GP Insights # 365, 6 June 2020
As the “Black Lives Matter” protests spread across the Atlantic to Pacific, the countries of Australia, New Zealand, France Germany, the UK, Netherlands, Belgium and Canada are faced with a new challenge to upend its racist legacies that shape their political institutions and society.
On 6 June thousands protested across Australia. More than 20,000 defied the order to join the protest in France. On 5 June, in Hamburg, Germany, around 4,500 gathered outside the US consulate. The protests later spread to Belgium, London, Amsterdam and Toronto in Canada.
What is the background?
First, the globalized metropolis has become the seat of protests. A common pattern is the repeated segregation of the black community from the diversified and globalized populace of the cities. Even within the European Union, there is less representation from people of colour in Brussels’ corridors of power. Ethnic minorities in Europe are in their third, fourth, fifth generation; yet they are often perceived based on their colour in spite of being Europeans and living in the region as a whole.
Second, local causes elsewhere trigger the protests into a movement, proclaiming a common cause with George Floyd. The anti-racism protests elsewhere might have an external trigger, but the internal causes and marginalization are the primary causes. And they are translating the protests into a movement. It represents how the community has begun to equate a distant issue of police killing to their own everyday experience of losing someone to a similar atrocity. Hence it was not surprising when the protests in France demanded accountability over the 2016 death of Adama Traoré in police custody. Similarly, in Australia, it is the mistreatment, marginalization and custodial deaths of aboriginals that has unified the protesters.
Third, racist profiling starts with faulted education. Racism stems from a colonial legacy, but it continues in the form of profiling which is most prevalent in the education sector where the formative years of perception-building take place. The highest number of dropouts among the black community happens over name-calling and difficulty to continue in hostile mental conditions.
A recent study concluded that a member of colour is more likely to be stopped by police for questioning with the highest such incidents in Italy and Finland.
What does it mean?
First, the global protests movements have returned in a new theatre but with old issues of systemic discrimination. With COVID-19 as the interrupter, the protest movements had subsided at the beginning of 2020, but the same pandemic has also created conditions of unemployment, unequal access to health care and othering behaviour for the protest to be pronounced.
Second, the anti-racist protests are reclaiming the public spaces by ousting the colonial symbolism that marks the urban spaces of Europe. The protests have revived calls to take down symbols of colonial oppression like in Belgium, which controlled Congo, calls are increasing to remove statues of King Leopold II, who established the colony. Similarly, the federal authorities in Berlin are forced to introspect on the street name ‘Mohrenstrasse’ which broadly translates to a black person or simpleton.