Negrophobia: the fire next time!

Originally published by Olivier Mukuna, a Black Belgian journalist & essayist, on Facebook, Feb. 7th 2017. Translated from the French by ediciones inéditos. [Note: négrophobie*, the original French term, roughly translates to what we denote in English as anti-blackness. The translation will keep use of the the French term, albeit anglicized, because of its power for Black people in the francophone world.]

Sometimes, life will cement together that which you have been trying express for years. Without subtlety. With violence and celerity. For having facilitated three debates on the fight against negrophobia, last weekend at the Bozar of Brussesls1, I did not expect to see Franco-Belgian news supplant to such a degree our exchanges…

Of course, to “encourage” the remarks we made, there had been the white woman Romanie Schotte and her virtual and negrophobic shit, an anencephablic Miss Belgium, understood and protected by most media, with RTL-TVi at the head2 [reference to her racist comment]. There was also the drowning of a Gambian refugee, Pathe Sabally, 22 years old, in the icy waters of Venice accompanied by negrophobic quips from some onlookers.3 The Belgian-on-Belgian “polemic” and the Italian “news headline,” presented as “isolated” and without “known causes” had supported our debate titled, “Struggle Against Afrophobia: or where are we right now in Europe?”4 And in the backdrop there was the hallucinating case of Adama Traoré – or how French authorities strove to protect three police officers who had asphyxiated their victim, let him die on the ground, his hands handcuffed behind his back – where we learned that three autopsies were necessary to establish the causes of death of a young black man 24 years of age… while he was indeed smothered by police.5

In case of short memory-span, there was a knife attack on Naithy Nelson, a 20 year old black man by a bus driver from the De Lijn company, that reminded Belgians that negrophobia is not limited to Instragram and can lead to crime.6 The day after this aggression, on Feb. 3rd 2017, it was Théo, 22, who was raped with a truncheon and beaten by four Aulnay-sous-Bois [a suburb of Paris] policemen. All which was filmed by 30 witnesses. The result: emergency operation on his anus torn 10cm and 60 days of sick leave for Théo. There are charges of “rape” for one of the culprits and “voluntary violence” for his colleagues.

Three of four police officers pick-up and and drag Théo by his clothes while he appears to be not moving and paralyzed by pain…

The common points among these “headlines” leap out to us who are racialized while many white people mobilize their racial privilege combined with their bad faith to avoid seeing the commonality. First, across 3 countries (Belgium, France, Italy), the skin color of the victims is the same: black. Then, there is also in each case humiliation, assault or murder as an integral part of the narratives.

Finally, if the word “racism” appears timidly, here or there, the term “negrophobia” [anti-blackness] is always missing in the media treatment for cable subscribers. The structural mechanisms behind these “tragedies” are never pinned-down. State racism and institutional or police negrophobia are never identified, questioned or even less stigmatized. Everything carries on as if no one among journalists, intellectuals, politicians, all whom are predominantly white, were incapable to articulate the reality of these negrophobic attacks, which are growing ever more frequent in Europe. Obviously they have no motivation to do so. For negrophobia, the tool of racial hierarchies and domination, organizes the different [State] authorities just as it makes the media indifferent so long as the ghettos do not burn. Just like the high rate of unemployment which suits many politicians and employers in order to weaken and annihilate any sort of social demands, every subversive movement made up of the employed ends up excluding those who are partially employed.

Police Everywhere, Justice Nowhere

As the family Adama Traoré, Naithy, and Théo “call for calm,” ask for “justice to be done,” and other commonplace platitudes, we are left with the the problem : what is justice? In the realm of police violence, judicial impunity is the rule; political amnesia, a banality; media benevolence towards the executioners, a habit. So much so that tomorrow, with all the assumed Arab-negrophobia, and the continuation of exalted colonialism, the “poor, overworked policeman” could continue to humiliate, rape and kill black and Arab people then they consider it “justified.”8

Before the death by asphyxiation of Adama Traoré and the rape and beating of Théo, there had been other victims of negrophobic police violence. Need we state that the names here placed on these steps do not constitute an exhaustive list of black civilians killed by the French police?

So what justice is this then? Since from the get-go, the jurisprudence of decisions does not advocate impartially but for the defense of white supremacy and white corporatism, as an end; protects brutes, rapists and killers under the pretext that they are “depositories of public authority.”

“Théo and Adama remind us why Zyed and Bouna ran…”

Circulating on social networks, this short phrase sums up another facet of the problem. And it resonates in the hearts of the racialized who have been stopped for “racially-motivated ID checks” [côntroles au faciès]. In 2005, if Zyed, Bouna and Muhitin tried to escape a police checkpoint, it was to escape assured racist and humiliating insults, to escape the beatings to be found there, to escape “the worst”…without knowing that two of them would end up dead.9 Three weeks of popular revolt across France and 10 years alter, the Rennes court announced the release of two of the police officers involved in this case for merely violating the Duty To Rescue law. Take to the streets, black and Arab families: justice is not for you!

