Report on IMISCOE Workshop’s Keynote Address, “New Forms of Anti-Racist Mobilisation and Participatory Citizenship.”

On October 1st, 2020, the International Migration, Integration and Social Cohesion in Europe (IMISCOE) –the largest interdisciplinary research network of scholars in the field of migration, integration, and diversity studies in Europe –organized an inaugural virtual workshop, entitled, “ Regulating and Experiencing Immigrant Status Transition: Comparing Entry, Settlement, and Naturalization”. Fostering an intellectual discussion on issues of migration, citizenship and political participation, the IMISCOE workshop invites the audience to a month-long interdisciplinary series of insightful and engaging webinar presentations on such diverse topics as ranging from anti-racist movements, to rights and citizenship of migrants, to criminalization and classification of asylum seekers, made by scholars from across the world. The keynote, entitled, “New Forms of Anti-Racist Mobilisation and Participatory Citizenship” was delivered by Marco Martiniello, who is an eminent Italian-Belgian sociologist and political activist, and professor of sociology of migration and ethnic studies at the University of Liege, in Belgium. The session was moderated by Gianni D’Amato, who is the Director of the Swiss National Center of Competence in Research (NCCR) on Migration and Population Studies, and professor of Migration and Citizenship Studies at the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland. Preeshita Biswas reports on the inaugural keynote session presented on October 1st, 2020.

Marco Martiniello began his keynote address by raising several questions–questions that involve and concern any and every one, in our contemporary times, who claim to have a stake in and a right to discuss issues of racism, anti-racism, social exclusion and various forms of social, cultural, economic, and political discrimination and persecution in one’s own nation as well as beyond. Martiniello therefore asks, who has the right to address these topics? What determines one’s right to speak on anti-racism? Should voices of protest, reform and resistance belong exclusively to individuals of the persecuted communities? Is lived experience of persecution and discrimination the only qualifying attribute of the speaker? Is a “serene academic debate on racism and anti-racism still possible”? Is there a possibility of an integrated academic approach to modern-day studies of racism and anti-racism in the disciplines of social sciences that goes beyond the individual “expertise of being/experience approach”? These questions form the corpus of Martiniello’s key address and foreground the pressing dis-ease that plagues discussions of race, racism and anti-racism in academia which has been fragmented across ages by individual feelings and fears as well as promotion of mutually exclusive debates and discussions. Attempting to address these questions through his presentation, Martiniello considers his address as an “eccentric talk” that comprises a “pseudo freestyle exercise covering [such] different questions related to recent anti-racist mobilisation with a focus on some European countries”.

            A discussion of current anti-racist movements and academic debates inevitably demands a retrospective and analytical outlook on ‘older’ anti-racist mobilizations. As such, Martiniello begins his presentation by attempting a comparison between older (1970s-1980s) and recent (2010s-2020s) forms of anti-racist mobilisations in Europe. Can such a comparison between older and recent anti-racist movements be possible? Martiniello argues that in the field of anti-racism studies, there has often been a tendency and “fallacious temptation” to homogenise anti-racist mobilisations of the 2010s-2020s and those belonging to the 1970s-1980s. However, Martiniello advocates that anti-racist movements of these two different periods operated in different political contexts. While the two decades of 1970s and the 1980s document a marginal rise of far-right ideologies in many European countries like the United Kingdom, France and Belgium, the 2010s and 2020s have witnessed a visible increase in mainstreamisation of right-wing ideas and policies in several European countries.

            The different political contexts of the two periods of anti-racist movements, Martiniello further contends, has led to identification of different “enemies” and claims. In the 1970s-80s, it was apparent who the ‘enemy’ was –it was the far-right. However, in 2010s-2020s, it is no longer a question of who should be held accountable. Instead, what is challenged is the racist system and structure that also includes the whites and the Right Liberals. Therefore, the recent decades of the twenty-first century has problematically blurred the binary between ‘enemy’ and ‘ally’, which in turn has posed further problems of rights of inclusion and participation in anti-racist movements. Can the white and the Right Liberals be considered as allies and sympathisers of the anti-racist cause? Similarly, the two time periods also delineate different claims for anti-racist mobilisations. Older movements were driven by a desire for social inclusion of the marginalised communities. Hence, their demands revolved around recognition of co-citizenship and claims to equal rights and privileges in the society. On the contrary, recent anti-racist movements are more focussed on a fundamental revolution and decolonisation of social and political structures. They are driven by the need to revisit and deconstruct mainstreamized narratives of history that made possible the current exclusionary and racist system.

