police revelation on Friday came after they announced the detention of Mouhamud Elmi Muhidin, a Somali citizen, who is believed to be the alleged organiser behind the smugglers’ ship packed with migrants that sank off the coast of a southern Italian island, killing more than 365 migrants.
According to migrants’ testimony, the 20 women in the group were repeatedly raped and offered to Libyan visitors “as if they were a cup of tea”.
Muhidin, Libyan militiamen and Sudanese traffickers all took part in the alleged assaults in a detention centre in Sabha in southwest Libya, that Italian prosecutor Maurizio Scalia likened to “a concentration camp”.
"They forced us to watch our men being tortured with various methods including batons, electric shocks to the feet. Whoever rebelled was tied up," read the testimony of a 17-year-old Eritrean girl in the investigation, Italian newspaper La Repubblica daily reported.
The migrants were forced to pay up to $3500 for their freedom and their onward journey to the Libyan coast and a boat to Italy.
"The women who could not pay were assaulted," the girl was quoted as saying in her criminal charge.
She also described in horrific detail her own sexual assault, saying that Muhidin was one of the three men who raped her.
"They threw me on the ground, held down my arms and covered my mouth, and poured gasoline on my head, which burned my scalp, skin and eyes," she said through a translator. "And then, not yet happy, the three took turns raping me."
Now we know three facts:
1) there were ongoing gang rapes of undocumented/ refugee women
2) Mouhamud Elmi Muhidin was the director of a detention camp
3) the camp is located in in Sabha, southwest Libya
It would be easy to confine these facts to Libya and gloss over a wider picture. “This happens to African migrants in African territories, hence, these events are outside the realm of the European Union’s responsibilities”. Except from this, documented in the research published by Ariane Chebel D’Appollonia in her book “Frontiers of Fear”:
Meanwhile, [in 2003] Italy bilaterally began the construction of a detention camp in northern Libya to facilitate deportations, and two additional camps in Kufra and Sabha were under discussion. Little information has filtered out regard-ing the funding of these facilities, The Italian government also provided Libya with training and equipment to asist in surveillance and management. In 2005 the Italian minister of interior reportedly pledged to give Libya €15 million over a three-year period for border control equipment.
Then there’s the extensive database at the Global Detention Project that documents the actual beginning of operations at the Sabha detention camp:
Sabha. In 2008, the government opened a new immigration detention centre in Sabha, at the edge of the Sahara, which is a key entry point for undocumented migrants entering Libya (Fortress Europe 2009). According to Fortress Europe, the compound is made up of three buildings, where a total of 1,000 people can be detained. Between 60 and 70 people are held in each of the facilities eight-by-eight meter rooms. Detainees reportedly sleep on the ground. Light, ventilation, and time spent outside the rooms are reportedly grossly insufficient (Fortress Europe 2009). Many migrants detained in this facility are caught in the desert and detained in immigration detention facilities close to the border before being transported in truck-loads of 100 or 200 people to the Sabha facility.
Apart from this pact, there is no formal agreement between the two countries [ED NOTE: the two countries being Italy and Libya] for the return of migrants entering Italy illegally from Libya (HRW 2006a, p. 117; Government of Italy 2007). Instead, Italy has supported Libya’s immigration control efforts through verbal agreements and the provision of “a program of technical assistance to the Libyan Authorities,” including in “a) Professional training; b) Assistance for the repatriation of illegal migrants to Third countries; c) Supply of goods and services; d) Setting up of reception centres for illegal migrants; e) Operational and investigative cooperation” (Government of Italy 2007, p. 16).
