Can democracy survive racism?

This is the provocative question posed by Terri Givens, the Founder and CEO of The Center for Higher Education Leadership, in a taping of the PBS series “Blackademics Television“.

The episode, which will air on June 16, 2019 feature talks by Ms. Givens, alongside Mohan Ambikaipaker and Kevin Michael Foster.

Political blackness in multiracial Britain. Nationalism in Europe. Literacy in an age of lies.

These are the hot topics addressed in this episode of Blackademics TV, which can be streamed online now.

The question, “Can democracy survive racism?” was posed by Givens based on her experience studying the topic of immigration in the United States and Europe.

“It is clear that racism continues to be an issue on both sides of the Atlantic,” Givens said.

In the PBS talk, Givens focused mainly on Europe. “I’m often asked why I study Europe,” Givens told the live studio audience. “It was clear to me from my first visit to Europe that the issue of race was just as compelling there as it was in the U.S. In fact, many of the ideas that have developed around race were first developed and institutionalized in Europe. One can’t escape the history of racism that led to slavery, genocide, and the Holocaust. These attitudes have continued in new forms, focusing on immigrants from Africa and the Middle East, Muslims in particular, and a willingness to vote for anti-democratic parties who focus on economic and cultural threats.”

Radical right parties in Europe tend to use a populist appeal, arguing that they are for the “common man” and against the elite. They often lean authoritarian in their call for security to protect against outsiders and blind loyalty to the party or leaders. Another component is the racism and fear of minorities and immigrants that is being used by politicians both here in the U.S. and in Europe to mobilize voters who fear the loss of privilege and ultimately political dominance.

“For immigrants, violence and discrimination have been an ongoing problem that was at least partially addressed in the late 1990s by the EU with the passage of the Racial Equality Directive which was the subject of my book Legislating Equality.

Terri E. Givens speaks on an episode of "Blackademics TV" from PBS.

Terri E. Givens speaks on an episode of “Blackademics TV” from PBS.

As in the U.S., housing segregation and unemployment have been ongoing issues for ethnic and racial minorities. France has a large Muslim population of around 5 million, with many living in the banlieus or suburbs on the outskirts of cities like Paris and Lyon. These areas have had problems with poverty, high unemployment, and violence from the police, which is often followed by riots. For example, in 2005 riots erupted in the suburbs of several major cities in France. Two teenage boys, one black, one Arab, who had been hiding from police in an electricity substation, were electrocuted. Their deaths set off the largest riots in France in 40 years – leading to a state of emergency.

Youths took to the streets in February of 2017 when a young black man was reported to have been beaten and assaulted by the police. These incidents compound the regular harassment that these young people experience on a regular basis. The police have the right to ask for their identity papers at any time, often targeting young men when they are taking the train to their homes in the suburbs.

There is strong support for the radical right in France, as Marine Le Pen has taken over the party started by her father. The party won 8 seats in the 2017 parliament election, it’s best showing ever, and they, along with other radical right parties are expected to do well in the upcoming European Parliament elections.

In conclusion, Givens said, “I started this talk by asking the question if democracy can survive racism and for now I believe it can. However, the anti-immigrant, racist and authoritarian radical right parties have been gaining in support, despite the ongoing discrimination towards people of different ethnic and racial backgrounds who are striving for a voice in their countries. The success of far-right politicians in Poland and Hungary has clearly led to an undermining of the free press and judicial oversight. Countries like France and Germany are not currently in danger, as the support for radical right parties there has remained around 15-20% of the electorate but it will be important for oppressed minorities in these countries to feel that they have a voice if democracy is to survive.”

Blackademics TV is a PBS series in which scholars, artists and activists share projects and research focused on education, performance and empowerment. 

Watch the PBS episode here

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