I know we often feel morally superior to our US counterparts. Trump? Guns? Lack of public transportation? Private prisons? Death sentences? Europe could never! When faced with the dire reality of American injustice, it feels comfortable to pride ourselves on European culture, claiming to live by the ideals of human dignity and rule of law instead of conservative capitalism. But if you think that the oppression of Black people is either a uniquely American issue or “not yours to comment on” as an international student in America, you are legitimizing and perpetuating white supremacy both in the US and Europe.
The racism and police brutality against Black communities in the US is utterly disgusting. The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and so many others are the direct results of the racism pervading the US legal systems. As a white European, I will never be able to viscerally understand the African-American experience — I will never have to fear violence for no other reason than the racism of others; I will never have to mourn the murder of my family members for no other reason than the color of their skin. Thus, I apologize in advance if any of the statements in this piece mirror my ignorance. Amplifying the voices of Black Americans is the least we can do as European or international students in the US. But I am convinced that to remain silent on the issue of racial injustice is to further perpetuate and exacerbate it.
Black lives matter. While you may not be an American citizen, you are both studying and living in a country founded on the principles of racism and white supremacy. Remaining passive as a European student does not make you less complicit than your silent American friends. If you are white like me, you are benefitting from white privilege regardless of whether or not you are a foreigner. If you are on financial aid like me, chances are high you are granted money and resources by an institution with a profoundly racist history and investment strategies that continue to oppress BIPOC up to this present day. If you are not on financial aid, it might be time to recognize that your racial and financial privileges are in many ways interconnected.
Instead of wallowing in complacency, we must recognize that systemic racism and marginalization of BIPOC are not a uniquely American issue — white supremacy is reflected by the Eurocentric curricula in our schools and anti-immigrant narratives pushed by many European governments.
Education in Europe must do a better job at fighting racism. Of course I can’t speak for your fancy international school experience, but my Austrian public high school marginalized or outright ignored African American history and Black culture. Why were our history lessons about colonialism and imperialism so eurocentric? Why did we learn about George Washington but not Frederick Douglass? Why did we discuss the works of George Orwell or J.D. Salinger but not those of Malcom X or Toni Morrison? All these questions boil down to covert institutionalized racism and the marginalization of BIPOC. If you were not thoroughly informed about racism in school, this is no excuse to stay silent. If anything, not having been taught the US’s racist history in high school should motivate you to do your own research. Don’t wait for BIPOC to educate you.
Politicians in Europe must do a better job at fighting racism. When Black lives are treated with both contempt and complacency under the name of protecting the “borders of our continent,” we must be outraged and stand in solidarity with BIPOC. Black Lives Matter everywhere — whether it be in Minneapolis or in the Meditarranean Sea. If you criticize the US, but condone or even support deadly European anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, you are complicit. If you ignore the fact that police brutality against Black communities exists in Europe, you are complicit.
Adil, a 19-year-old of Moroccan descent, was killed during a police chase in Brussels, sparking short-lived protests and outrage. Mark Duggan, a Black man, was shot and killed by the police in the UK, and London protests followed. Oury Jalloh, a Black Sierra Leonean asylum-seeker, died in a fire in a police cell in Dessau, Germany. These are unfortunately just some examples of the police violence in European countries against Black people.
Austria, my home country, must do a better job at fighting racism. While Austria’s size and demographics differ immensely from the US’s, police brutality and racial profiling remain a daily reality. Even in recent history, the Austrian police force has tortured and killed Black people. We must never forget the murders of Ahmed F., Marcus Omofuma, Richard Ibekwe and so many others. Instead of fighting white supremacy, Austria’s conservative-right-wing government, which was suspended in 2019 after the Ibiza scandal, only exacerbated the issue of racist police brutality. In 2018, the Austrian Interior Ministry even recruited cops through the far-right anti-semitic magazine Alles Roger?. The case of Austria goes to show that white supremacy and institutionalized violence against Black people are deadly, not just in the US, but at the very heart of Europe. I emphatically encourage you to research police brutality and the oppression of BIPOC both in the US and in your home country.
Some of us Europeans might see the brutal murders in the US and claim that that doesn’t happen in Europe, but Black Europeans do not have that privilege. Racism is very much alive in Europe. It is not often broadcast in the media, but it exists, and manifests itself in a myriad of forms, from the Eurocentrism of most European school curriculums to the disapproving stares Black people have to deal with when walking down the street.
In an age of growing right-wing populism all across Europe, pretending that racial injustice is a mere relic of the past is not just ignorant — it is deadly. As European students, we have the obligation to call out the racist rhetoric and anti-immigration policies not just of Donald Trump, but also of our very own leaders. We have the obligation to inform ourselves and others about institutionalized racism, make donations and raise our voices to demand political change. European complacency only further perpetuates and legitimizes white supremacy both in Europe and in the US, making us complicit.
We as Europeans must do a better job at fighting racism. We must acknowledge that racism and the oppression of Black people are deeply entrenched not just in American, but also in European history and politics.
As European students in the US, we must acknowledge our privilege and use it to amplify the voices of Black communities. If we don’t consciously fight against anti-Black police brutality, violence and institutionalized racism, we are perpetuating white supremacy. It is time that we actively support BIPOC at home and abroad in the fight against racial injustice. The issue of racism knows no borders– neither should our solidarity.