Human rights organisations and media reports have alleged that Italy provides significant funding to Libya for the construction of immigration detention facilities (Brothers 2007), and that “once the Italian government has expelled foreigners back to Libya, it also pays for charter flights for Libya to send the people home,” including some fifty charter flights that transported 5,668 people between August 2003 and December 2004[…]
Since 2004, the Council of the European Union has engaged Libya on the subject of immigration, providing assistance through training and monitoring equipment designed to strengthen its maritime borders and encourage coordinated sea control operations (HRW 2009, p. 31). The EU is currently negotiating a package worth tens of millions of euros with Libya (HRW 2009, p. 32; EU Business 2009a). According to HRW, the EU has proposed funding for the construction of accommodation centres for asylum seekers (€20 million) and for migration management projects on Libya’s southern border (€60 million). As of late 2009, an agreement had yet to be reached because Muammar Al-Gaddafi reportedly refuses to sign a commitment involving less than €300 million (HRW 2009, p.32-34; EU Business 2009).
The last available data I could find is from 2009. There is no further information about the funding of these detention facilities in the post Gaddafi regime. The funds for the construction and operation (including training and weapons) are well documented, though: the Italian government.
However, to dispel any notions around lack of European involvement in the administration of these facilities, there is this blood chilling research at Gabriele Del Grande’s blog (I highly recommend reading it in its totality, since what Del Grande chronicles further expands understanding of the topic)
In 2005, the former director of the Italian secret services (SISDe), Prefect Mario Mori, informed the Italian Parliament: “Undocumented migrants in Libya are caught like dogs” and put in centers so overcrowded that “policemen must wear a dust mask over their mouth because of the nauseating odours”. But the Ministry of Interior already knew it. Actually since 2004 the Italian police is training their Libyan colleagues in fighting immigration. And a few high officials of the Ministry of Interior, have visited the detention centers in Libya several times, including that in Kufrah. But silence was imposed over reality. The same hypocrisy has been shown by the European Union. In a report of 2004, the European Commission defined the conditions of detention camps in Libya “difficult” but in the end “acceptable in the light of the general context”. Three years later, in May 2007, a delegation of Frontex visited the south of Libya, including the prison of Kufrah, to lay the foundations for a future cooperation. Guess what they wrote: “We appreciated both the diversity as the vastness of the desert”.
I often refer to the European Union as a “project of Empire”. For an Empire to exist, it necessitates subjugated bodies against whom the Empire sets its policies and whose resources are drained to be concentrated at the Empire’s belly, away from the countries originating them. The Empire is always established in an “us vs. them” dichotomy, with “them” never allowed “in”, to belong. Further more, the Empire is established as a system of discipline for the subjugated. Torture, rape, degradation, enslavement: all of these and more have been historically used in its construction. What sets this EU apart from older Imperial projects is that nowadays, instead of resorting to old methods of conquer, similar results can be achieved through neoliberal policies: financial aid for the construction of facilities and training, immigration policies, the administration of “outsiders” through Frontex, the “rescue operations” to maintain a veneer of respectability in upholding the myth of human rights.
And yet, if you’ve read this far, I can only ask: who set up the necessary structures for these gang rapes to take place? Who trained the personnel? Who had an in depth overview of the degrading conditions of migrants being held in these detention camps? And above all, under the pretense of whose protection are these gang rapes and tortures allowed to occur?
redlightpolitics: [snip my previous post on the topic]
Thanks for the input. I have read several of your pieces before and have always appreciated your input and perspective. There are two important points which I would like to add that may not have been clear from my post.
Firstly, the definition of “fulcrum” I personally use is couched in the work of Scot Nakagawa on white supremacy in America titled “Antiblackness is the Fulcrum"
The specific definition which he uses in the piece and which I use as well is as follows:
A fulcrum is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the support about which a lever turns” or, alternatively, “one that supplies capability for action.” In other words, if you want to move something, you need a pry bar and some leverage, and what gives you leverage is the fulcrum – that thing you use so the pry bar works like a see-saw.
The racial arrangement in the U.S. is ever changing. There is no “bottom.” Different groups have more ability to affect others at different times because our roles are not fixed. But, while there’s no bottom, there is something like a binary in that white people exist on one side of these dynamics – the side with force and intention. The way they mostly assert that force and intention is through the fulcrum of anti-black racism.
