Black Lives Matter in Europe: Making a Point of Missing the Point
In June of this year, a series of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests and demonstrations took place all around Europe, in solidarity with the eponymous movement that has just been reignited in the United States following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. In virtually every major European country, thousands gathered despite pandemic-related restrictions. In Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Lisbon, protestors numbered between 10 and 20,000 and reached up to 50,000 in Vienna. Often, after chanting the names of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, did some of the European protestors add the name of local victims of racism and police brutality, the most prominent of which was Frenchman Adama Traoré who was murdered by the police in 2016.
Several Western European countries (in particular France, Belgium or the UK) were suddenly forced to grapple with a conversation they would have rather kept ignoring. When the statue of prolific slaver Edward Colston was thrown into Bristol Harbour some kind of Rubicon was crossed. With a big splash. In the face of a seemingly international antiracist movement not shying away from direct action, reactions were tepid. There is one sentence, I would like to focus on, that of French President Emmanuel Macron, that was largely echoed by the colour-blind republic’s pundit class: “France is not the USA”.
Exceptionalism under siege
Aside from conveying broadly the same idea as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “the UK is not a racist country”, the declaration, which was echoed through French punditry, carries another nuance. It also frames the current wave of antiracism as a direct import from the USA – some sort of foreign sapling of unhinged race-obsessed academia. The assumption that the same paradigms could be applied to states like France or the United Kingdom might elicit a very defensive response from