Op ed

Racist Europe and Black identity

Europe, a continent I have come to adopt as home for the past 19 years is under the grip of a new resurgence. The evils of xenophobic populism, anarchic patriotism, nationalism, racism and schadenfreude are now cascading down from the Norwegian fjords to the greenery of the British Isles. The perceived horror of Islamic fundamentalism, the liberalism if immigration and the spread of multiculturalism in both mainland and continental Europe are causing real irritation among far right politicians who, in turn, are embracing xenophobic and fascist ideologies that once shackled Europe in darkness.

The recent absorption of countries from Central and Eastern Europe and old Soviet Union into one expanded European superstate has been yielding negative dividend in Western Europe. In the wake of the expansion, Britain was a country of choice for most Eastern Europeans. And to use Enoch Powell’s word, Britain was truly swamped. Polish, Latvians, Russians, Ukrainians and Romanians who left their harbours in search of opportunity and better life found it convenient to berth their anchors on a supposedly island paradise of Britain.

The current dark echo of xenophobic populism in Western Europe could therefore be seen as a rearguard action to defend and erect fortress in the continent and protect personal and collective identity which is becoming diluted by foreign cultures and way of life. For instance, in the UK melting pot, you could hear cacophonic voices of 50 languages within one mile radius. A refugee from Kandahar could find ready acceptance by an ascetic Tibetan as both work out a new sojourning narrative in the cesspit of uncertain Diaspora. A former combatant from the despoiled wasteland of Mogadishu could be seen cavorting with a Malaysian beauty in a truly love is blind tango. An Indian shopkeeper, thoroughly curried from head to toe, could be the landlord of a Kiwi backpacker on a journey to travel the world. In Europe, destiny of peoples from different nations is interwoven together like a beautiful tapestry of artistic wonder.

Yet Europe, my Europe, is in denial. This prosperous continent is angered and disillusioned with the fallout of its expansion and the harvest of strange cultures that experiment brought about. Already, 55 per cent of EU citizens think that there are too many foreigners living in their country and immigration is a particularly sensitive and volatile issue causing serious aggravation.

Deep seated resentment against foreigners has led to the rise of identity politics which trades on white fear and reinforces a negative and exclusive sense of national or regional belonging, of ‘us and against them’ syndrome in virtually all European countries. The subliminal message of far right politicians desperate for vote is clear and unambiguous: Europe for Europeans. The timeless presence of blacks in their society is conveniently forgotten. Centuries of settlement by blacks, through slavery, are not taken into account. Often, blacks are the cannon fodders politicians use to fan the embers of delusional fears of crime and disorder among white people. Police, in shameful collusion with bigoted politicians, frame statistical abracadabra which suggest that foreigners have brought more crime to Europe than at any other time in their turbulent history.

Social and economic contributions of blacks, no matter how little, to the prosperity of Europe are never mentioned in any European history. In the bigoted consciousness of European racists, black people are regarded as threat and scroungers in a continent laden with milk and honey. For instance, Britain is generally regarded as a tolerant and inclusive society.  Through its historic and national conversations, it had been able to bury the Powellian nightmare of the 60s, when Enoch Powell had an intimation of apocalypse if mass immigration was not controlled. The ‘river of blood’ he envisioned as inevitable due to mass immigration has not come to pass. The forces of modernity have pushed United Kingdom into rebranding itself as a vibrant and indivisible multicultural society.

The image United Kingdom projects to the outside world had been a sweet-scented one of inclusion, tolerance, fairness and diversity. That image is about to be irreparably smeared by the rise of conservative politics of hate and racism. Britain’s liberal pretension is about to be drowned by illiberal politicians who harbour barefaced dislike, or shall we say hatred, against foreigners and their queer ways. With the election of Boris Johnson as Mayor of London, a new chapter of racism darkness is about to fall on the shinning beacon lay down by Ken Livingstone during his time as Mayor of this beautiful city. The gains of Ken Livingston in London in areas of inclusion, anti-racism, tolerance and the common touch have been lost to the uncouth and abhorrent racist posturing of bohemian Boris. The newly elected Mayor of London, had, in the past, called blacks such name as ‘piccaninnies’ and offloaded racist opinion about virtually anything that moves.

In a very shocking and unexpected coup, Boris Johnson, the journalist and Tory MP won 1,168,738 (53 per cent) to Mr Livingstone’s 1,028,966 (47 per cent). Tory gains across United Kingdom and the rising confidence of Europe’s extremist political parties show that the continent is lurching dangerously to the right and embracing the discredited fascism of the 90s which had Italy, Spain, France and Russia in its ugly coil. Right wing parties are gaining stunning victory all across Europe to the consternation of Europhiles and political watchers. In Switzerland, the far right People’s Party is in control. The leader, Christoph Blisher, once put up an election poster with the legend: “The Swiss are becoming negroes”.

Austria’s far right party Austrian Freedom Party is riding on the crest of anti-immigrant sentiment. France’s National Front was able to cut a slice of the French vote through the then Jean-Marie Le Pen’s populist demand for enforced repatriation of immigrants. Netherlands has its own Pim Fortuyn List which anchors all its manifestoes on the problems of immigrants. In Britain, the ultra far right party, British National Party made tremendous gains in this May election where it made significant inroads into Labour’s known strongholds. This changing political geography of Europe is causing understandable alarm and apprehension among blacks.

Most right wing politicians see blacks as political scapegoats and are blamed for virtually known and unknown ills of the continent and this translates into vulgar cultural chauvinism and shameless xenophobia among their people. However, I must say that my European narrative is informed by my exposure and experience inside the continent. Already the invasion of Polish, Russians, Albanians, Afghans and Romanians has caused serious job shrinkage among blacks in Britain. Most ‘dirty’ jobs traditionally reserved for blacks like cleaning, kitchen work, chamber maid, parcel/multi-drop courier, store assistant, train and bus driving and mini-cabbing have all disappeared into the hands of ‘preferred others’.

As European integration throttles furiously to its eventual destiny, black identity in the Euro project is still meaningless. They do not see themselves as part of the Union because Europeans still see themselves as people with a shared culture based on Greco-Roman roots and Judaeo-Christian ethics. They still dance on the altar of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and practice renaissance humanism and post-modern individualism. Also, as disillusion and worry grow among blacks in Europe, it is hoped that decent and progressive-minded politicians will stand up to the racist bullies and continue to defend and protect immigrant rights, liberty and freedom from the rabid prejudice and evil bigotry of right wingers.

Tijani lives in London.

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