Saturday Tangent 2: EU Observer: “Racism at shocking levels” in European Union


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Hi Blog.  As another Saturday tangent, here is some news from the other side of the pond (or from where we sit, the other side of the Asian land mass) regarding how widespread racism is in the European Union.  Wish we could get some reportage like this in the J media about domestic discrimination.  Oh wait, we don’t even use the word “racial discrimination” as a term of the debate here.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Racism at ‘shocking’ levels in EU, landmark report says
9 (excerpt) Courtesy of AWK

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – Whether looking for a job, buying something from a shop or visiting the doctor, minorities in Europe commonly face discrimination, the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency has said.

Using language rarely found in the dry reports of EU agencies, the FRA described as “shocking” the rampantly racist, anti-immigrant and Islamophobic experiences of minorities as they go about their daily lives.

The agency’s first-ever report, published on Wednesday (8 December), attempts to map the contours of discrimination across the bloc in a comprehensive, 276-page survey of over 23,000 individuals. It reveals that over a fifth (22 percent) of sub-Saharan Africans have been discriminated against at least once in the last year while looking for work, 17 percent of Roma say they have experienced similar incidents while being seen by a doctor or nurse and 11 percent of North Africans are subjected to racism when in or simply trying to enter a shop.

The original continent of emigration is now one of the world’s most popular destinations for immigration and in many countries amongst some sections of the native population, this change is unwelcome. As the economic crisis bites, discrimination is expected to intensify as people and political organisations look for outsiders to blame for the problem.

But the precise extent of racism and other forms of ethnic discrimination are often unknown, particularly in government data – no similar official effort had previously been mounted on an EU-wide basis.

Rather than simply asking who felt discriminated against, the survey used a stringent metric of exploring discrimination in nine different areas of everyday life: when looking for work or at work, when looking for a house or apartment to rent or buy, by healthcare and social services, by schools, at a café, restaurant, bar or nightclub and at shops, as well as discrimination when trying to open a bank account or obtain a loan.

The survey found that while minorities are commonly accused of criminal activity, they are in fact frequently the victims of crimes themselves: Roughly a quarter (24 percent) had been the object of a crime at least once in the last 12 months.

Rest of the article at


15 comments on “Saturday Tangent 2: EU Observer: “Racism at shocking levels” in European Union

  • One of the toughest things about statistics on racism is trying to get non-biased data. (Just look at the debate on crime stats in Japan, their source, and the inherent biases as an example.)

    Interviewing people and asking if they’ve experienced racism, and using that as the basis for statistics, probably leads to bias due to non-racist events being blamed on racism. Some people like to jump to conclusions, and there is a kind of “racism paranoia” that I even find myself experiencing in Japan.
    Is the cop stopping me on my bicycle becuase I’m gaijin? or because I’m a young male? or because my light is off? or because he’s been told to stop EVERYONE on some lonely road? Yes, it’s probably because I’m gaijin, but how can we know if all such cases are based solely on race? Maybe Japan’s homogeneity makes it easier to know – and leads me to wonder how people in a much more multi-ethnic nation can accurately figure out when racism is happening.

    Wish there was (is there?) a study in some kind of sociology lab conditions, on controlled situations that could figure out the percentage of people who are likely to construe mere bad luck, miscommunication, poor timing, etc. that affect them badly, as racism on the part of the authorities.

    Of course, some incidents are undeniably racist. Some old Japanese drunk yelling racist insults at me is obviously racist. A landlord denying me an apartment is almost certainly racist (at least in Japan). A hotel turning me away COULD actually be due to them having no rooms. Some people will scream “RACISM!” before checking if there actually are vacancies. It’s easier for some people to find excuses than to take responsibility for their own lives. Racism is one among many convenient excuses.

    If Obama had lost the US election, it would have been “proof” that Americans are racist to some people. (I would argue that his victory proves a tendency to the reverse, that being the “positive” racism of affirmative action, which ultimately can have negative consequences, but that is another can of worms)

    Then there’s the whole problem of citizenship/visas (or lack thereof) and more “legitimate” reasons for people to not enjoy certain privileges, which can be blamed on racism. Flip side, racists can use nationality to legitimize their own basic racism.

    It’s a complicated issue. One key step is making sure we interpret statistics properly. This survey seems to show PERCEPTIONS of racism. Does it reveal actual racism? Hard to tell.

    — I at least like that some official organization in the EU is trying. As opposed to the flawed human rights surveys the GOJ sponsors (which won’t even fully acknowledge discrimination towards NJ as a genuine form of discrimination).

