Europe’s Racism

The left is complicit

“Color is not a human or a personal reality; it is a political reality.”

James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

The crimes are too many to list. The immensity is obvious. The individual homicides, in the US, UK, and Australia for example, of Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, Christopher Alder, Sean Rigg, Kingsley Burrell, Ms. Dhu, Tanya Day, David Dungay, the 40,555 (and counting) dead refugees and migrants, victims of Fortress Europe’s cruel policies, and so many more, are all part of a crime against humanity, perpetrated or condoned by states. A glance at the International Criminal Court’s definition should be enough to confirm this:

“a widespread or systematic attack knowingly directed against any civilian population: murder; extermination; enslavement; deportation or forcible transfer of population; imprisonment; torture; rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity; persecution against an identifiable group on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious or gender grounds; enforced disappearance of persons; the crime of apartheid; or other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering or serious bodily or mental injury.”

Yet it’s not enough to confirm this because, if a crime against humanity is to be recognized as such, the human status of the victim must also be recognized. The fire that has destroyed the refugee camp in Moria, Lesbos after months of unheeded warnings from aid workers that the appalling conditions in the camp were going to lead to catastrophe, raises this question. Injured refugees fleeing from the fire were teargassed by police who blocked their access to medical treatment. Most of the refugees are from Afghanistan. The Basque lawyer and journalist Hibai Arbide Aza gets to the nitty-gritty of their dehumanization: “If European public opinion believed that they were people this would be a scandal of incredible dimensions”. Dehumanization of the “other” is a key strategy in the racist playbook, not least because the imposition of subhuman status places people outside legal protection. Racial profiling, use of exorbitant and sometimes lethal force by police, the influence of race in death-penalty decisions, disproportionate prosecutions, unfair trials, deaths in custody, humiliating treatment, sexual abuse, and shooting of members of marginalized groups are all well-documented examples of “legal” offences against non-white citizens.

But what is racism? It’s the asinine belief that groups of humans with different superficial traits can be thus classified as superior and inferior, and it’s based on pseudo-biological notions, mainly about pigments resulting from long human adaptation to different natural environments. However, the melanogenesis of “race” obscures its real purpose: increasing and protecting “white” power and privilege in the western capitalist system that has been imposed on the rest of the world and, in particular, by enshrining whiteness as a property right. Cheryl I. Harris sums it up:

“… whiteness, originally constructed as a form of racial identity, evolved into a form of property, historically and presently acknowledged and protected in American law … in the parallel systems of domination of Black and Native American peoples out of which were created racially contingent forms of property and property rights … Even as legal segregation was overturned, whiteness as property continued to serve as a barrier to effective change as the system of racial classification operated to protect entrenched power.”

White entitlement is also a form of blindness, so Steve Martinot asks in a recent CounterPunch article: “How is a white person going to address “racism” if they look at racism’s effects on black people instead of examining how race and racism function among whites, as the means of creating them as white?” Racism isn’t just a crime of commission but also one of omission, or ignorance posturing as innocence and, as James Baldwin wrote in The Fire Next Time, “It is the innocence which constitutes the crime”. In his Discourse on Colonialism (1950) Aimé Césaire observed that Europeans know they invented the “barbaric Negro” but won’t recognize it, so “The petty bourgeois … flicks the idea away. The idea, an annoying fly.” The state has a “forgetting machine” churning out what needs to be remembered in statues, art endowments, multiculturalism, liberal revolution, and a framework of human rights that is hamstrung because the idea of “universal” is intolerable. The statistics of barefaced institutional violence are endless but where’s the outrage? Kafka might answer that. “Not the murderer but the victim is considered guilty.” Hence, we have stereotype priming where, in a college-educated American’s reading, the second most common word paired with “black” is “violent” and, with “white”, progressive. Sixth on the list for “black” is “dangerous” and, for “white”, “educated”. These and worse racial slurs insinuate that, if black people are subjected to injustice, at least they aren’t people like “us”.

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Daniel Raventós is a lecturer in Economics at the University of Barcelona and author inter alia of Basic Income: The Material Conditions of Freedom (Pluto Press, 2007). He is on the editorial board of the international political review Sin Permiso.   Julie Wark is an advisory board member of the international political review Sin Permiso. Her last book is The Human Rights Manifesto (Zero Books, 2013).

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