Nakagawa then goes on to list just a few of the countless reasons (slavery as the historical basis of our economy, fear of black people driving national politics, the U.S. Constitution being written by black slave owners, the prison industrial complex, etc.) for why this is the case grounded in American history and brutal present day reality. “While there’s no bottom…The way [white people] assert that force and intension is through the fulcrum of antiblack racism”
I am aware that the slave trade and African diaspora included Sweden (where I have family being part Swedish myself) and many other European countries that most people don’t think of when they think of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Most Americans don’t even know that New Sweden existed and that Sweden also had a colonial presence in the present-day US. You’re right in saying that this is basic knowledge because it is exactly that.
The trans-Atlantic slave trade and blackness were the foundation upon which whiteness was conceived in Europe, and this was not limited just to countries that were directly involved in this trade. This is a phenomenon that has been described by some scholars as “blackness without blacks” (coined by Neil MacMaster), and you’re right in saying that historically antiblackness played the key role in shaping conceptions of whiteness across the continent.
But when I use the word “fulcrum” it is not to describe how the larger concept of whiteness came to be (which is, of course, rooted in antiblackness), but the pivot point around which “[white people] mostly assert that force and intention” in local racial dynamics fixed temporally and geographically today.
This clearly varies tremendously from country to country in Europe based on local context and imperial histories, with antiblackness looming larger in some countries than others (e.g. the racist glorification of slavery in the Dutch “Zwarte Piet" celebrations, as you know personally and painfully being Dutch yourself). But there is also the specter of "invading" Moroccans and Turks (which you’ve written about), antisemitism and antiziganism are rampant and on the rise, and racialized Islamophobia and the burqa in particular loom large in and radically shape local politics. Scandinavia has also been indelibly shaped by the systematic disenfranchisement, sterilization and ethnic cleansing of Saami people. And then there is xenoracism, ethnonationalism and the decentering of whiteness discourse from the American context as well on top of all of this.
Where is the pivot point in all of these local racial dynamics shaped by these diverse strains of history? Where does white supremacy exert its primary force in all of these local European contexts and is that force always centered on antiblackness like it is in the US? It clearly varies from country to country, but I would say not necessarily at all, even though historically the roots of white supremacy in many of these countries were laid in antiblackness. Does this devalue antiblackness and the virulence of it, though? Not at all given that the fulcrum doesn’t delineate a “bottom” in racial dynamics and history. But despite this important shared history, can we say that antiblackness looms larger in local racial dynamics in Bulgaria than antiziganism? How about the Czech Republic where antiziganism is at the center of the agenda for far-right political groups?
We may potentially diverge in this definition or in the way we cast that history, but I hope that clarifies my perspective.
And on your second point, work on Europe is of course being produced by prolific European POC writers like yourself. My post was primarily directed at US bloggers writing about Europe themselves and just getting it completely wrong. This is egregiously done again and again when a good number of these bloggers write about light-skinned Roma people and light-skinned Jews, especially, who are not seen as white in Europe. They make light of the Holocaust, pogroms, sterilizations, forced evictions and more faced by Jews and Roma people for centuries in Europe and exclusively quote scholars like Frantz Fanon who, despite other amazing, critical scholarly work they’ve done, reduce those struggles to a “little family quarrel.” And it’s just like, when in modern history have (even very light-skinned) Jews and Roma people EVER been seen as white or “part of the family” in Europe without trying to hide their heritage? When has family ever relentlessly persecuted, raped and killed you for centuries even if your family converted from Judaism generations ago?
It is all of that which prompted my response. It was not meant as an erasure of the work being done by European POC like yourself, and for that I apologize, but it was meant to challenge US bloggers to think carefully about local context in Europe before jumping to their own conclusions based on our own.
