An Invitation to Rethink Antiracist Narratives in Europe

By Sylvia Koniecki

Executive Coordinator, Andalucía Acoge


Different narratives about social reality are reflecting divergent ideologic positions and are contributing significantly to the process of construction of our world as well as the shape our behaviour. At present, narratives inherited from colonialist thought continue to promote discrimination against racialised people, which challenges us to generate discourses centred on equity, which in turn give rise to attitudes that favour coexistence and encounter.

In recent years there has been an escalation of hate speech globally, which in turn has caused an increase in attacks on people who, for one reason or another, are in disadvantaged conditions. On the other hand, the political anti-racist movement, mainly composed of racialised people, has managed to organise itself in a very significant way in recent years. It has created its own self-managed spaces for debate, leading struggles in favour of the rights of people with migrant and/or racialised origin (in Spain, the most representative is undoubtedly the one led by the “Regularisation Now” “Regularización Ya” movement) and promoting mutual aid initiatives. This emerging movement represents an important change of focus in the anti-racist struggle. It leads us to question our personal certainties and to rethink the strategies, reflections and narratives that we articulate from the social organisations that have been working for years in favour of coexistence and social cohesion.

Indeed, non-white people resident in the global North, forced to deal with multiple forms of racism on a daily basis, have organised themselves in a collective struggle that takes a critical look at the traditional anti-racist confrontation. In their argument, they distinguish between “moral anti-racism” – which is what most of the organisations that have so far worked to combat discriminatory attitudes in society would carry out — and “political anti-racism” — which looks for the roots of racist thinking and conceives it as structural. This shift in the approach, therefore, proposes a new narrative in relation to the fight against racial discrimination.

Moral anti-racism assumes racism is an interpersonal issue and appeals to the morality of society, in the belief that discrimination can be solved through awareness-raising. However, political anti-racism warns that relations of domination are often present in these same spaces. The communication strategy of many social organisations insists on maintaining a victimising gaze. It shows a part of the world’s population suffering for their unsatisfied needs, having to be supported by the white population, which is the provider. This asymmetrical image – the result of narratives inherited from colonialist thought – relegates non-white people to being mere recipients of aid, incapable of being active subjects and of generating transformation. The idea that they need a “white saviour” to get ahead generates a deep unease towards the traditional anti-racist struggle and reveals the necessity to construct an alternative narrative.

Thus, political anti-racism conceives racism as something structural that is completely integrated into our thinking. Furthermore, it argues that race is a social construct that adds to different systems of oppression (such as machismo or aporophobia) and that it is the conception of race that justifies racial hierarchisation and the exploitation of other peoples; in this way, capitalism relies on this structure of thought to maintain inequalities. For this reason, political anti-racism sees itself as a struggle of resistance: over the centuries there are non-Western perspectives that have managed to survive in the face of hegemonic thinking. And it is from this diversity that the struggle for decolonisation and depatriarchalising is organised. Moreover, by conceiving race as a social construct that adds to different systems of oppression, it seeks cross-cutting alliances with other struggles, feminism being undoubtedly the most representative. There are important parallels between the dominant narratives of the feminist movement and those generated by the new anti-racist voices. Both demand an end to speaking in their name and call for the need to find spaces of trust that exclude traditional anti-racist movements.

The narrative of political anti-racism is an important challenge for traditional social entities. We need to find our space taking into account the great changes that are taking place in the environment. We should ask ourselves what is our approach to racism (if it is closer to political anti-racism or moral anti-racism); we should reflect on how we communicate what we do (e.g. if we carry out a communication that instrumentalises the beneficiaries); how we raise awareness and design our actions (if we really have a horizontal view of racism, which does not fall into the trap of victimising a part of the population); how we communicate what we do (for example, if we carry out a communication that instrumentalises the beneficiaries); and how we relate to the entities that lead political anti-racism. The result of this reflection should lead to the construction of a new narrative capable of connecting with a broad sector of the population, generating new views and attitudes towards racialised people.

This reflection also entails a series of difficulties. On one hand, the emancipatory vocation of political anti-racism relegates us to a less protagonist position, because racialised people claim as their own the legitimacy of leading this mobilisation. Beyond the recognition that some social organisations receive thanks to their long experience in the struggle for the rights of people of migrant origin, it is generally considered that they should step aside so that new voices can be heard.

On the other hand, considering racism is deeply rooted in our structure of thought, a majority of political anti-racism proposes a long-term struggle aimed at breaking the system. For this reason, their stance is confrontational rather than awareness-raising (a clear example of this is the symbolic act of tearing down the statues of Columbus, without at the same time trying to raise awareness of the meaning of this act.). On the contrary, the natural space for many of the traditional organisations is the search for dialogue and joint construction.

[Image: bbc.com]

Beyond the responses of each organisation, undoubtedly, we must strengthen our active listening to the emerging movements: we have a lot to learn and build. New voices and perspectives will allow us to create new narratives, capable of generating real changes in reality. We still have a long way to go, but there is no doubt that we will be greatly enriched by this process.

Sylvia Koniecki
Executive Coordinator, Andalucía Acoge

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