EU network: Sweden passive on ‘slave auction’

The pan-European network of NGOs and research institutes has called on the Swedish government to use the opportunity of a "slave auction" held in Lund in April to "address the specific needs of victims of racism and racial hatred".

EU network: Sweden passive on 'slave auction'

The RED Network, representing NGOs and research institutes from 17 EU member states, has expressed its deep concern over “the racist incidents depicting black people as ‘slaves’ at Lund University and Malmö University in Sweden”.

In an open letter to education minister Jan Björklund and integration minister Erik Ullenhag, the institute challenges the government to take a clear stand.

“While Swedish politicians are passive and quiet we have received support from the US, such as (the European Network Against Racism) ENAR, and now from the RED Network,” said Mariam Osman Sheifay, a Social Democrat MP and chair of the Center against Racism, a Sweden-based member of the RED Network.

The letter refers to a so-called “jungle party” held at a Lund student organisation, where three people with blackened faces and lynching ropes around their necks were sold in a mock auction.

The incident, first reported in a local Lund student newspaper, has since gripped the attention of civil rights heavyweights around the globe.

The European Network Against Racism (ENAR), based in Brussels, wrote an open letter to Sweden’s democracy minister Birgitta Ohlsson condemning the incident, urging the government to take action.

The tale took another turn when prominent US civil rights activist Jesse Jackson penned a complaint to Jan Björklund urging Sweden to take measures to ensure that Swedes are reminded of the brutal transatlantic slave trade and the part Sweden played in it.

While Lund University, one of Sweden’s most prestigious seats of learning, has since responded to the criticism by announcing a new programme to educate students and staff about the university’s core values, anti-racism campaigners have been left frustrated by the government’s reticence to speak out on the issue.

“It is time for the Swedish government and Swedish politicians to openly condemn and take a stand against racism and the racial hatred. Silence and half-hearted condemnation is the same as support for racist actions,” Mariam Osman Sheifay said in a comment on the letter.

Victoria Kawesa, a researcher at the Center Against Racism, told The Local that there is a gulf between Sweden’s image overseas and the reality faced by the afro-Swedish community.

“People we speak to are shocked that this occurred in Sweden. Sweden has a humane reputation but at home nobody takes a stand,” she said.

In a opinion article published in the Svenska Dagbladet daily at the weekend, Erik Ullenhag called for a united front against Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. Victoria Kawesa would like this call to include the afro-Swedish community.

“Erik Ullenhag has… written about hate in Sweden without naming the racist attacks against blacks, Afrophobia as a problem in Sweden,” she said.

“Black people are also Swedish citizens and have a right to be protected and to receive support against racist slights and attacks.”

Kawesa furthermore echoed Jesse Jackson’s calls for an education campaign to inform Swedes that the slave trade is part of the country’s history and something of deep concern for the Swedish population, in part and as a whole.

“We need to draw attention to the fact that Sweden was involved, this is an experience which we all share. The incident in Lund is an opportunity to address this,” she said.

The “slave auction” has been the subject of ridicule from some quarters, with one controversial Swedish artist, Dan Park, posting images of Jallow Momodou, who reported the incident, all over Malmö and Lund depicting him as a naked man in chains.

Park maintained that his art was “great humour” and the incident has furthermore been described by some as a “tasteless joke” and called for those alleging racism to toughen up.

“Racism has become a word that can be used, but the situations exist. There are people who say that we are easily offended, but that is easy to say when you are not the ones being insulted,” Victoria Kawesa told The Local.

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Black people in Germany face ‘widespread’ racism, survey finds

In the Afrocensus, a first-of-its-kind survey charting the lived experiences of black people in Germany, the vast majority revealed they experienced 'extensive' discrimination in almost all aspects of public life.

Dr Karamba Diaby
Dr Karamba Diaby, an SPD politician and anti-racism advocate, carries out voluntary work in his constituency of Halle, Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Hendrik Schmidt

“The results of the Afrocensus indicate that anti-Black racism is widespread in Germany and anchored in institutions,” the authors of the new report said in a press release on Tuesday. “There is no area of life in which discrimination and racism are not extensive problems.”

Though the overwhelming majority of respondents said they had experienced discrimination at least ‘sometimes’ in almost all areas of life, housing was the area where they said they were discriminated against most often.

Just two percent of respondents to the Afrocensus said they had ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ experienced racism in the housing market, compared to more than 90 percent who said they had experienced it ‘often’ or ‘very often’.

READ ALSO: ‘Black lives need to matter in Germany’ New project to uncover racism in everyday life

Experiences with police and security personnel also counted among areas of life where racism was particularly prevalent: 88 percent of respondents had experienced discrimination from security staff ‘often’ or ‘very often’, while around 85 percent had had the same experience with police.

More than 85 percent had also experienced racism in their education or in the workplace ‘often’ or ‘very often’ in Germany. One in seven had lost their job during the Covid crisis. 

According to the report, 90 percent of respondents had also experienced having their hair grabbed, while more than half (56 percent) had been stopped by the police or asked for drugs by strangers.

Meanwhile, 80 percent said people had made comments about the colour of their skin or sexualised comments about their race on dating apps. A vast majority – 90 percent – also revealed they hadn’t been believed when they’d spoken out about racism in the past, or that people had said they were “too sensitive”. 

READ ALSO: OPINION: My experiences of everyday racism in Germany

In spite of widespread discrimination, almost half (47 percent) of the respondents were engaged and active in their community – mostly carrying out some form of social or voluntary work.

First of its kind

Based on wide-ranging data, the findings paint a vivid and concerning picture of what life is like for the one million or so black people living in Germany today.

To produce the report, researchers from Berlin-based Black community group Each One Teach One and Citizens for Europe conducted an extended survey of 6,000 black people from the Africans and Afrodiasporic community to try and discover more about on the everyday lives and experiences of this group. The survey was carried out between July and September 2020. 

It represents one of the first attempts to gather a wealth of quantitative data on this subject, and as such offers some of the first truly scientific insights into anti-Black racism in modern Germany.

“With the Afrocensus, we have succeeded in doing exactly what has long been demanded within the black community for a long time: making the realities of our lives visible within the framework of qualitative, but above all quantitative research,” Dr. Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana und Dr. Karamba Diaby wrote in a foreword to the report. 

Diaby, a high-profile politician within the centre-left SPD party, was one of only two Afro-German politicians in parliament when he first took his seat in 2013. He has since become known for promoting political engagement and empowerment within the migrant and black community. 

In January 2020, an unknown gunman fired shots through the window of his constituency office in Halle, Saxony-Anhalt, in a suspected racially motivated attack. 

READ ALSO: How people with migrant backgrounds remain underrepresented in German politics

Since the Second World War, Germany has avoided gathering data that allows people to be traced by ethnicity as a means of protecting persecuted groups.

However, critics say this approach only works to make the issues faced by these groups invisible. 

Writing on Twitter, Daniel Gyamerah, Division Lead at Citizens For Europe, called for an “action plan for tackling anti-Black racism and for empowering black, African and Afrodiasporic people” and the establishment of advice centres for people facing racism and discrimination.

More research into the intersectional experience of black people in Germany is needed, he added.