Urgent need to combat rising Afrophobia in the European Union
As Co-President of the European Parliament Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup (ARDI) and given my own background, I have taken a specific interest in my parliamentary work on the issue of Afrophobia. Afrophobia is a specific form of racism that refers to any act of violence or discrimination, fueled by historical abuses and negative stereotyping, and leading to the exclusion and dehumanisation of people of African descent.
For the first time, the European Commission held a specific session on Afrophobia during the fourth High Level Group on Racism, Xenophobia and other forms of Intolerance on December 5th which brought relevant actors and experts who have a direct role in dealing with legislation and policies related to its work. The High Level group is important given the rise of racism, xenophobia and intolerance across the EU and Commissioner Jourova and colleagues from DG JUST should be commended for initiating it as well as for their excellent work and commitment in this field.
The focus on Afrophobia is especially welcomed given the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights comment piece on Afrophobia and presentation of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) EU MIDIS results.
It is estimated that there are 15 million people of African descent and Black Europeans in Europe. Black Europeans and People of African descent are one of the largest, growing minorities in Europe. There are Black Europeans and People of African descent in all EU Member States, from very low percentages in the Baltic countries to 5.4% of the population in the Netherlands. Some belong to recent migrant communities, while many are European citizens and their families have been in Europe for several generations and centuries.
Across various indicators such as education, health, criminal justice and employment, Black Europeans and People of African descent are often the most discriminated against.
In particular, I want to highlight the issue of hate crimes and incitement to hatred against Black Europeans and People of African descent. Stereotypes about Africa and People of African descent that date back to colonialism are still predominant in almost every single European country. There are, sadly, a number of examples where Black Europeans and People of African descent have been targeted because of their appearance. In my own case, I have constantly been addressed with racist speech against me since my election to the Italian Chamber of Deputies.
A current member of the European Parliament, Mario Borghezio, was the first to articulate racist remarks, calling my nomination as Minister “a shitty choice” by a “bongo-bongo” government, adding that I am “totally incompetent” and have “the face of a housewife.”
The former vice-president of the Italian Senate, Roberto Calderoli, in a public meeting, compared me to an orangutan saying “when I see pictures of Kyenge I cannot but think of the features of an orang-utan.”
These are very hateful campaigns based on verbal harassment and cyberbullying. They serve a purpose which is to deter and discourage Black Europeans and People of African descent to run for elected positions or advocate on behalf of their community.
I believe we all have an important role to play in not allowing such intolerance and hate to proliferate. We need to do more to prevent negative stereotyping and to promote rights-based values. In the European Parliament, we have adopted new Rules of Procedure which allow the President to take action against any MEP who engages in racist, xenophobic or defamatory speech. The Rules of Procedure need to go further and the Parliament should put forward a proposal for an internal independent monitoring system where people can register incidents of racist, xenophobic and defamatory speech. Member States can also lead by ensuring the transposition and implementation of the Council Framework Decision on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law (2008/913/JHA). The continuation and improvement of the EC’s Code of Conduct with the IT companies is also an important soft policy tool in relation to hate speech online and will require continued strong cooperation between the private and civil society sectors to ensure the best results.
With growing diversity throughout the EU, we also need to ensure that more representative voices are in the decision-making pipeline and are not steered away from the political sphere because of hate. This is also why I support increased internship, shadowing, and other opportunities in the European parliament for African descent and other racially and ethnically diverse populations.
To ensure these steps are taken, I will continue in my work along with other committed colleagues to raise awareness of Afrophobia through pushing for a European Parliament resolution on Afrophobia and organising a week dedicated to this phenomenon.
I would like to conclude by stating that it is more important than ever for all of us to work together against all forms of discrimination. We must fight for all of our rights and against all forms of discrimination to ensure social cohesion and integration. As the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights wrote in his comment piece, “differences in the treatment of Black Europeans and People of African descent are not only contrary to human rights standards, but are also ineffective and generate social tensi