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After a quarter of century of combating structural racism and pushing back against the rise of hateful and intolerant far-right policies, the European Network Against Racism believes now is the time for real change.

By Kim L. Smouter-Umans  —

Nahel M. was 17 years old. An only child of North African descent, he was close to his single mother, Mounia, in the home they shared in a neighborhood in Nanterre, France, a few miles from Paris. He struggled in school, and had enrolled in a program using sports to help pave a career path, hoping to become an electrician. He was working as a delivery driver this June when he was pulled over by police at a traffic stop. In a dramatically disproportionate use of force, the police shot and killed Nahel, then tried to lie about the facts in official reports.

His death triggered weeks of violent protest that spread across France—both because of the details of Nahel’s case, and the fact that his death did not happen in a vacuum.

Black and North African people are 20 times more likely to be stopped by police than are white people in France. And due to a lack of official data collection, it’s impossible to say how many die at the hands of the police. Had the incident not been filmed, Nahel’s death would have simply been brushed under the rug as another statistic without consideration for the life lost.

My colleagues and I at the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) mobilized quickly in the aftermath of Nahel’s death, shining a spotlight on the issue and calling on the French government to take immediate action to address racialized policing in the country and concerns about impunity for the use of excessive force.

Of course, these issues are not limited to France. They manifest throughout Europe through the prevalence of structural racism that sustains a climate where violence against people of color is not just tolerated but institutionalized and protected.

This year, ENAR celebrates its 25th anniversary. A quarter century of fighting racism, and seeing the European discourse evolve—sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse—has helped us focus on the concept of Make Racism History. The initiative brings together anti-racism actors to highlight what’s been achieved so far, and what work lies ahead to ensure that in another 25 years, there won’t be a need for an organization like ours.

ENAR is currently the only pan-European anti-racism network. We encompass over 150 organizations across Europe and view our role as magnifying member voices. That community-driven perspective makes ENAR unique: we’re not focused just on one manifestation of anti-racism, but rather work on Afro-phobia, Islamophobia, antisemitism, and anti-Roma and anti-Gypsyism—bringing breadth and richness to vital debates and actions.

This intersectionality is widely misunderstood, and there is a need to do more to make this lens something that can be effectively applied to legislation and policy. We know that in order to achieve systemic change, we need to bring this perspective into law and practice, striking a balance between being more intersectional while ensuring each specific manifestation of racism is seen, heard, and addressed within our movement.

The Black Lives Matter movement helped drive anti-racism activism in Europe and around the world, setting up a powerful template for us to follow. Its ability to turn pain and tragedy into action helped propel the cause forward, and brought new donors to the table. We have also seen an increased willingness in the private sector to step up its activism. The challenge now is ensuring that we do not fall into complacency as time passes and people start forgetting what drove this movement. We need not just one Black Lives Matter; we need dozens of them. When we work together, when we strike the right chords, we can make people aware of just how damaging these issues are, not just for the victims of racism, but for the whole of society.

In Europe, we still have daunting challenges ahead. We battle an emerging narrative that migrants are to blame for many of the continent’s current ills. And several recent terrorist attacks have led to the targeting and profiling of anyone with a Muslim background, placing pressure on Muslim communities to somehow prove their loyalty to European values. In country after country, we see the rise of far-right parties and movements normalizing hateful and exclusionary discourse and intolerant policies.

To support anti-racism work, anyone with a background in legal, communications, marketing, organizing, or logistics can lend their skills to hundreds of our member organizations. Those working in the private sector can urge employers to become more equitable and inclusive. Individuals can also help monitor for worrisome incidents and news articles and flag them for, which helps us mobilize members to hold authorities accountable. And of course, they can donate. The anti-racist movement needs to diversify funding sources and expand unrestricted funding to help member organizations to continue to innovate.

This October, ENAR will hold a Make Racism History festival, a pan-European initiative to mark our members’ quarter century of solidarity. We are on the cusp of a generational shift where the forms of activism and the structures to carry out that activism look different. At the same time, we see that new movements are able to effect change at a pace not seen or even imagined before. This is the moment in time we can make racism history—so that mothers like Nahel’s never again have to go through the trauma of burying a child victimized by excessive police force.

The vital force driving this change are young people, armed with powerful tools we could only dream of 25 years ago. This generation may be able to push for progress at a much greater pace than we could have imagined. That makes us confident that maybe our objectives for 25 years from now are not so unrealistic after all.

The European Network Against Racism is a grantee of the Open Society Foundations.

Source: Open Society Foundations

Kim L. Smouter-Umans is Director General of the European Network Against Racism.

Featured image: Activists with the organization SOS Racism, a member of the European Network Against Racism, attend a demonstration against racism and the extreme right in Lille, France, on February 5, 2022. (Samuel Boivin/NurPhoto/Getty)


IBW21 (The Institute of the Black World 21st Century) is committed to enhancing the capacity of Black communities in the U.S. and globally to achieve cultural, social, economic and political equality and an enhanced quality of life for all marginalized people.