Thanks again for adding on,
I knew exactly what you meant about “the fulcrum of white supremacy” and the context of the expression which is why I am in agreement with Nakagawa and I do believe the same definition applies to Europe. Especially in so far as how all “racial categories” have been granted (and continue to be granted) humanity depending on their proximity to Blackness.
Let me give you an example: you mention antiziganism as “divergent from” antiblackness rather than “being rooted in” antiblackness. First, there’s the etymology of the slur “gypsy” which comes from the 16th century assumption of Roma people “coming from Egypt”. “mid 16th cent.: originally gipcyan, short for Egyptian (because Gypsies were popularly supposed to have come from Egypt).” Incidentally, Kale, the Romani word for “black”, is used as a self-designation by some groups of Romani people (notably those in Spain where if you listen to some flamenco lyrics they speak of “la raza cale” about themselves).
Then there is the actual genealogy of antiziganism, this being the first recorded expulsion:
Prince Vlad Dracul of Wallachia transports some 12,000 people who are described as ‘looking like Egyptians’ from Bulgaria for forced labour.
Following this, there’s the first anti-Romani legislation recorded: the British Egyptians Act of 1530. In the act, the English Parliament coded into law the expulsion of the “outlandish people calling themselves Egyptians”.
Keep in mind that all of this was taking place in the 1500s, pre Orientalist discourses following the actual British colonization of Egypt. This coding of Roma as Egyptians was taking place at a time when “Africa” was already constructed as the “source of chattel slavery” by the Portuguese and Spanish. Unsurprisingly (or perhaps I should say “consistently”), in 1538, the Portuguese expelled their Roma populations to Brazil where they got a sort of “promotion” from undesirable group in Portugal to active participants as middlemen in the Brazilian slave trade (if you can read Portuguese, Rodrigo Corrêa Teixeira documents this “upward mobility” in a paper archived here).
One could say that all of the above is “ancient history” and it doesn’t necessarily mean that nowadays antiziganism still rests on anti blackness. Except when we see news like this, from July 2012: Killing Time: The Lethal Force of Anti-Roma Racism
Earlier this year in April, in the neighbouring Czech Republic in the town of Chotěbuz, a Roma man was killed, shot in the head with a crossbow. The assailant claimed the victim was one of three men intent on committing a robbery, that he had been aiming at their feet. The victim’s cousin alleged that he shouted, “You black whores, I’ll kill you,” before deliberately taking aim and firing.
Does this devalue antiblackness and the virulence of it, though? Not at all given that the fulcrum doesn’t delineate a “bottom” in racial dynamics and history. But despite this important shared history, can we say that antiblackness looms larger in local racial dynamics in Bulgaria than antiziganism? How about the Czech Republic where antiziganism is at the center of the agenda for far-right political groups?
My point is precisely that antiziganism is historically rooted and still to this day associated with antiblackness. This doesn’t mean that in every instance of antiziganism the bigots are operating from an antiblack “methodology”. It’s that the driving ideology that motivates them (even if the perpetrators are historically ignorant) is rooted in it. Certainly there are Roma people (Irish travelers come to mind) like the ones whose photos you posted in your original piece that generated this discussion who do not “look” Black but one does not necessarily need to be phenotypically Black to be associated with Blackness (in the sense of how racism operates by assigning “proximity” and granting or denying humanity based on it).
Now to your second point about US centrism in discussions, I have a couple of points to make. First, I take issue with your framing of the Holocaust discussion you linked to. People having conversations among themselves (no matter how vehemently one might disagree with either the opinions or even the topic) is not the same as US centrism or “US anything”. We all use social media differently. You seem to use Tumblr mostly as a publishing platform. I could see a book deal coming in your future based on the amount of content you create and the research you do. Of course I do not know if that is your intention but the approach you take to content creation cannot be compared to that of a group of people who use the same platform in a radically different way. You write for an audience (as I do, this is not an accusation). They write for themselves and each other. So, I do take issue with your pinpointing to people who, again, I insist, might be expressing ideas that could even be factually wrong and using them as “examples” of anything. People of Color having discussions with each other, using social media to explore either their heritage or shared history are not here to become examples of how “they oppress us”. I see plenty of stuff I disagree with on a daily basis but I always evaluate it vis a vis the institutional power those who express the ideas have. Are they just regular folks trying to make sense of their lives or do they have platforms that are used as media reference? If the former, it is not my place to “correct” them. Mostly because they never came asking for my “opinion” to begin with (and why should they? when this is a discussion they are having trying to make sense of their own lives).
