Anti-racism: the ten acts taken by former colonial powers

A statue of Leopold II covered in red paint in Antwerp, Belgium, June 4, 2020. JONAS ROOSENS / BELGA / AFP

Text by: Sabine Cessou Follow | Sabine Cessou Follow

Since the death of George Floyd on May 25 and the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in early June, the new wind of global anti-racism has been blowing on the ex-colonial powers. Ten acts have been performed in Europe in recent weeks.  


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Profound regrets  " of King Philippe of Belgium

“  I would like to express my deepest regrets for these wounds of the past, the pain of which is now revived by the discrimination still present in our societies. "For having written these lines to Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi, on June 30, on the anniversary of the independence of the former Belgian Congo, King Philippe will be remembered for having been the first to recognize"  acts of cruelty  Committed during the reign of his ancestor Leopold II in the Congo. A vast territory of which he had made his private property, and where countless atrocities were perpetrated which earned the statues in his effigy to be smeared with red paintsince the Black Lives Matter global protests. The monarch did not apologize officially, as recommended in February 2019 by a group of United Nations experts on people of African origin. His statement, however, was hailed in Belgium as an important step. Until now, the omerta reigned in the royal family over this past, a reason of pride and nostalgia for many "elders" of the Congo.

"Truth and Reconciliation Commission" in the Belgian Parliament

Patrick Dewal, the Liberal President of the Federal Assembly, announced on June 12 that a commission of experts will be set up to "  make peace with the colonial past  ". Known as the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission”, in the manner of the former South African TRC, it will not have the same mandate and will not scroll the victims to tell their stories. It is, however, a question of looking into possible "financial compensation", the word chosen not to say "repairs". Its composition has not yet been announced as it is already controversial. David van Reybrouck, author of the bestseller Congo, une histoire (Actes Sud, 2008) , believes that members of civil society directly involved should be included. However, the deputies asked the former Royal Museum for Central Africa (MRAC), renamed Africa Museum, and the services of the State Archives (AE) "for  a detailed opinion on the feasibility of such a mission, on the different aspects (historical, sociological, etc.) that such a mission should include, as well as the multidisciplinary expertise (Belgian and African) necessary to carry it out  . ” A preliminary report is due on September 15 by a group of 20 experts, mostly historians, made up of twelve men and eight women, eight Dutch speakers and twelve French speakers, from Belgium, Congo, Rwanda and Burundi.

Debate on the deletion of the word "race" from the German Constitution

No one shall be discriminated against or privileged because of his sex, his ancestry, his race, his language, his country and his origin, his belief, his religious or political opinions  ", states the Constitution of 1949. In 2008, the German Institute for Human Rights considered that the basic law should be redacted from the word "race", a term "  used since the end of the 17th century to categorize and prioritize groups of people  ". The Association of Black People in Germany has been campaigning since 2015 for the removal of a word referring to "  slavery, colonial oppression and persecution of the Nazi regime  ". Relaunched in March by the Greens, after shootings against two shisha bars in the city of Hanau, the debate has been spilled since the death of George Floyd, now worn by several political parties.

European Parliament declares trafficking a "crime against humanity"

In a resolution adopted on June 19, the European Parliament declared that the slave trade is a crime against humanity. Adopted by 493 votes in favor, 104 against and 67 abstentions, this resolution comes clearly within the framework of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations following the death of George Floyd. The same text indeed condemns "  similar murders elsewhere in the world  ", as well as the "  inflammatory rhetoric of President Donald Trump  ".

Prime Minister of the Netherlands changes his mind on " Pierrot le Noir "

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he "championed  dark-skinned people with children  " whom he had met and who said they were "  incredibly discriminated against because Pierrot is black.  " . The head of government announced on June 4 to Parliament his "  change of position  " on the tradition of the Swarte Piet , this "Pierrot the Black" which accompanies the festivities of Saint Nicholas every December 5. This popular manifestation of blackface sees Dutch people grimacing in stereotypical blacks - red mouths and large earrings. The speech of Mark Rutte is a first in a haunting debate , which pits a majority of Dutch against black activists who struggle to be heard. No question, however, of banning the tradition, which the authorities hope to see disappear on its own.

Possible boycott of Facebook by advertisers

KPN, the incumbent telecom operator in the Netherlands, has entered into discussions with Facebook to withdraw its advertisements from the platform, due to the “polarization of messages” since the death of George Floyd. KPN does not want its logo to appear alongside hate speech. The decision is not made, but the association of advertisers from the Netherlands discusses a boycott of Facebook, in the wake of the campaign “Stop Hate for Profit”, at the call of American associations of defense of civil rights. The call was heard by Unilever, Coca-Cola and 160 companies worldwide, which suspended all social media advertising until the end of July.

The French group L'Oréal withdraws the terms " whites " and " whitening " from its cosmetic products

In the United States, the multinational Mars recognizes that the image of Uncle Ben's on rice packages is from another time. In the wake of a decision by another American group, Johnson & Johnson, to stop selling skin lightening products under the name Clean and Fairness , L'Oréal will withdraw the words "white" and "bleaching Of her cosmetic products. Decisions that some consider hypocritical, like the black model Munroe Bergdof, dismissed in 2017 by L'Oréal for having denounced racism in the United States. Will big brands forced to withdraw certain products because of their racist connotations be more aware now? The Swedish group H&M had caused an uproar in January 2018, with a photo of a black child wearing a T-shirt with this message: "  The coolest monkey in the jungle." The French house Mariage Frères had to withdraw in 2017 a tea called "Colonial Exhibition".

Bank of England apologizes for link to slavery

In Great Britain, the largest of the old colonial empires, large companies mark their distance from their own past, sometimes not very shiny. The Bank of England thus apologized on June 18 for "  the role of some of the former governors and directors  " in slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. No fewer than 25 of them held slaves or were linked to the slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Central Bank has promised to remove from its London headquarters statues and works of art recalling these figures from the past.

Profound regrets  " by Lloyds of London and Green King

In the same vein, two large groups listed on the stock exchange, the Lloyds of London insurance and the Green King breweries announced on June 18 their intention to pay not reparations for the slavery, but to hire more people from diversity, and to financially support the associations and foundations that defend them. These two companies were somewhat forced to do so: researchers at University College London documented how their former directors, slavers, were compensated for their "losses" after the abolition of slavery in 1833.

Vandalized statues in Milan and Lisbon

No act of contrition or declaration of symbolic significance has caused any ink to flow in Southern Europe. The Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, on the contrary, expressed his concern on June 25 about the statues of Spanish figures (the explorer Christopher Columbus and the evangelist Friar Junipero Serra) which fall in the United States. Lacasa, a Spanish confectioner targeted by a petition, announced that he would change his black mascot with big red lips from his boxes of Conguitos chocolate.

In Italy, a statue of journalist Indro Montanelli, who boasted on television in the 1960s of having bought a  12-year-old Eritrean "  woman " in the 1930s, whom he then "  passed  " to a friend, been spotted with red in Milan.

Similarly, in Portugal, a statue of José Antonio Vieira, a 17th century Jesuit missionary, was smeared with red paint on June 12 in front of the Sao Roque church in Lisbon. The work, inaugurated in 2017, shows the evangelizer surrounded by three Native American children from Brazil. Considered a great author in Portuguese literature, this man is criticized for never having condemned the slavery of the African peoples. Response from the Lisbon city hall: cleaning and police investigation into an act of vandalism deemed "  inadmissible  ". Nearly a thousand people demonstrated in Lisbon on June 27 when a far-right party called to deny accusations of racism in Portugal.

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