Reporting from 14th ETMU Days conference: ‘Race, Power and Mobilities’

Dr Katerina Strani led a working group on ‘Cross-cultural understandings of Race’ during the 14th ETMU Days conference themed Race, Power and Mobilities, which took place at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland on 26-27 October.

The working group was put together to examine cross-cultural understandings of race in the context of increased mobility and migration.

Minna Seikkula presented a paper on ‘The nexus between Anti-Racist Activists’ Conceptions of race/racism and migration’. Minna’s paper explored (dis)connections between racism and race/coloniality through an analysis of antiracist activists’ conceptions of racialized relations and practices in connection to migration. In Finland, as a part of the Nordic countries, speaking of racism often contains many paradoxes that are intensified by the current polarized political debate. For instance, Nordic self-perception is built on ideas of equality and democracy, while the eugenic pasts and their traces in the present are actively excluded from the grand narratives of the nation states. Race and racism are repeatedly seen relevant mainly or only in relation to migration, which can been seen to re-inforce the (false) image of white, homogeneous nation-states – yet, welfare state practices governing migration are often seen as neutral (or even anti-racist).

 Minna’s paper compared the views of activists reacting to heightened presence of the extreme right, as well as those demonstrating solidarity to newly arrived migrants and those articulating Black, Brown and Muslim identities. In the analysis, the focus was on the question of how racialized oppression is connected to or disconnected from the continuum of coloniality, which reproduces a world divided between west and the rest through racialized borders. The analysis is based on interview data with 47 antiracist activists in Finland.

Next, Marta Padovan-Özdemir presented a paper written with Trine Øland on ‘Refugee Arrivals, Helping Hands and Hearts and Racialised Welfare Dynamics in Denmark, 1978-2016’. Marta and Trine’s abstract was as follows: “In the Summer of 2015, in all European welfare nation-states professionals, policy makers, administrators, and civil society organisations were in highest alert over the major refugee arrivals from Afghanistan, Syria, and the African continent. In Denmark, in particular, the government responded with stricter border controls and containment of refugees in temporary tent camps. Local administrative bodies and ngo’s contributed with panics about the managing of the new refugee groups. This state-of-alert is particularly interesting in a historical perspective of earlier Danish responses to the arrival of new refugee groups: The Afghans in the 2000s, the Bosnians in the 1990s, the Iranians in the early 1980s, the Vietnamese in the 1970s, the Jewish Poles in the late 1960s, the Hungarians in the 1950s, and not least, the Germans in 1945-46. The above-identified state-of-alert points to professional and civil confusion, disruption, and anxiety about not being able to manage a presumably new target group with the cultural repertoires already available. This state-of-alert crystallises welfare problematisations of the new target groups and becomes an occasion for the mobilisation of joint forces to manage and solve the imagined problems, thereby generating new tasks and needs for the helping hands and hearts.

This paper’s objective is to gain insight into continuities and breaks in re-presentations of the refugee, and on that background understand the welfare dynamic, which is mobilized in response to the arrival of new refugee groups.

The analysis builds upon critical studies of Danish welfare state developments and draws historical and analytical inspiration from Donzelot’s genealogies of the double pathologization inherent in welfare work. This is combined with Fanon’s underscoring of the racial order’s subtle expressions in postcolonial societies, which is supported by Said’s argument that re-presentation of the Other is the result of a willed human work.

Methodologically, the paper is designed as a historical-sociological documentary study of annual reports, newsletters, and consultations from Danish Refugee Council, Danish Red Cross and Association of Municipalities from the periods 1978-1980 (Vietnamese), 1992-1996 (Bosnians), and 2014-2016 (Syrian). The paper identifies two dominant re-presentations of the refugee as object of civil and public welfare work: the productive and the sick. Thus, the paper alludes to the racialisation of the welfare dynamic mobilized in response to refugees. A racialized welfare dynamic that is governed by an economic and pathological concern for the degeneration of society as well as of the individual.”