  • Non-racist incidents blamed on racism? Well, that’s exactly the proof that there’s racism and discrimination and one can measure it asking victims about their experiences. I am talking about the ‘racial’ “stereotype threat” (Steele 1995 & 1997) through which we can measure racism.
    This is about so much more than how minorities perceive discrimination, I believe.
    Unlike, for example, a Japanese male in Tokyo’s stores or restaurants who would never think that his Japanese waiter/clerk discriminates against him because of his race or ethnicity, ethnic and racial minorities may never actually be sure if services or what they are entitled to are denied to them because of their ethnicity/race. Unless the sign says “No foreigners,” of course.
    It’s not so simple to say that that’s how minorities ‘perceive’ the world around them… I think this is actually about understanding how ‘the world’ has treated them so they either experience (not ‘perceive,’ I really mean ‘experience’) overt racism/discrimination or they can doubt it’s because of their ethnicity/race that they face ‘subtle’ covert racism. If it’s OK for patients in hospitals to have their levels of pain acknowledged based on how they express it in their own words or on a scale on 1-10 based on what they_say, I think it is a valid measure of experienced_racism to ask victims about their experiences, too.

  • “17 percent of Roma say they have experienced similar incidents while being seen by a doctor or nurse”

    I’m willing to bet anything that in reality, that percentage is much, much higher. My home country, Romania, is one of the most recent EU members. Discrimination against Roma (or Gypsies, for people who aren’t familiar with the other term) is running rampant.

    However — and I can’t stress this enough — unlike discrimination against NJs here in Japan, the racial bias is partly based on facts (keyword: partly). You can’t really understand it unless you’ve lived in Romania and had to deal with some of the things these people do. I’d go into details, but there’s no point in writing a ten-page essays on gypsy crimes and how the police sometimes do nothing for fear of being accused of racial profiling. The percentage of NJs committing crimes in Japan is much smaller than the percentage of Gypsies committing crimes in the EU.

    I’m not saying that human rights should differ based on race, etc. However, I think the EU should focus on coming up with crime prevention strategies and ways to integrate racial minorities into the society rather than spend time researching something everybody knows already.

    — And what if the argument was turned on its head and the police said we needed crime prevention strategies towards NJ? Oh wait, it has been. Have fun drawing distinctions and saying we don’t need quantifiable data on discrimination towards NJ just because it’s hard to measure.

  • “– And what if the argument was turned on its head and the police said we needed crime prevention strategies towards NJ? Oh wait, it has been. Have fun drawing distinctions and saying we don’t need quantifiable data on discrimination towards NJ just because it’s hard to measure.”

    The two situations (EU and Japan) are fundamentally different… and all I can say regarding the article you linked is, wow. It’s no wonder discrimination against NJs still exists, when a- officials are allowed to get away with racially-biased remarks, and b- rather than being something natural (言うまでもない), guaranteeing equal human rights to everyone living in Japan (J and NJ alike) is a matter of public opinion.

    [irrelevant tangent cited as substantiation deleted]

    — Think this through more carefully. If you start down the ideological path of “the situations are fundamentally different” and therefore exceptions of some kind are possible, then there is no stopping what’s going on here or there. And the concept of fundamental and universal human rights goes out the window.

  • There’s no doubt this sort of thing is helpful. Documentation, as precarious as it may be, is a necessary part of achieving justice in such matters. In Brown vs. the Board of Education, which exposed the failings of the “separate but equal” complacency and effectively allowed for the integration of schools in the U.S., the Clarks’ research convinced the Supreme Court that blacks were disadvantaged and essentially given an inferiority complex by the prevailing system of separating students in accordance with race. Without those concrete findings, it’s possible that segregation, and thus systematic and interpersonal discrimination, would have lingered in the system for many years more. Interpersonal discrimination no doubt flourishes still, but the government is no longer allowed to condone it.

    Tangent: It’s interesting to note that in Japanese, the very useful distinction between racial discrimination and segregation is not made; that is especially important because it is systematic discrimination, as promoted through various means of professional segregation, that sorely needs to be targeted in this country. Lacking such a notion, or at least a handy way of referring to it, Japanese unfamiliar with it are more likely to discount any claim of systematic racism by claiming simply that they are unaware of any acts of interpersonal racism — which is not the same thing.

    The entire Civil Rights Movement is instructional and enlightening in so many ways that are relevant to Japan, I hope other educators who live here are willing and able to teach it. It explains, among many other things, why it is that Japanese tourists visiting, say, Honolulu are not allowed to be singled out and discriminated against because of their “race,” whereas non-Japanese tourists in Tokyo enjoy no such protection. The Japanese have African-Americans (for the most part) to thank for expanding the sense and dignity of their humanity. Do many Japanese understand this or care?

    I was listening to a debate on French radio (France Culture) today about “French identity,” and the three participants seemed to be in agreement over the idea that, while there is plenty of racism against North Africans (Maghrebins) and their descendants in France, the French have a “complex” due to their colonial past which makes them weak in the face of the new-comers. The implication was that “real French” should not be too worried about the racism and should assume a tough attitude toward anyone who might complain of it. It’s easy to imagine this kind of reactionary attitude taking root in Japan, even if (or precisely if) someday anti-racist legislation is achieved here.

