There’s a disguised discrimination still quite present, in Europe. Social minorities continue to be excluded and segregated in the access to jobs, housing, goods and services. The coming of refugees is an appropriate moment to consider how far we have progressed in the adequate integration of minorities. We know immigrant flow depends on economic cycles: if workforce is needed, they’ll get in; if not, they won’t. But these are not alone political and economical issues, whose decisions depend on Governments. Those who claim for their right to seek asylum from persecution and for their right to a nationality (articles 14 and 15 from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) will not be given what they claim for unless human kindness on the part of the natives is clear and efficient.
EU’s outer boarder countries are particularly vulnerable to the increasing of racist, xenophobic, chauvinistic, islamofobic and anti-semite discourse. Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary are of the most fragile. I’m afraid my country, Portugal, falls within that list as well. Unfortunately, chauvinistic discourse seems to have fertile soil to grow – not because of enduring racism, but because many are unfulfilled and hopeless.
The problem in Portugal is not intrinsic racism, but occasional racism. I’ve always felt that if there’s something tremendously Portuguese that is the lack of conviction; which, for better and for worse, makes some of us compassionate and others cowards. Portugal is not a fundamentalist country, not even a patriotic country (contrarily to what most Portuguese think about themselves). A substantial part of Portuguese people believes patriotism is nothing but displaying the national flag (usually made in China and bought in a Chinese store) when a (Brazilian) coach of the national football team incites them to do so, as it happened in 2004 and has since then become a trend. Most often the flag is wrongly displayed, with the red part on the left. Portuguese people are only racist by error, because, before that, they’re first incoherent and stupid. The recent petitions and movements against the entering of refugees in the country show supporters make numerous (and grave) grammar, syntactic and punctuation mistakes (this continues to be a good proof that ignorance often leads to hatred). Many Portuguese people simply don’t know how to use their mother tongue. On the other hand, some of those who affirm themselves as nationalists and against immigration are in France, in Luxembourg, in Belgium and in many other countries (they’re part of the great Portuguese emigration of the XXth century). A good part of Portuguese people living and working in France are supporters of Marine le Pen and of the National Front. This is not only incoherence, as it also is gross stupidity. Often when Portuguese people are racist they’re being racist against themselves, considering the historical diaspora of our people. This makes me think that racism, probably everywhere but clearly in Portugal, is nothing but unsolved frustration, trying to find a scapegoat. The truth is, however, that more chauvinistic or less chauvinistic, Portugal has practically no non-white representation in politics and in media. Now, with the coming of refugees, the somewhat recurrent poor argument that “we should defend ours first” comes to affect this even more. But who exactly is “ours”? Those who were born here? Nationality is perfectly random. A Portuguese writer, Teixeira de Pascoaes, wrote than you’re not born Portuguese, you become Portuguese.
Besides many refugees being denied the right to a place, those who enter Portugal will probably be placed in the outskirts of the cities, as happened with Luso-Africans, who entered after 1974. Concentration of refugees in the outskirts has been suggested as a possibility, throughout Europe. But what are minority communities often accused of? They’re accused of marginality, of periphery. It truly is marginality, a geostrategic marginality, not alone a metaphorical one. We, however, are the ones who’ve put them there. Apparently, we’ll repeat the mistake.
Of course it is in part understandable that people want to live among their own, among those with whom they share a certain culture, religion and social behavior. It is in part understandable the fomentation of ghettos. It is also true, however, those places tend to be associated with marginality, poor schools and social education activities, crime and lack of public funding and cooperation. How many ghettos of black people, Indians, Muslims or Gypsies throughout Europe are inviting to strangers or are associated with good houses, good schools and show absolutely no problems of integration and social interaction? Fortunately some. The rest enter into the first category. Ghetto isn’t synonym to “linked community” but to “uninviting enclave”.
Housing segregation is often felt and reported by social minorities. The brunt truly begins when minorities realize this. And they’re right.
In February this year, a police patrol entered the neighborhood of Cova da Moura (located in Lisbon) for a routine inspection. Cova da Moura is one of the biggest enclaves of immigrants in Portugal, which began as an illegal and spontaneous occupation by African people who fled former Portuguese colonies. It is estimated that about 5000 people live there. An excessive use of violence by the police during the inspection was reported, that included the firing of rubber bullets. Residents of the neighborhood later went to the police station to lodge complaints against the abuse of force by the officers but were assaulted by other officers at service. The brutality was clearly seen in the photos shared by neighbors on Facebook. Information circulated later that one of the officers at the station displayed a nazi tattoo, another told one of the victims black people should be exterminated, and others claimed black people should join ISIS. More and more frequently personal reports circulate on the internet linking police officers to nazi affiliations and to PNR (a chauvinistic and racist Portuguese party). Often, photos help to prove it. Throughout Europe, extreme right-wing parties increasingly attract enthusiastic supporters. Weak people always force a scapegoat. That’s why they’re cowards and perfidious. My opinion is that those, like me, against chauvinism and racism are perhaps being too tolerant. The segregation of those Luso-Africans living in the outskirts of Lisbon is silently approved if we don’t eradicate those racist voices. They came to claim for their right for a place. We should not have let them remain on the margin. It is our responsibility, more than theirs, to incite reunion. And we should look back at them to think about the coming of refugees. Peripheral camps are not a solution.
