Being Black in the European Union is difficult, and racial discrimination and harassment are a chronic issue, according to a recently released report that paints a “dire picture” of racism. The report from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) — “Second European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey: Being Black in the EU” — examined the experiences of 6,000 people of African descent in 12 EU member nations (Finland, Ireland, Austria, Luxembourg, Germany, Denmark, Malta, Sweden, France, Italy, UK and Portugal), including mostly first-generation immigrants from 59 countries, but also those Black people who were born in Europe. The survey examines racial discrimination, hate crimes, racial profiling and social exclusion against people of African descent.
The report is important, necessary and timely, because while Black people have been present in Europe for ages, and nearly two decades have passed since the EU enacted anti-discrimination laws, they face “widespread and entrenched prejudice and exclusion.” The report says the EU cannot tolerate this state of affairs, given the EU was founded on the principles of human rights, the rule of law, freedom, democracy, equality and minority rights. The EU intends to offer their findings so that its member states can formulate legal and policy responses to promote the full inclusion of Black people.
“The International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination emphasises in its preamble that racial barriers are ‘repugnant to the ideals of any human society’, and that ‘there is no justification for racial discrimination, in theory or in practice’. Yet the survey results paint a dire picture of reality on the ground,” wrote FRA agency director Michael O’Flaherty, noting that racial discrimination and harassment are common.
Among the key findings of the survey, 30 percent of respondents experienced racial harassment in the five years before the report, most commonly nonverbal harassment followed by threatening comments and threats of violence. Further, 21 percent said they experienced such treatment in the 12 months before the survey was conducted. Results varied widely by country, ranging from 20 percent of respondents in Malta and 21 percent in the United Kingdom, to 63 percent of in Finland. Only 14 percent of victims reported the incidents to the authorities. Meanwhile, 5 percent were the victims of racial violence in the prior five years — 3 percent in the preceding 12 months — with 35 percent of victims reporting the incidents to the police. Black men (23 percent) were far less likely to report racial violence attacks than Black women (50 percent).
Unlawful and discriminatory police stops and racial profiling of Blacks are prevalent in Europe, with one quarter of respondents stopped by police in the previous five years, of which four in ten said was due to racial profiling. And 2 percent of people interviewed experienced a racist physical assault by law enforcement in the five years before the survey. Nearly two-thirds of police brutality victims failed to report the violence because of a fear or mistrust of the police (28 percent) or because they did not think doing so would make a difference (34 percent).
People of African descent face widespread racial discrimination in all facets of daily life, including barriers to inclusion in employment and housing, the EU survey concluded. For example, 39 percent of the Black people surveyed reported experiencing racial discrimination in the previous five years, one quarter in the past year. A quarter of black people experienced racial discrimination at work or during their job search, and 14 percent were denied rental housing from a landlord.
Particularly unsettling to the EU agency producing the report is that younger Black people are experiencing more discrimination and exclusion than older generations. Also providing context to the economic implications of racism is the fact that 55 percent of the respondents live below the poverty level.
Nearly 50 million members of racial and ethnic minority groups live in the European Union, amounting to 10 percent of the population of the bloc. However, 1 percent of the staff in EU institutions are non-white, and some European nations do not collect data on race. Over the past decade, Europe’s African population rose dramatically, with 1 million migrants from sub-Saharan Africa arriving in Europe between 2010 and 2017. An estimated 7 million people of African descent lived in Europe as of 2011. This comes as many European nations have witnessed a rise in popularity of right-wing, nationalist political parties, including groups with Nazi ties and sentiments, who are united in their anti-immigrant sentiment, Islamophobia and opposition to the EU. The reemergence of fascist and authoritarian sentiments, racist attacks and Nazi salutes in Europe is a concern.
The EU survey comes as a survey from The Guardian sheds light on racial bias in Britain. The poll of 1,000 people from minority ethnic backgrounds found that 43 percent were overlooked for a promotion in the past five years and 38 percent were wrongly suspected of shoplifting, with Black people especially likely to be suspected. Nonwhite people were more than twice as likely to experience abusive or rude behavior from a stranger in the past week, and 53 percent thought they were treated differently because of their hair, clothes or appearance, as opposed to 29 percent of white people. Some 8.5 million nonwhite people live in Britain, out of a population of 66 million. The UK Equality and Human Rights Commission has launched an investigation into widespread racial harassment on university campuses.
These recent revelations suggest Europe has a long way to go to address the issues of systemic racism in its midst, particularly as it related to discrimination against people of African descent.