  • @David Chart

    I was the one who posted this link first, but thanks to Debito to make this as one of topics. I read EUobserver everyday and this is not first time I post here some interesting links, but only if they may be useful like this one.

  • The way Romas are being treated in Europe is just inhumane. The word racism doesn’t even come close to what those poor people have to go through day in and day out. I would kill myself if I had to live their life. That being said, subtle racism as we know it here in Japan can also escalate into something worse. We should try our best to prevent that from happening.

    — Source to substantiate “inhumane”?

  • – Source to substantiate “inhumane”?

    General reports on the social situation of Romani Gypsies in Europe:

    A publication by the European Roma Rights Centre on the ongoing phenomenom of school segregation in Central and Southern Europe.

    Incidents from around Europe of anti-Roma sentiment and violence:

    The situation is worst in Hungary, where the violent neo-Nazi party, the Hungarian Guard, routinely attacks Gypsy communities, burning houses, destroying property, and beating up and killing people, even children. In some places, it has become so bad – especially with the negligence of the police and local authorities – that Gypsy communities have started their own militias to defend against the Hungarian Guard.

    Selena is not exaggerating when she describes the situation as inhumane. In fact, I think it’s a hell of an understatement.

  • – Source to substantiate “inhumane”?

    That would be my own eyes….. I have seen them waiting quietly in line and then being refused service at a shop in such a mean way that it is hard to describe. They had the money to pay for it too. I got so angry that I stepped up and insulted those people too and bought the Romas whatever they wanted myself. I also saw them being refused entry to a public bath (reminded me of Otaru), that time I also helped them getting in with success. I also met some wanting to eat something at a restaurant, the owner didn’t want to let them in at first. I complained about it and he reluctantly let them in and sat them in the back of the restaurant. I got up and invited them to my table and I even paid a few beers for them. The list goes on…
    Thanks Andy for the media reports.

  • It would be very interesting to read viewers ideas on alleviating the situation of the Romani. As a child, I remember them camping on my father’s land in southern England. They were very nice to us curious boys.

  • “– Think this through more carefully. If you start down the ideological path of “the situations are fundamentally different” and therefore exceptions of some kind are possible, then there is no stopping what’s going on here or there. And the concept of fundamental and universal human rights goes out the window.”

    I did some thinking, and you’re right. Even though Europe is infinitely more ethnically-diverse than Japan, the fundamental issues might just be the same after all. In the end, we’re talking a failure to integrate minorities in both cases.

    When I was talking about “crime-prevention” strategies earlier, maybe my choice of words wasn’t the best one. What I meant was invest in education programs, skill training, and the like. Sometimes, the reasons Romas resort to crime are because they’re left with no other choice (for instance, stealing or begging for money to feed their families). Some don’t have the skills and qualifications to find a job. That’s why I think an organized, union-wide intervention might make things better.

  • “In the end, we’re talking a failure to integrate minorities in both cases. […] What I meant was invest in education programs, skill training, and the like ”

    It’s my understanding that the traditional roma do not want to integrate, and that they do not want their kids to have a modern western education. Of course, this is no justification for racism (and does not even apply to non-traditional roma) and the mainstream society should continue to reach out to them — but the present situation is not simply from lack of trying.

  • odeena,

    i suspect that the eu has enough on its plate thinking up crime prevention strategies to stop the corrupt romanian and bulgarian stealing even more EU money than they already have to work on crime prevention strategies for the roma.
    the roma are not the problem in romania.

    it seems very odd that you complain about racism in japan whilst claiming the roma deserve it.

  • Slight OT. Sorry Debito.

    @ Level 3. How exactly does Obama’s victory prove a tendency towards positive discrimination in favour of black people? Have you seen the latest American employment stats Black men 25+ with degrees have twice the unemployment rate of their white counterparts. Furthermore, your claim smacks of a minimalisation of Obama’s political skill and the grass-roots organisation he helped build.

    Also I take issue with your assertion that affirmative action is racism. AA laws mandate organisations to take affirmative action to address the effects of sexist and racist stereotyping and bias, using activities such as community outreach to increase the pool of qualified minorities. Affirmative Action does not AFAIK allow selection decisions to use race as an indicator of likely job performance. It does not mandate “unqualified” people to be hired over “qualified” people based on considerations of race or ethnicity.

    If the priority of the people making a hiring decision is to increase diversity then they may decide that they can get intangible beneits from having a member of a minority on their staff. As the decision in this case is not based on prejudiced assumptions about the applicant’s race I fail to see how the charge of racism would hold in this case.

    — I’ll allow this through. But future postings should also relate this back to the topic of this blog entry.


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