Théo underwent the worst, the negation of his intimate being, the ultimate torture. His clean criminal record did not protect him. “He was there at the wrong time, in the wrong place,” would say those who have not been paying attention, the mad, the privileged whites. No! Théo is just a “hood black.” According to these criteria, he had no chance against his tormentors who knew full well they could do whatever they wanted to “these people.” This is one of the consequences of structural negrophobia that most of the media, politicians and intellectuals are trying to hide, or make invisible, with silence… In Canada, women and politicians know that silence has “consequences” and can make you complicit.10 In France as in Belgium, they continue to ignore this, according to the modalities of an old pestilential hypocrisy…

No socio-politico improvement

In Europe, despite relative awareness, the political will to identify and attack the structural mechanisms of negrophobia are lacking. Numerous propositions to combat against this specific racism through reports, colloquia, conferences and other “diversity meetings” have remained dead in the water.

Yet it is urgent to deconstruct prejudices and stereotypes through the teaching of the history of slavery and colonization, by popularizing them in the media. In this respect, the representation of blacks in German textbooks is disastrous and introduces negative stereotypes from an early age. Just as in Italy, Spain and Belgium, in Germany the lack of visibility of Afro-Germans in television shows, cartoons, entertainment and news media. Not to mention hate crimes, which in Sweden, in 2014, amounted to 17% against black citizens (1,075 in total).

It is imperative for European countries to put into place genuine anti-racist policy favoring the development of tools and practices to form a diagnostic of the breadth of negrophobic actions; to create effective support for victims’ associations; make effective action against discrimination in employment; to form a real independent justice against police violence and ethnic profiling11 known as “côntroles au faciès”; and create a system of penalties proportional to negrophobic crimes…

But in the West this is nothing new! All this has already been said, written and recalled, whereas over the years no socio-politico improvement has been observed and, on the contrary, the situation has gotten worse. On March 21st 2016, nearly a year ago, the president of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), Sarah Isal, concluded her qualitative study of negrophobia in Europe with: “There exists no national or European policy which specifically addresses the inequalities and discrimination which black people face.” And she becomes an activist, calling on the European [State] authorities: “It is quite shocking given the overwhelming evidence. We cannot simply ignore the lives of 12 million black persons in Europe. This is a warning to the European Union and its member states: they must put an end to the structural discrimination against black people.”12

As the Italian researcher Pietro Basso advocates, it is a matter of taking into account the different facets of structural racism and focusing on “the explosive intertwining of state, doctrinaire and popular racism.”13 Any anti-racist struggle – and consequently a struggle against negrophobia – that sets aside these peculiarities and their iterations can only fail. As in France and Belgium, for more than 30 years, for more than two generations…

The Fire Next Time

Which candidate in the 2017 French presidential election proposes any serious project to stop this Arab-negrophobia? So that finally the whole of the citizenry may be respected by the police, the justice system, employers and landlords.14 Not a single candidate speaks about this, commits to this, because to do so they would risk losing a “precious” percentage of the negrophobic electorate. Only Rama Yade has “wanted to cry” when hearing about what Théo had endured.15 Meanwhile the loyal bureaucrat, Benoît Hamon shed a socialist, “crocodile” tear, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, friend of negrophobe, Laurence Rossignol,16, preferred to play to play it “modern” by presenting Théo’s hologram in a meeting… And let’s not talk about the Belgian Federal government, which was has been hijacked by the Flemish Far-Right with the complicity of the Francophone Right, which is just as colonial and negrophobic as its French counterpart.

Having fled to France before his death, Afro-American writer, James Baldwin, warned in this book The Fire Next Time: “One is responsible for life: it is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness which we came and to which we shall return. One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us.17

At Aulnay-sous-Bois, the revolt has already gone on for three days. Yesterday, the night gave way to “warning shots” with live rounds by the police18… There comes a time when speaking, writing and warning no longer serves a purpose. You, the politically irresponsible, a 2-speed justice system, the Arab-negrophobic media, have favored this moment. You search for it and wanted it. Our dead, wounded and broken families have witnessed this for decades. All this is no longer “regrettable,” it is not “accidental,” it is all structural. And it is definitely not time to “chill.” If a socio-politico brake is not found, [James Baldwin] will still be right: THE FIRE NEXT TIME!

If you’d like to support Théo and his family see here:

Footnotes: (links in French)

[Final note: While we do not agree with the author’s calls to create an anti-racist state apparatus, we feel his description of anti-blackness in Europe is necessary and vital to listen to.]

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