The Third Seminar Organized by the Anti-Discrimination Working Group in 2021: Reflecting on the Relationship Between Racism and Migration Studies in Portugal and Spain
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 Anders Neergaard, 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 Zenia Hellgren on Spain and Marta Araújo on Portugal.
The discussion started by exploring the historical context in which race and racism is understood today. Marta Araújo characterized the discussion of race and racism as one that is deeply intertwined with the notion of Europe, or as she put it: “what is Europe and who is other”. She elaborated on the development of luso-tropicalism and its role in shaping the national narrative on tolerance in Portugal. Furthermore, Zenia Hellgren expressed her reluctance about a homogenous Spanish discourse on colonialism due to the lack of consensus. The discussion also touched upon the historical significance of anti-gypsyism in both countries, which is still present through the discrimination of the Roma population.
The current public debate is increasingly polarized in both countries. In Spain, Hellgren explained, the rising popularity of the right-wing party Vox demonstrates this development. Furthermore, Araújo emphasized that while the understanding of racism as personal prejudice and bias has become increasingly accepted, the institutionalized and systematic nature of racism is still largely neglected. Academic research reflects this by emphasizing perceptions and experiences of discrimination rather than structures and practices as elaborated upon by both speakers.
Any attempts to access relevant data or to encourage data collection in future research is hindered by numerous institutional blockages as described by Araújo. She related this to anti-differentialist and universalist academic sentiments, and to a strong degree of reluctance to collect sensitive data in relation to political persecution. Furthermore, the speakers also discussed terminology. Hellgren commented on the certain ambiguity of the term ethnic minority, especially in the context of the broader national Spanish identity. Moreover, Araújo elaborated on the term ‘race’ in Portugal which some argue perpetuates stigmatization while others, namely anti-racism activists and scholars, defend its usage.
The Black Lives Matter movement has had a profound impact on both national contexts. However, Araújo explained that Portugal has experienced a similar mobilization in 2015 after an incident of police brutality which sparked public debate. Nonetheless, she acknowledged that the BLM has caused the white Portugese population to get mobilized and support the struggle of black-led activism. Additionally, Hellgren has noted the significance of intergroup solidarity and the diversity of mobilization in Spain which was showcased in the Summer of 2020.
Finally, the speakers elaborated upon the role of academia and the possibility for change. Araújo emphasized the need to move beyond a focus on right wing mobilization and examine the structural and institutional forms of racism. Furthermore, there is much individual scholars can do to facilitate change. This includes diversifying the use of authors when teaching, being aware of the privilege of white scholars, avoiding the reproduction stereotypes in one's own work.
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 the fourth seminar of the series on April 23rd and other future initiatives organized by the Anti-Racism Working Group. For those who were unable to attend the seminar, a recording of the full seminar can be accessed on the IMISCOE Website.
By Leo Wohrle
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