Those of us who write for Europa United watch what is happening around us. Thus, what others write provides us with resources that we sometimes take further by expanding on what we learn rather than duplicating what we read. That may go either way; therefore critique is as likely as expansion on any issue. In this case we had our attention drawn to a question that most certainly needed to be raised, that we find no reason to critique but that perhaps raises further consideration without discrediting the original article.
On 22 January, Euro Babble published a piece by their co-editor Roxanna Azimy, ‘Why Is Brussels So White?’. She used one of the EU’s shots of the 27 members of the European Commission as a group; here I am using a version that is individual mug shots:
Of course, it is arguable that looking at the back of heads, quite small images of people in a full room is difficult to accept, and there are people of non-European origin in the EP, as evidence but probably it is good enough to show the predominance of Europeans, justifying the Euro Babble question.
To extend the matter just a little, I came across numerous shots of EU institutions. The choice was hard, but I chose the shot of the the Advisory Group (AG) of the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity that met in Athens last November as a further exemplar of how white ‘Brussels’ is:
An example beyond Brussels
One might also appreciate why I deviate for a moment to also include a Guardian article from 24 January under the headline ‘Outrage at whites-only image as Uganda climate activist cropped from photo’ from the World Economic Forum (WEF):
The original that should have been used is:
Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate has called out racism in media after she was cropped out of a photo featuring prominent climate activists including Greta Thunberg, Loukina Tille, Luisa Neubauer and Isabelle Axelsson. Associated Press that published the picture said Vanessa Nakate’s part of the shot was cropped ‘purely on composition grounds’. In fact, in compositional terms, the published shot above is no better than the ‘censored’ one. To place Greta centre field would have required Isabelle to be partially, if not entirely, cropped. Also, taking a person out of a group shot for the sake of ‘composition’ is a spurious reason since it becomes misrepresentative.
The point is made only to reinforce the original question as addressed by our friends at Euro Babble. They use two maps from Jakub Marian’s ‘Educational Blog’ to show percentages of foreign born people, in other words immigrants, across Europe and the most common places of origin of immigrants in each country. Whilst he uses UN data from 2015, I often find myself at odds with the accuracy of their data because of the inconsistency of methods of collection from member state governmental sources that have different ways of compiling population statistics. However they are a fair guide to a rough impression of the distribution of immigrants. They are, easy enough to spot, mainly identifying white European migration within the continent with few exceptions. Those identify only the main groups, but not others. For example, the UK shows India as the main country of origin, yet Bangladesh, Pakistan, the West Indies, various former African colonies, China and other origin people in sometimes large numbers are not included. Much the same applies to other countries that have had colonial empires, thus France, Portugal or Spain particularly.
In terms of the whiteness of the Brussels institutions the two maps do not take into account those whose families came to Europe one or more generations ago, thus making them nationals of EU states in the majority of cases. By being nationals of those countries does not change their ethnic origins and skin colour. In my own family it now reaches the third generation, although that person’s cousins will have now produced the fourth and possibly, by now, the fifth generation is either beginning or imminent. Indeed, some of our senior politicians throughout the EU have migrant forebears, the respective prime ministers of Ireland and the UK being well known examples. Those generations of people not of European origin change the percentages used by Jakub Marian, thus Euro Babble, considerably. That matter also needs to be included in the question about the whiteness of Brussels.
Migration, the way we see ‘outsiders’
I began my academic work many years ago studying migration. I looked at theory including Ernst Georg Ravenstein’s ‘Eleven Laws of migration’ from 1889, then Everett S. Lee’s 1966 push and pull theory of migration. They were the two dominant approaches; there were others, but to this day they are still the backbone of how migration is seen. However,what struck me was that the greater part of that was causality rather than consequence, although that has now changed somewhat. Nonetheless, we tend to be more concerned about who, from where and why rather than the outcome for them. Although that evolved into examination of other related areas, in due course dwindled into almost an obscure part of my work, it has always managed to resurge to become occasionally important periodically. This is such an occasion because the question raised, raises extensions of that question for me. In contemporary Europe we change countries relatively easily. Perhaps we always have, as our ancestry often shows. However, as Europa United editors we are all either migrants living in a country other than that of birth, our life partners are from another country or both of those. However, in each case we are all of European ancestry, thus ‘white’, at least to the best of our knowledge. In essence each of us could have chosen either to remain in our own country or take a partner from that nation, probably both, but equally we may have met somebody of non-European origin in our birth countries or else where we went. The permutations are relatively few, the outcomes many faceted, but the consequences incalculable and often negative. In our own cases, there appear not to be prejudices that would ever have inhibited the latter possibility, no matter how difficult it may have made our lives.
Yet the collective perception among people of European origins seems to be that we ‘stick to our own’ and that people of different skin pigmentation somehow taint our continent. That, it would appear, penetrates the institutions that govern the EU where both appointments and elections clearly favour those of white European origin, therefore are misrepresentative of contemporary society. We cannot directly blame the institutions of the EU, but those who select, elect and appoint put people there, thus that is where we find the prejudices that make it happen.
Non-Europeans cropped out of the bigger picture
Let me go back a step to the Davos pictures. The cropped version was released by Associated Press (AP). AP is an American not-for-profit news agency headquartered in New York that operates as a cooperative with members that are USA based newspapers and broadcasters, but is also used by many other media worldwide. AP’s homebase country is dominated by people of European origin who have never allowed the original inhabitants of their country a share in it equal to their own; they brought African slaves there but whilst slavery is long since abolished, prejudice again people not classed as white, now including migrants from other continents, still dominates. Even the descendants of Hispanic settlers who have always lived in what is now the USA, but more so to those who come from neighbouring states, who are in many cases descendants of mixed race relationships, suffer only a slightly lesser degree of discrimination.
Thus to simply point the finger at Brussels misses a far wider point, which is that Europeans, wherever they are, so often see themselves as the superior people before all others. Therefore, perhaps the Davos pictures I have used are symbolic of what Brussels is really like, the few non-whites are perhaps ‘cropped’ out of the bigger picture. It justifies Roxanna Azimy’s closing sentences in which she says rightly that European history is filled with racism, that the anti-immigration rhetoric we see at present permeates global politics and also that lack of concern about that is an understandably sensitive topic. She is also right to express her thoughts about the risk that Europe might adopt an approach to ‘race’ comparable to the USA where they attach labels to their population, thus identities are based on origins rather than commonality within a nation. If we begin to pigeonhole EU citizens similarly, then that will only deepen social divisions.
Two of us contributing to Europa United live in France where, as Roxanna Azimy says, the established method is to disregard the existence of ethnic diversity as though there are no differences. In legislative terms this is all good and fine, in real life it simply does not work as the existence of a strong political right wing that is openly xenophobic shows and that is without looking at individuals’ points of view. It is a view we share that we need to seek some kind of balance between making ethnicity into an issue that is disproportionately treated in order to make things right and more or less ignoring it since both ends of that spectrum are seriously detrimental to making people simply people, instead of classifications by origin and pigmentation. If Brussels is to correct that, then they should provide the leadership that encourages member states to change the methods of selection, election and appointment to be more if not entirely representative of how they really are.
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