On a closing note about African Americans/ Black people discussing the Holocaust in relation to antiblackness: historians have been discussing this very same topic for a good while. And if you were tempted to believe it’s some “biased” institution behind these discussions, I would invite you to think again. Here’s a BBC feature documentary analyzing the genocide of the Herero people in Namibia as the founding moment in German history that gave birth to the methodology employed in the Holocaust. And here’s an article explaining the gist of it and how this German genocide in a period known as “The Second Reich” “inspired” Hitler’s plans for racial purity.
In an interview conducted by L’Espresso journalist Fabrizio Gatti, Dr Mohammad Jammo testified that he had called RCC Rome at 11am and warned that the boat was slowly sinking, having been holed by machinegun fire from a Libyan patrol boat the night before.[…]
One plausible theory that could explain what happened is a political dispute between Malta and Italy. Dr Jammo insists that he first got through to the Italians at 11am. At this time the migrant boat was inside the Libyan SAR zone, which is not well patrolled. Besides, according to Dr Jammo, the Libyans had fired on the migrant boat, so a Libyan rescue was probably out of the question. The Italian ITS Libra and Guardia Costiera and Guardia di Finanza boats stationed in Lampedusa were the closest assets and could have been sent to help. They could have reached the migrant boat in about an hour-and-a-half. But the lack of orders for them to do so by Italy could signify a refusal by Rome to get involved. The Armed Forces of Malta, on the other hand have never clarified if they asked for help from the Italians. It is understood that the general feeling of the Maltese authorities is that Italy was reluctant to help the migrants.
For those new to this blog, in the EU, “migrant” is nothing but a code word for Black and Brown people who are trying to reach borders without visas. They are usually referred to as “asylum seekers”, “refugees” or, in some rare cases, “illegal immigrants”. More about this language here.
As per the article linked above (which I strongly recommend reading), it seems that again, we are at the beginning stages of the ongoing and well documented shifting of responsibilities of mass deaths of undocumented migrants in the Mediterranean.
From the archives on this very blog:
May 2011: Dozens of African migrants were left to die in the Mediterranean after a number of European military units apparently ignored their cries for help.
April 2, 2012: A catalogue of failures by Nato warships and European coastguards led to the deaths of dozens of migrants left adrift at sea.
Bonus long post I wrote at Tiger Beatdown, February 2012 with (an incomplete) list of failures in saving immigrant lives by Frontex.
Bonus 2, October 4th, 2013: on the “gender gap” in the Lampedusa death toll.
On December 20th, I posted about Italy’s treatment of the survivors of the Lampedusa boat tragedy. I used the word “torture” to describe the systematic abuse that the survivors are subjected to. On a follow up post on January 3rd, I posted about another rescue operation in the Mediterranean that involved more than 200 people in a sinking boat. Back then I wrote this:
There is a very strong focus on “exporting” the European version of human rights while at the same time refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented migrants inside European borders are not afforded basic human dignity. A lot of the rhetoric about “promoting and exporting human rights” is merely a marketing device devoid of praxis when it applies within EU member States and the necessary accountability that would somewhat legitimize those “intentions” stated in the document.
How many more instances do we need to document before these deaths are acknowledged as both systematic and systemic within a political project that bases its marketing on “promotion of human rights”? Whose human rights are protected and who isn’t acknowledged as human enough to be cared for? I’ve asked this many times before but it bears repeating, in this political project known as The European Union, whose lives are worth cherishing?