Good morning, ladies and gentleman. Thank you for your interest in this morning’s hearing focussed on the experiences of Blacks in Europe. For many years, I have travelled to Europe as a tourist, Member of Congress, President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and now as Chairman of the Helsinki Commission.
On those trips, I would often meet other Black people living or travelling in Europe, who were thrilled to meet another Black person. This was especially true when I was travelling in the former Soviet Union.
Not always so thrilling were the stories they would share with me of the racism they faced. Worse, I, too, was the victim of racial profiling by authorities and blatant discrimination, such as when I was refused service at European establishments.
In this regard, there are a number of similarities between my experiences as a Black American and those of Black Europeans. So one central goal of this hearing is to highlight and address the very real problems of racism and discrimination faced by Black Europeans.
Another goal is to also recall the contributions Blacks have made to Europe and the world by removing the cloak of invisibility that for so long has served as a shroud.
Recognizing and demythologizing the roles of Blacks in European history and modern day society has become a necessity given the rise of virulent anti-immigrant campaigns that target non-Whites in the aftermath of 9/11 and the London bombings. Whether Blacks were forced or chose to assist in Europe’s development, they did play a role that should be noted.
As globalization continues to bring the world closer together, how European countries choose to define themselves and their peoples affects us all and will most certainly affect how I am viewed and treated at and within Europe’s borders.
A third goal of this hearing is to then develop partnerships with those overseas committed to addressing these problems. Too often we highlight the problems within countries without noting the efforts that are being made – be they government, civil society, or even the private sector. The OSCE’s High Commissioner on National Minorities as well as the EU Fundamental Rights Agency have compiled reports on European countries’ positive initiatives ranging from affirmative action to housing and education desegregation.
These are all efforts that have already been tried in the U.S. We need to be asking ourselves, how can we best extend a helping hand so that Europeans don’t repeat some of the mistakes we made here in developing and implementing these programs?
A fourth point, which requires us to be honest with ourselves - is that there are a number of very real barriers to addressing inclusion goals for Black Europeans ranging from the small size of some communities to a need for differences in approach for recent migrant versus more established communities.
I am glad to have such esteemed witnesses here today to present thoughts on all of these issues. I would therefore like to introduce Mr. Frans joining us from Sweden and Mr. Younge joining us from the UK via New York to speak about their work.
Unfortunately, due to scheduling constraints around Mr. Kodjoe’s (Koojo) role in the Broadway play “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” he is unable to be here today. He has however indicated his support for this and future initiatives on Blacks in Europe and asked that I enter his statement in the record. Which I hereby do. I would also at this time like to enter the statements of some of our European friends, the Initiative of Black Germans, Diaspora Afrique, and the Black European Women’s Congress.
Now, because the issue of Afro-descendants in Europe touches on so many aspects of the Helsinki Commission’s work - human rights, security, migration – I am also planning to introduce legislation recognizing Black Europeans and calling for initiatives within the OSCE to address their plight. Your thoughts here today will be central to those efforts.
I would also like to thank my fellow Commissioners for being here and would welcome your remarks at this time.