Finally, Katerina Strani presented her paper on ‘Exploring Cross-cultural Understandings on Race’.  The concept of race, albeit controversial and disputed, is becoming more and more thematised in today’s multicultural societies, which are increasingly re-shaped by migration and changing demographics. These changes are bringing to the fore discussions on culture, belonging and otherness, with race being a central aspect of the latter. Starting from the premise that race is a social construct, Katerina’s paper looked at differences in the meaning, significance and difference in the construction of race and racialisation in different countries and cultures. The focus was on processes of exclusion and othering through racialisation and the hegemony of whiteness (cf Ahmed, 2007). It challenged the concepts of race and racism in the framework of migration nand mobility and urged the necessity to revisit these key concepts and seek definitions, clarifications and boundaries from people of colour themselves. The paper sought to establish a language to talk about race in a cross-cultural, changing and dynamic context without resorting to stereotypes, colourblindness or homogenisation of experiences.

The presentations were followed by a lively discussion on definitions, boundaries and ‘white saviour’ complex, which included two of the three keynote speakers of the conference, Nando Sigona and Tobias Hübinette. Working group participants are grateful for all comments and interest in our research!

The full conference programme and book of abstracts are available here:

New project: RADAR – Regulating Anti-discrimination and Anti-Racism

Final Logo Radar

The RADAR project has officially started!

Funded by the European Commission Directorate General for Justice, RADAR (RADAR – Regulating AntiDiscrimination and AntiRacism – JUST/2013/FRAC/AG/6271) involves 9 partners including Heriot-Watt and it will be conducted over 24 months (November 2014 – October 2016). The  aim is to provide law enforcement officials and legal professionals with the necessary tools to facilitate the identification of “racially motivated” hate communication.

In European societies, increasingly reshaped by migration, the fight against racism and xenophobia is a key challenge for democracy and civil life. Despite anti-discrimination legislation that is in force in EU Member States, there is still a fundamental problem in identifying the different forms of racism and xenophobia. These may consist of physical attacks against people or of hate speech – ‘racial’ and xenophobic discourses “which spread, incite, promote or justify racial hatred, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or other forms of hatred based on intolerance, including: intolerance expressed by aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism, discrimination and hostility against minorities, migrants and people of immigrant origin” (Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers” Recommendation 97(20)).

However, it is not always easy to distinguish between, non-‘racial’ and ‘racial’ violence. Even though it is easier to prosecute cases of physical offences against people, it is more difficult – for judges, politicians and the public – to identify when there is xenophobia behind a physical offence, because it has to be interpreted within the context in which it has taken place. This interpretative work allows us to define such actions in terms of hate crime offences. Often ‘racial’ hate crimes are not recognised as such, and this leads to an underestimation of the phenomenon. Treating crimes that are motivated by ‘racial’ hatred as non-‘racial’ crimes leads to the violation of fundamental human rights. It is therefore essential that law enforcing and legal authorities, along with journalists and politicians, have tools for correctly identifying the motivation that underlies such a criminal act.

A hate crime is never an isolated act; it is usually triggered and fostered by hate speech, consisting of discourses that express disdain, hatred, prejudice, etc. Such discourses are performed not only in direct face-to-face communication through public and private conversations, but they also take place online, in political discourses, as well as in other institutional contexts. It has to be stressed that not only hate speech in the sense of verbal messages leads to hate crimes, but this is inspired also by other hate-oriented communication practices based on other communication levels, such as voice (paraverbal message), body-language (non-verbal message), images (visual message). Finally, the racist discourse often does not simply assume the forms of explicit hatred, prejudice and disdain, but it takes the form of an apparently benevolent recognition of the differences that, however, presupposes a stereotypisation of an individual’s cultural and social identity. It seems like a respectful recognition of differences, but it turns into stereotypes and prejudices that become labels and stigmas for the individuals.

Therefore, the overall aim of this project is to provide law enforcement officials and legal professionals with the necessary tools, mainly through open training activities, aimed at facilitating the identification of ‘racial’ motivated hate communication. For this purpose, a communication-based training concept is worked out, on the one side, for professionals and actual or potential hate-crime victims (national level) and, on the other side, for trainers (international level). Further learning resources and facilities are provided to offer online learning events. Finally the project aims at producing a publication with concrete tools, recommendations and best practice examples to facilitate anti-discrimination and anti-racist actions and regulations.

Watch this space for the project website and further details. For more information, contact Katerina Strani in LINCS.