© Hans Lucas via AFP
From overt insults, provocations, or attacks, to more covert prejudices, unconscious biases, or well-intentioned comments such as "You speak Luxembourgish very well."
Racism has many faces. Some racist incidents are not badly-intentioned and racism does not just unfold in personal interaction, but it can be institutional as well.
To paint a clearer image of what racism looks like in Luxembourg, the Center for Intercultural and Social Study and Training (Cefis) called for witnesses for the qualitative part of their study on racism and discrimination in Luxembourg. The first part of the study was presented in 2022, which provided statistics and figures on racism in Luxembourg. For the official presentation of this study, Cefis invited Déi Lénk politician Ana Correia da Veiga as a witness.
“When you get on the bus, passengers immediately switch their bags and place them on the seat next to them, the same happens in elevators. You are followed by store clerks when you are browsing through a store. At work, I was told to visibly show my badge so that I am not mistaken for cleaning staff and so that people do not wonder why I am on their office floor and who I am.”
The director of Cefis Sylvain Besch explains that it is a mental burden to constantly be on edge and prepared for any problematic situations, which are also reviewed in the study. This is just one of the consequences of racism.
“The impact of these aggressions can become a heavy burden to carry especially when people live through these situations regularly. Even microaggressions can take a toll on your self-confidence. As a consequence, some choose to take a step back and withdraw into their community and their family, avoiding interactions with people from other communities.”
Racist interactions and experiences have a particularly negative impact on kids and their search for identity. The impact of racism is often underestimated according to Belgian political scientist Naima Charkaoui, author of the book “Racism. On wounds and resilience.” In the book, she explores strategies on how to overcome racism.
“First of all, it is clear that racism needs to be tackled on all levels of society but as victims of racism or as family members of those that are impacted by racism, we need short-term strategies to learn how to live with racism and how to support children that will be negatively impacted by it.”
The three strategies that Charkaoui outlines are as follows: understanding what racism is, in order to recognise and react to it, fostering a positive self-image, and receiving support from your environment.
The results from the Cefis study are no surprise to Charkaoui as the situation in Belgium is similar. According to Sylvain Besch, the participants of the study noted that they hardly ever reported their experiences to the authorities as they feared the potential consequences.
“As a father I cannot contest what the teachers of the school recommend for my son, because he is still in school, and I have a second child who will also have the same teachers in the future. I do not want to jeopardise their educational journey, their time in school, nor do I want any hostilities between us and the school.”
Based on the witnesses' accounts, Cefis published additional recommendations: Create safe spaces, where people are heard and listened to, more information should be made accessible, adapt institutions proactively, make changes in representation and combat stereotypes.
27 people aged between 23 and 63 years old participated in the qualitative part of the study, and 9 witness accounts from the initial quantitative part of the study were also included. The study collected experiences from Black people, Asian people, people from a migrant background, people from a lower socio-economic background, Muslim and Arabic people, and women that have not just been discriminated against because of their ethnic background, but also their sex.