Race Matters

Divided We Fall: Europeans must stand together against racism and hate

To mark the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Racism (today: 21 March) and the annual European Action Week Against Racism, UNITED for Intercultural Action’s Jonathan Karstadt argues that it is more important than ever to stand in solidarity against the extreme right’s populist movement. 

Most members of the European anti-racist community would agree with me when I say that we are currently facing a major political and moral crisis. Across the western world, the consensus that has dominated public consciousness and civil society since the end of the Second World War - one based on human rights, the rule of law and the universally equal value of human life - is being torn apart.

The decision of a majority of voters in the United Kingdom last year to leave the European Union is a symptom of a Europe-wide breakdown of trust in institutions, as well as the strengthening grip of a narrative that blames migrants and 'the other' for problems facing 'the real people' (in the words of Nigel Farage) that form the mythical 'silent majority' of decent, hard-working (white, Christian) Europeans. In 2017, similar forces are likely to result in significant gains for national populist and far-right parties in parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic and Germany, while there is a chance that Marine le Pen will go all the way in the French presidential election in May.

Meanwhile across the Atlantic, the Trump administration is working at full throttle to fulfil its divisive and discriminatory campaign promises. In our connected, globalised world, European activists cannot afford to dismiss this as not our problem. Decisions made in Washington DC have real effects on government policy and public opinion in Europe. Reports have already emerged suggesting that some European governments hostile to civil society plan to take advantage of a likeminded US regime to crack down on independent NGOs.

These movements are strong and getting stronger, and to counter them we need to build coalitions involving all activists who oppose racism and support universal human rights and dignity. Whether we are members of a majority or a minority, religious or secular, socialist or liberal, radical or conservative, we need to stand together to defend the shared values and public morality that our societies are based on. Even if we agree on nothing else, we must surely agree on that. If we fail, there is no guarantee that the horrors of the 1930s will not be repeated.

Since 1992, UNITED for Intercultural Action has worked to build this kind of coalition. A pan-European network of more than 550 civil society organisations from 48 countries and across the socio-political spectrum, we form a loud and united voice for activists across Europe who oppose racism, fascism and nationalism, and support the rights of migrants, refugees and minorities.

UNITED’s flagship annual campaign is the European Action Week Against Racism, which takes place every year around the 21 March, a date which the UN marks as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in commemoration of the Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa in 1960. Over more than 20 years, UNITED has supported organisations all over Europe in organising activities around this day, engaging hundreds of thousands of people all over Europe in the fight against racism and discrimination.

In light of the divisive rhetoric that is sweeping Europe, such initiatives are now more important than ever, and this year our campaign message is simple: “Don’t be divided, Stay UNITED!” We called on organisations all over Europe to join the campaign by organising one of our three recommended activities: Street Action/Flashmobs that engage with the public in the most direct way possible; Human Libraries that bring people into direct contact with members of marginalised and misunderstood groups; and Theatre of the Oppressed activities, which confront participants with the hidden power dynamics that underpin our everyday communications. But UNITED is a broad and inclusive network, and we are also supporting and promoting any other kind of activity organised in the spirit of togetherness and anti-dfor Iiscrimination.

To learn more about events this week visit: www.weekagainstracism.eu

The crisis that we are facing is also an opportunity to reaffirm our shared values and to remind ourselves why they are so important. This 21 March, let’s stand together against racism, division and hate, and show that the ‘silent majority’ shares a vision of an open and inclusive future.

Follow Jonathan and UNITED for Intercultural Action on Twitter.
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