Saturday

17th Apr 2021

Column

Meghan Markle, royal racism and the 'European Way of Life'

It is easy to shrug off the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle's revelations alleging racism in and around Britain's royal family as just another celebrity-triggered tsunami in a tea cup.

Worthy of another Netflix series certainly, but nothing to do with us.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Questions like 'where do you really come from?' may – finally – become redundant

What about confusion and disarray in the British media after being accused of endemic racism by both Prince Harry and Markle?

Nope, nothing to do with us.

Britain is different. What happens in Britain, stays in Britain.

With its colonial history, out-of-control 'woke' conversations on race, deep class and ethnic - and increasingly generational – divides, what happens across the Channel has absolutely nothing do with the rest of Europe.

Actually, let's be even more emphatic. What happens on race and identity across the Channel and across the Atlantic – in that no-holds-barred, cancel-culture, 'Anglo-Saxon' world – have no relevance, no resonance, no parallels here in the European Union.

There is no impact at all on the 'European Way of Life'. And not just because of Brexit.

For years, the EU's "united in diversity" motto has allowed policymakers to claim that conversations on race, religion, colour and ethnicity are foreign to European "culture". As imports go, they are unwelcome and unnecessary.

Instead, the focus remains on the great and inspiring narrative of a "colour blind" Europe where all are equal. Allegedly.

It is a fairy tale. The reality of 21st Century Europe is not one of inclusion or acceptance of religious, racial and ethnic diversity. And the new-found emphasis on race is not the result of Anglo-Saxon contagion.

There is no dearth of documented evidence of systemic racism, whether it is in encounters with the police, in meetings with recruiters and potential employers, or sometimes just because Europeans of colour – as Markle described it - "are breathing".

With '#Brussels So White' still not 'Brussels So Inclusive and So Diverse', it is difficult to reject the arguments of those who say 'whiteness' is central to European identity.

Actually, it is whiteness and Christianity, a message disseminated daily by not only Hungary's Viktor Orban but many other European populist and Far Right politicians.

Worse still is the tacit embrace of such discourse by mainstream European politicians seeking to outflank the Far Right.

True, conversations on race are often more muted, less incendiary – and also less frequent in the EU - than in either Britain or the US.

That is no surprise. Most – mainly white - EU politicians, policymakers as well as academics, think tankers, journalists and lobby groups do not think questions of racial justice and ethnic inequalities merit special attention.

Often, they are viewed as a distraction – or as competition for other aspects of the Europe's equality agenda.

There is no powerful cross-border civil rights organization demanding racial justice in Europe. Lack of data collection on race and ethnic origin remains a problem.

Still, there are signs of change.

First, the devastation caused by Covid-19 has revealed the role of essential workers, many of whom are people of colour.

Second, Black Lives Matter protests that erupted across Europe after the killing of George Floyd in the US last summer have forced the continent's own reckoning with racism, police violence and harassment.

The initial reaction from some EU policymakers was that "it could not happen here".

'Brussels, we have a problem'

But before too long EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen admitted the bloc still had its work cut out on building a Europe that is more equal, more humane, and more fair.

An EU Anti-Racism Action Plan adopted last September promises the appointment of an EU anti-racism coordinator, more inclusive recruitment policies, stronger national equality bodies and an update of the 20 year old anti-racism directive.

A first-ever anti-racism conference (online) is being held on March 19*.

These are good steps. But they are not enough.

Enforcement of existing anti-discrimination legislation must be a priority. Efforts are still needed to ensure fair policing, prevent unlawful racial profiling and provide training on ethics and human rights to law enforcement agencies.

Legacies of slavery and colonialism should be tackled, not least because they are impacting on Europe's relations with its African partners.

Finally, there must be an even more ambitious collective effort to change the narrative of Europe.

It is high time that the concept of who is European in the 21st Century is expanded and enriched beyond current restrictive definitions and perceptions, becoming more modern, more fluid and more inclusive.

It that is done, questions like "where do you really come from?" may – finally – become redundant.

Such conversations will be difficult and painful. Too many Europeans are still in denial over their racist past and present.

Yet such a discussion is eminently necessary and need not be confrontational.

No magic wand will turn Europe into a true Union of Equality overnight.

But Markle's personal story of pride and prejudice amid Britain's Royals has lessons for everyone. We should be listening.

*Shada Islam will be moderating the online European Anti-Racism summit on March 19.

Author bio

Shada Islam is an independent EU analyst and commentator who runs her own strategy and advisory company New Horizons Project.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU to have first-ever anti-racism coordinator

The European Commission is set to unveil an action plan to fight racism - which will address gaps in existing legislation and extend the list of EU crimes to all forms of hate crime and hate speech.

Why no EU progress on Black Lives Matter?

Months after Black Lives Matter erupted, for many EU decision-makers the problems of racism in policing and criminal legal systems - the issues that sparked the George Floyd protests - are still 'over there', across the Atlantic.

'Ethno-nationalism' is not way forward for Bosnia-Herzegovina

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, tempted by the allure of a 'deliverable', the EU, US, and UK are supporting a political process that would enhance the power of ethno-nationalist leaders, cement ethnic partition, and quite possibly lead to violence.

News in Brief

  1. EU postpones decision on labelling gas 'sustainable'
  2. MEPs call for mass surveillance ban in EU public spaces
  3. Greek and Turkish ministers trade jibes in Ankara
  4. Biden repeats opposition to Russia-Germany pipeline
  5. Navalny in danger, letter warns EU foreign ministers
  6. Lithuania keen to use Denmark's AstraZeneca vaccines
  7. Gas plants largest source of power-sector emissions
  8. Study: Higher risk of blood clots from Covid than vaccines

Column

Why Germans understand the EU best

In Germany, there is commotion about a new book in which two journalists describe meetings held during the corona crisis between federal chancellor Angela Merkel, and the 16 prime ministers of its federal constituent states.

Why Iceland isn't the gender paradise you think

Iceland's international reputation masks two blunt realities that face the country's women - the disproportionate levels of gender-based violence that they experience, and a justice system that is frequently suspicious and hostile towards victims of this violence.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. US rejects Slovenia-linked plan to break up Bosnia
  2. Ukraine urges Borrell to visit Russia front line
  3. Could US sanctions hit Russia vaccine sales to EU?
  4. Polish court pushes out critical ombudsman
  5. Political crises in Romania and Bulgaria amid third wave
  6. Von der Leyen's summer plans undisclosed, after Ukraine snub
  7. Over a million EU citizens back farm-animal cage ban
  8. Three options for West on Putin's Ukraine build-up

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us