If there’s a reason why I’m purposely approximating the issue of black, Luso-African marginality and that of our answer to the coming of refugees is because I am weary of reading articles and listening to people suggesting about a hierarchy of misery and squalor. I hear people asking why do those claiming black lives matter don’t worry about Gypsies; why those worried with animals don’t care about poor children or why those worried with refugees don’t seem so interested about poor and unemployed people from their own country. Or those who seem to claim you can’t show solidarity because you’re not poor! Is being unemployed, poor, hungry, barefoot and in panties alone the only proofs that I care and do help? And are we supposed to write down a list of the most outrageous causes, reorganize it and review it according to the news and mobilize ourselves to act for those enjoying the fullest consent? Should I always affirm that I’m also in favor of Afro-Europeans, Indians, Jews, Muslims, poor children, animals, persecuted Christians, people from my country and what not, before I can then declare that I am also worried about refugees? I honestly can’t possibly imagine how trying to help refugees can exclude me from helping to raise awareness about the discrimination there still is among blacks or Indians; just as I don’t understand how worrying about refugees makes me less cared about poor people in my country. In the end, it’s all the same cause. We gave it a name: we named it humanity. Perhaps some are unaware that people to whom human (and animal) rights are among the most pertinent of their actions are able to care for more than one cause at a time. And what I am also trying to suggest is that we do not need to repeat the same mistakes over and over. We’ve done it before, we should not repeat it now. They have the right to have a place, to share a place.
Both supporters of the coming of refugees and those against it are perhaps thinking about nationalism in the wrong way. The point is not so much being sympathetic to nationalism or suspicious of it. The point is we’re focusing on identity – which is what nationalism aims to protect – as things, while identity is really a being rather than a thing. We often think of nationalism externalized: in the form of frontiers, habits, cultures. But a nation is firstly a collectivity and only then habits, practices, language. This is the reason why these things change – because people rule over them, and not them over people. When people force that inversion, emphasizing the ruling of things over people, that’s a sign of misrouted nationalism. People force limits to their nationality, they exclude difference and reject miscegenation (not only sexual, but cultural as well) when they fear for their safety. The same happens with a toddler whose parents are excessively lenient and permissive: he deliberately annoys them in order to know how provocative he can get, to test limits. Forcing limits is a natural behavior when there’s a latent feeling of being a drift. Prejudice is not the beginning of the problem, it is the desperate answer to being lost and unsatisfied. Miseries provide a plausible enemy; and, therefore, weaken human kindness. Most terrible human catastrophes were done out of political desperation and misrouted nationalism. Hate is occasional, not enduring. Once fear gets in, persecution easily becomes a necessity. Europe is now a great disappointment to many Europeans, and some feel the coming of refugees might worsen the situation. The anti-immigrant campaign that started, early this year, in Hungary might easily spread. The so-called “national consultation”, a questionnaire to eight million Hungarian citizens, launched as part of that campaign included questions such as: “We hear different views on the issue of immigration. There are some who think that economic migrants jeopardise the jobs and livelihoods of Hungarians. Do you agree?”. The questionnaire suggested that people crossing Hungary were either economic migrants or terrorists, never refugees. Prime Minister Viktor Orban claimed that the campaign set by his Government – which included nationwide billboard messages such as “If you come to Hungary, you shouldn’t take the jobs of Hungarians” – meant to protect “Europe’s Christian Culture”. No Christian could possibly agree with such message. But, at some point, it doesn’t matter, because the scapegoat is chosen. Orban also affirmed that the EU should restrict access to people with “different cultural characteristics”. Limit; start to limit. Why? Because they feel displaced, misrouted, unprotected. It is important to notice that Hungary has the lowest rate of recognition in first decisions on asylum claims, at 9% percent. Besides, due to the Dublin Regulation, the first country reached by an asylum seeker is responsible for processing his claim. This, of course, makes countries on the EU’s outer boarders bear a disproportionate burden they feel is unfair. If they feel themselves pushed against the wall, they will answer according to it. Some are frightened, some are stoking the flames of intolerance, and that makes us all vulnerable. It’s the wrong scapegoat, but a scapegoat is always the wrong one. We hold on a mistake inherited from the Enlightenment – that, after improved, things can’t get worse. The two World Wars, Vietnam, Srebrenica, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Israel, they’ve all proved us wrong. Just remember things look unlikely before they turn clear.
There’s a fine Portuguese saying that mostly poorer families used to repeat: “Onde come um, comem dois”. It means something like: “If there’s food for one, there’s food for two”. I've learned it in my country. Not long ago – I’m still young. There must be a reason why I’ve learned it. I hope it's not hypocrisy.