            Owing to an identification of different enemies and claims, two distinct set of key actors dominated the landscapes of European anti-racist movements in the 1970s-1980s and 2010s-2020s. On the one hand, the older movements were led by urban second-generation of working class migrants. On the other hand, recent movements, primarily in Western European countries, are spearheaded by, what Martiniello refers to as, “post-colonial social elites” –people who amass cultural capital and refuse to transfer them for larger social good, and instead blame the racist superstructure. As a result of different social and economic background of the individuals involved in anti-racist movements, there exists also difference in the allies and support systems of anti-racist mobilisation across the two time periods. Whereas the older struggles are comprised of broad transethnic and transracial coalition supported by working class organisations who fought together for the common goal of social inclusion and rights to participatory citizenship. However, the recent movements are supported by communities who are segregated on the basis of such different categories as race, degrees of marginality and persecution, and ideological beliefs, to name a few. Martiniello gives the example of anti-racist movements which are exclusively led by members of the ‘black’ community. Often in these movements, Martiniello contends, participation of white individuals are looked down upon. Moreover, a white person is required to foremost pledge guilty of having being complicit in the development of racist systems, and then allowed to participate in the movements but their participation is limited to only giving support to the decisions already been taken by the Black leaders. Such limited involvement additionally prohibits them to express their own opinions and contributions to anti-racist movements. As a result, Martiniello points out that, recent anti-racist mobilisations are fraught with layers of fragmentation, both within the different marginalised groups and between the marginalised communities and the mainstream society.

Finally, Martiniello discusses the difference in repertoire of actions between the forms of anti-racist movements. While the movements of the 1970s-1980s often involved “physical opposition” (namely violence and riots), public demonstration and marches, and cultural forms of protest, such as art and music. Today’s anti-racist mobilisations have predominately captured the social media platform as their base of operation. One only needs to recall such renowned anti-racist campaigns of our contemporaneous times such as Black Lives Matters (BLM), #Stop Racism (Barcelona’s anti-racism campaign in midst of #Covid19), and Get the Trolls Out (an European initiative to engage young people around the importance of fighting Anti-Semitic speech and bolstering new media advocacy against hate speech), to realise the surging importance of various social media interfaces in anti-racist campaigns.

The talk then veered into a discussion of one of the most pertinent and controversial debates of our times. Are we really witnessing a globalisation of a new anti-racist movements? While the proliferation of anti-racist campaigns over social media platforms might indicate a uniformed and massive participation of individuals and groups in anti-racist struggles from across the world, Martiniello points out certain aspects of such campaigns which contend otherwise. According to Martiniello, there is a variable mobilisation of anti-racist campaigns in Europe. Whereas countries such as France, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, and Greece have witnessed major anti-racist protests and movements, the very idea of anti-racist movement is often very “bizarre” in most countries of Central Europe.

“Paris Protests for George Floyd and Black Lives Matters”, Source: Wesel, Barbara. “As Media Watch US Uprisings, EU has a Racism Problem, Too.” DW.com, 12th June 2020. Photography: S. Phalnikar.

He further observes that often there is a temptation to “import” BLM analysis and frameworks of action in Europe. Therefore, what needs to be asked is, does all black lives matter equally? Martiniello argues that there is a predominance of African-American presence in anti-racist struggles in Europe, whereas the plights of Black individuals, for instance Black migrants from other parts of the continent, are often neglected in such “global” campaigns. These campaigns often neglect the differences in the lived experiences of being a Black individual in Europe and in the United States.

