The Fourth Seminar Organized by the Anti-Discrimination Working Group in 2021: Reflecting on the Relationship Between Racism and Migration Studies in Belgium and Germany
In the wake of protests erupting in the summer of 2020 as a result of the killing of George Floyd, IMISCOE launched a seminar series initiated by the Anti-Discrimination Working Group led by Parvati Raghuram. The third seminar, chaired by Shinozaki Kyoko, explored questions ranging from the historical context of the current debate, to the role of research and the potential of change. Insights on these topics were shared from the perspective of Bambi Ceuppens on Belgium and Linda Supik & Vassilis Tsianos on Germany.
The Historical context in which race and racism are discussed remains an essential component. In Germany, Vassilis Tsianos described the influence of ex-members of the Nazi Party on the academic discourse about race and racism after the Second World War. He elaborated on the resulting 'intellectual and academic blockade' and the silencing of the debate around race and racism in the post-war period.
Bambi Ceuppens illustrated that there is a rather clear distinction between the Dutch-speaking Flanders and the Francophone Wallonia in the national context of Belgium. She elaborated on the influence of the French Republic on the rather colour-blind discourse in Wallonia, as well as the impact of radical white wing Flemish nationalists on current official policy on the federal level.
The speakers also shared valuable insights into the current state of data collection and terminology. In line with the general trend in Europe, both Germany and Belgium do not collect official statistics on ethnic background and instead use migration backgrounds as a tool to differentiate. This leaves researchers little knowledge about the ethnic background of the Belgium population, as pointed out by Bambi Ceuppens. She further explained that the federal center dealing with racism is largely mistrusted by many racialized people as it, for example, ignores the structural nature of racism.
The speakers pointed out that terminology can significantly harm and hamper the discourse about race and racism. Linda Supik emphasized the role of language in shaping the debate which is held today. She provided the example of the term 'Islamkritik' translated to criticism of Islam, framing anti-muslim racism as a mere theological debate. Similarly, Bambi Ceuppens elaborated on the complexity of the term white in Dutch as it can be expressed in two words; 'wit' referring to the color white and 'blank' as something that is empty and clear.
Lastly, the speakers discussed the recent trends in the public debate on race and racism. Events such as the Belgian Kings' attempt to face the country's colonial past and the Black Lives Matter protests have given the fight against racism renewed momentum and visibility. Nonetheless, a constant level of racism as showcased in the presence of right-wing parties in the political landscape as well the lacking focus on structural and institutionalized racism is a testimony to the progress that still needs to be achieved in the future, as emphasized by all speakers.
It remains crucial to continue the discussion about racism and discrimination in Europe by critically reflecting on different national developments. IMISCOE strives to continue this crucial conversation in future initiatives organized by the Anti-Racism Working Group.
By Leo Wohrle
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