Europe’s racism: Blonde angles and closed borders

Two events have made me ashamed of being European in recent weeks. First, more than 300 human die in the waters of the Mediterranean of Lampedusa trying to reach Europe. Poor and persecuted, woman, men and and children drown in the sea. The response of many, including Italian prime minister was  shock and recognition of the tragedy. However, the only policy response was muddled and shameful: it is about strengthening Europe’s borders. The stated goal is to also prevent people smuggling, but it is cynical to respond to the death of migrants with stronger controls.

Just a few days ago, European media, from Greece to Britain reported about a ‘blond angel’ found in a Roma camp in Greece. The immediate assumption of the many media reports was that the child, who was not biologically related to her parents, was abducted and that it must have been from Scandinavia or somewhere north due to the blonde hair and green eyes. The racist imaginary in these reports is striking on many levels. Besides (mostly unconsciously) drawing on old stereotypes about Roma abducting non-Roma children, it assumes that blonds cannot be Roma and the assumption that the child was used by the family. While European media might have been more sensitive if the case had involved Jews, Roma remain fair game for such stereotypes.

Much attention is paid when Front Nationale wins a by-election or the Freedom Party does well in Austria. However, the real worry should be elsewhere, the racism of the media that seem acceptable and the willingness of Europe to let refugees drown off its shore to protect some imaginary splendid isolation. Both events highlight that isolationism and xenophobia are no longer a national concern, but a European one and that just being European (and favoring European integration) is not enough. Europe needs a debate about racism and how we marginalize millions of Roma (and others) in our midst and we need a debate about migration and how Europe has become an immigrant society and how it needs to confront refugees risking their lives and often lots of money to get to Europe not with more border controls, but with more openness and support for those in need.

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