There are George Floyds in Europe too, in the opinion of a French bishop who has deplored the racism and “ghettoisation” suffered by minorities on the continent.
– “Discrimination in Europe is expressed in economic terms, at the level of poverty”
Auxiliary bishop of Lille Antoine Hérouard spoke to SIR June 9 to analyse the reach of the systemic violence against minorities that was uncovered by the murder of unarmed black man Floyd at the hands of white policemen May 25 in Minneapolis, in the US.
Floyd’s killing has spawned dozens of ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests around Europe, from Brussels to Barcelona, in which many of the continent’s estimated 50 million members of racial and ethnic minorities have been denouncing that “in Europe, we also can’t breathe”.
Though he doesn’t doubt the similarities in the sufferings of minorities on both sides of the Atlantic, Hérouard pointed out to SIR that compared to the US “the situation in France, and in Europe as a whole, is quite different”.
“Here discrimination is not based on skin colour. Rather, it revolves around strangers and diversity”, the bishop affirmed, explaining that the differences between the minority experience in the US and in Europe “is a result of our different histories”.
“While the United States has been marked by the experience of slavery, Europe has been marked by colonialism”, Hérouard explained, adding that from his perspective “veritable racial segregation never occurred” on the Old Continent.
“Discrimination in Europe is expressed in economic terms, at the level of poverty, involving disparities between rich and poor, between those who have a chance of a future and those who seem destined to live on the margins of society”, the bishop denounced.
– Police using “violent surveillance methods only against Arab-looking and black individuals”
On the subject of bigotry, Hérouard didn’t mince words, saying that in Europe “there is racism, manifested in prejudice”.
Not only is that prejudice “sometimes… expressed at the voting booth”, the bishop went on – in a reference to the xenophobic, far-right political parties continuing to make gains in countries all over Europe – but it is also felt in policing measures that specifically target minorities.
Racism and prejudice are found “in certain types of conduct, such as those of the police on the outskirts of large cities, accused of targeting and using violent surveillance methods only against Arab-looking and black individuals”, Hérouard denounced.
As to how France in particular and Europe in general degenerated into this situation of systematic racism and economic discrimination, Hérouard pointed to the decision, during the decolonisation of Africa, to settle in Europe migrants from the continent according to their geographic, ethnic and cultural origins.
Over time these ethnic enclaves “have turned into ghettos with internal problems such as drug trafficking and crime. That’s what went wrong: ghettoization”, the bishop deplored, adding that “the inhabitants of these suburbs strongly feel like second-class citizens, victims of social injustice”.
To right that marginalisation, Hérouard urged governments and the EU “not to repeat the mistake of isolating people” but instead “to envisage pathways of integration, seeking above all to bring together peoples from different backgrounds”.
“It’s also important to enable people arriving from other countries to access educational and learning opportunities that facilitate employment, social responsibility as well as political commitment”, the bishop insisted.
As to what the Church can do to fight the ongoing injustice, Hérouard invited Catholics to remember in the first place that parishes, especially in the suburbs, often thrive only thanks to believers from African and other immigrant backgrounds.
“Their presence changes the face of our Church”, Hérouard celebrated, calling on Catholics to make more space for minority believers in their communities in the spirit of Pope Francis’ call “to create bonds and build bridges”.
“The future depends on men and women’s ability to foster relationships”, Hérouard recalled.