Another problematic caveat of the so-called globalisation of anti-racist movements is the increasing commodification and global marketing of anti-racist struggle. For instance, following the tragic incident of May 25th, 2020, when George Floyd was mercilessly killed by the white American police office, Derek Chauvin, many multinational, multi-billion dollars corporations around the world had capitalised on this moment to declare their solemn solidarity with the African-American communities. These include McDonald’s (“We stand for…victims of systemic oppression and violence”);  Coca-Cola (“We have donated to 100 Black Men of America Inc. and the National CARES Mentoring Movement as a part of the effort to end systemic racism and bring true equality to all”); Adidas (“The success of Adidas would be nothing without Black athletes, Black artists, Black employees, and Black consumers”); and Target (“We are committing $10 million and ongoing resources for rebuilding efforts and advancing social justice”) (Imara, The Progressive). While on the surface, it might appear to be a unified front taken by these companies to support the Black community, one must also consider how these companies profit from publicizing their alliance with Black America. They expand the market of their products to include people of different race and colour, and exploit their buying potential to increase their own profits. By extension, one can see that tolerance of racial inequity, violence, and injustice is not only commodified but also normalised by the marketing schemes of the big corporations.



Righteous CEO apologizes for publicizing BLM on their products.”
            Source: Stunson, Mike. “Black Lives Matter Gelato an ‘Ignorant’ Idea, says Canadian Company after Backlash.” The News Tribune. 15 June 2020. Available from: https://www.thenewstribune.com/news/nation-world/world/article243548657.html.
 

While discussing the effect of globalisation on anti-racist struggles, it also behoves us to analyse how the modern nation-state framework influence anti-racist mobilisations across nations. Is there a structuration of anti-racist leadership in Europe? Martiniello contends that nation-state frameworks are still pertinent in the political system of the European countries to an extent that the political head of one nation-state wields a lot of influence on the national policies and ideologies of its people. However, though “Eurocentric Nationalism” often draw from anti-racist movements in the United States, it neglects the racist incidents and anti-racist backlash that take place within the European countries themselves. Ranging from racial violence and inequity in job markets to brutalities often inflicted by the police force, many west European countries such as France, Belgium and Germany are plagued by multiple incidences of racism which are little foregrounded in the media.

Given the rising curve of structural and systematic racism, the normalisation of racist attacks, and the dispersed reality of anti-racist mobilisations in today’s world, what can we expect next? With this last question of his presentation, Martiniello urges us to consider the future of our lived reality. Can there be a possibility of a unified global front against racism? He states that while older anti-racist movements who were often met with a stronger opposition in the street, the recent anti-racist leaders are often absorbed with the racist system. He argues that the far-right wing adopts “co-optation as a strategy of deradicalization”, whereby radical leaders of anti-racist mobilisations are reduced to cogs in the big racist superstructure. Therefore, it is possible to create a multiracial citizenship in Europe? According to Martiniello, it might not be the case in our immediate future, but there is a silver lining of hope.  By using virtual media platforms, though we might incur various setbacks, but it also provides the opportunity to spread awareness and encourage participation from those individuals who might otherwise be compromised in their real lives. Martiniello reminds us that a proper structuration is the key to the continuity of anti-racist mobilisations and eradication of the vicious loop of racist attacks not only in Europe but throughout the world.

The keynote address invited an engaging and insightful question-answer round during the discussion session. Some of the questions asked include: how does one mitigate between closed-group and open-group participation in anti-racist campaigns on the social media network; what should be done in the face of recent dilution of anti-racist struggles with other forms of protests such as those for gender equity, or such diverse issues as, on the one hand, Islamophobia, and on the other, environmental conservation; and how do activists deal with the current incidence of “normalisation of racism”? While responding to these questions, Martiniello reflects that there has been an evolution of both racist attacks and anti-racist mobilisations over the passage of time. The kind of anti-racist campaigns that took place in the 1970s-1980s with frequent recourses to physical violence, street protests and demonstrations is no longer the modus operandi of recent anti-racist movements, which usually adopt non-violent demonstrations and virtual platforms to launch their resistance. As his concluding remark, Martiniello comments that with the evolution of our living condition, we should also evolve our ways of launching reforms and resistance, and work from the grass-root level to reach out to more ordinary citizens so that we could achieve a transracial and transnational framework of anti-racist mobilisations.

References:

Imara, Nia. “The Commodification of Black Death.” The Progressive, 27th July 2020. Available from: https://progressive.org/dispatches/commodification-of-black-death-imara-200727/

Wesel, Barbara. “As Media Watch US Uprisings, EU has a Racism Problem, Too.” DW.com, 12th June 2020. Available from: https://www.dw.com/en/as-media-watch-us-uprisings-eu-has-a-racism-problem-too/a-53780013

Preeshita Biswas has completed her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in English from Presidency University, Kolkata. She can be reached at biswaspreeshita@gmail.com.

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