It feels like there is a new racism scandal every week. In the United States at the end of May, Starbucks closed its stores to provide education on racism for its employees, while Roseanne Barr’s television show was taken off air. In the UK, the story of the Windrush generation seized the headlines, reports surfaced of accusations of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and anti-semitism continues to dog the Labour Party.
And then there is the big political picture since 2015 across the West, in which prejudice against immigrants has fueled a dramatic rise in populism. The new Italian government is the latest worrying example. It is time to act. It is time to start a new politics against racism.
Community organisations against racism are already flourishing, from Black Lives Matter to the anti-Islamophobia Tell Mama. In Westminster, there are all-party groups against several racisms, and legislation is in place against hate crime and racial discrimination. Internationally, numerous governments sponsor anti-racism programmes, buttressed in Europe by the European Commission, along with pro-immigration city administrations such as Wroclaw in Poland leading the way.
Nevertheless, much more needs to be done. Governments have to work in a much more co-ordinated fashion against racism (offices of state against discrimination would be a good start), and invest greater resources. But even with this sort of boost, a critical component would be missing. Community and state-sponsored activism deals with only one part of the problem: the identification of racist behaviour and retrospective action against it.
To get anywhere close to rooting out racism, we need a much more sophisticated way of analysing what lies behind it and how it functions. The causes and effects of racism in society are complex and ever changing. Racism is not a thing that we need just to identify and remove. It is a set of dynamic attitudes that are conscious and sub-conscious, which permeate the cultures of the West in unseen ways, rooted deep in history.
We can be racist without even realising it. An example: the vast majority of people consider the Holocaust to have been an unparalleled catastrophe in European history. Yet, at the same time, it is widely believed that Jews tend to have money, brains and influence. The idea of a powerful Jewish lobby in Washington DC is so entrenched it is almost banal.
The good news is that society already possesses the missing component needed to get to grips with racism: the academic expert. These professionals spend their working lives analysing racial prejudice and discrimination in all its complexity. There is a global treasure trove of intelligence out there. The problem is that this knowledge is largely hidden away from society and overlooked by government. Locked away in academic journals, confined to academic conferences, classrooms and Twitter feeds, racism research is waiting to be exploited.
We have made a start in this direction, bringing together academic expertise, activism and policymakers to create a new politics against racism, centred around the online magazine, Monitor Global Intelligence on Racism. Based at the European University Institute in Florence, Monitor uses public events, accessible articles, videos and podcasts to bring the latest thinking to civil society.
To change public debate and society, the interested citizen needs to be at the heart of this new dialogue. Innovative research on racism has to be shared, challenged, and acted upon. Anti-racism needs you.
It is time to get involved. Join us. The task is urgent.
Dr James Renton is academic advisor at Monitor (monitoracism.eu) and reader in history at
Edge Hill University. Twitter: @monitoracism; email: firstname.lastname@example.org