All posts by dintoday

Five misconceptions on terrorism

Sheher Khan

The popular imagination of terrorism doesn’t always correspond to the actual developments. One such a misconception is that most terrorist attacks in the West are committed by al-Qaeda, Daesh and the likes (from now on Takfiri terrorism). Whilst these violent incidents are very deadly indeed, they don’t constitute a majority of the attacks – especially in the West. Another misconception is that we’re supposed to be living in a so-called “golden age of terrorism”. These misconceptions exaggerate the impact of Takfiri terrorism (as well as the role played by refugees and newcomers therein), deflects from other relevant and related developments (such as the growing threat from the extreme right) and absorbs attention from regions that bear the brunt of terrorism (i.e. the Global South). In this piece, I’ll try to answer the following five commonly heard misconceptions with my own analysis:

  1. Most attacks in the western world are not committed by Takfiri terrorists;
  2. Terrorism is more of a problem for the non-western world than in the western;
  3. Terrorist incidents have been on the decline in Western-Europe, especially since 9/11;
  4. The underestimated increasing threat from the extreme right;
  5. The overrated role of refugees and newcomers in terrorism.

1. Takfiri terrorism: a minority of the attacks

This might come as a surprise to many, but: Terrorism in the west is not the exclusive domain of al-Qaeda, Daesh, and the like. In fact, when looking at it from a quantitative angle, an insignificant amount of terrorist attacks between 2006 and 2013 in the European Union (EU) was committed by the aforementioned groups, namely: 0.7%. The biggest threat, according to Europol, during that period came from separatist quarters.

Think hereby of groups such as the IRA, ETA and PKK. An example: the Irish separatist group Dissident Republicans, also known as the “new IRA”, made one deadly victim in March 2016 when they detonated an explosive that was put under a prison keeper’s van. Another: British Labour-politician Jo Cox was killed by a right-wing extremist, Thomas Mair, in June 2016 because of her position on Brexit.

A similar image can be seen in the United States (US). Figures from the FBI show that 94% of the terrorist attacks, in the period from 1980 to 2005, were committed by perpetrators that did not have an Islamic profile. A study conducted by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism concluded that between 1970 and 2011 only 7% of all attacks were committed by terrorists with a “religious conviction” (hereby referring to al-Qaeda and similar groups). The largest percentage (32%) came from groups motivated by an etho-nationalist or separatist agenda, followed by (28%) single issues parties (such as animal rights or anti-war), 22% from the extreme-left and 11% extreme-right. A famous example is the massacre committed by white nationalist Dylann Roof. The 21-year-old white supremacist unleashed his firepower on African-American churchgoers in Charleston and took nine lives.

The situation changed however after 2013. In 2014 one attack was committed by a Takfiri terrorist; by 2015 it rose explosively to 17 (out of a total of 121 attacks). In 2016 it dropped slightly to 13 (of the total 142 attacks). Even though Europol reiterated in her latest report (2017) that most attacks (i.e. 99 of 142) come from separatist movements , the attacks from Takfiri quarters were very deadly. Between 2000 and 2013 40% of all deaths by terrorism in Europe were caused by Takfiri groups. The violent acts in recent years such as Brussels (2016), Nice (2016) and Paris (2015) took respectively 32, 84 and 130 lives. Their share of the deadly victims of terrorism in Europe has risen in 2016 to include almost all (i.e. 135 victims out of a total of 142). More on this below.

In conclusion: Takfiri terrorist attacks are clearly very lethal, but not the only danger. Extreme-right, separatist and ethonationalist groups constitute also a major threat.

2. The size of the fatal consequences of terrorism in the non-western world

A number of pundits and commentators have highlighted the disparity in reporting on terrorist attacks in the west and non-western world. It seems that terrorist incidents in the Global South doesn’t receive the same exposure and attention as those in the West. As the Lebanese doctor Elie Fares wrote after the 2015 terrorist attack in Beirut (which occurred at the same time as the attack on Charlie Hebdo): “When my people died, no country bothered to light up its landmarks in the colors of their flag” wrote. He further wrote on his blog:  “When my people died, they did not send the world into mourning. Their death was but an irrelevant fleck along the international news cycle, something that happens in those parts of the world.”

This commonly heard statement is supported by a study conducted by sociologist Sean Darling-Hammond. The researcher collected data from each of the 300 reported terrorist attacks in November 2015 and compared the number of articles devoted to the violent acts. Darling-Hammond observed 392 articles dedicated to the terrorist attack in Baghdad; 1.292 to Beirut and more than 21.000 on the violence in Paris. The researcher concluded that Western victims disproportionately receive more attention than their fellow victims in the non-western world.

The underreporting doesn’t only feed into and sustains indifference of violence inflicted upon the Global South, but also obscures the real impact of terrorism on the non-western world.

A Washington Post research article gives insight in to the actual scale and size of impact felt by terrorism globally. As they write: “Since the beginning of 2015, the Middle East, Africa and Asia have seen almost 50 times more deaths from terrorism than Europe and the Americas” the Washington Post. The graph below visualizes the ratios:

Victims of terrorist attacks beyond Western Europe (period 2001-2014)

Source: Huffington Post (2015)

The top three consists of Muslim-majority countries. The first western country on the list is the US at # 7. When 9/11 is taken out of the equation, no single western country remains in the top ten. Even the total deaths by Daesh in the west wouldn’t earn a top ten spot (443 victims). According to the 2017 ICCT-report, 395 Western citizens died because of terrorist attacks by Daesh from June 2014 to June 2017. I’ve added the Manchester-attack (22 civilians killed), the following London-attack (8 killed), Catalonia attacks (16 killed) and Turku (2 killed).

Terrorist violence thus is mostly felt in the non-western world.

Another way to look at the above figures is through the lens of the Global War on Terror: the top ten consists of countries that were subject to or felt the consequences of the US-led antiterrorism project. This is shown better in the graph below:

Global deaths from terrorism


Take Iraq. The US invaded the Arab country in 2003 for two reasons: 1) The then leader, Saddam Hussein, was thought to have chemical weapons in his possession and 2) that he was providing shelter for al Qaeda – both claims turned out to be unfounded.

However, the consequences of the invasion were very real: eleven years after the illegal invasion, in 2014, more Iraqi’s became victims of terrorist violence than the total world number (!) In 2001 – that is, the year in which 9/11 happened and ignited the US-led Global War on Terror.

Iraq – where no suicide bombings were registered before 2003 –  has been completely destabilized by the illegal invasion and more than 40,000 casualties by terrorist violence have been recorded ever since.

The next question that then arises: why are these figures missing out in the public discourse? According to intellectual Noam Chomsky this is not just due to a lack of media-attention, but because of a political culture wherein victims are differentiated between worthiness – i.e. worthy and unworthy victims. Chomsky explains his thesis with the following example: in 2007, a poll was conducted among US citizens asked to estimate the total number of deaths in Iraq. The median was 10,000. The actual number then was between 150,000 and 650,000 deadly victims. According to Chomsky, the disparity is a consequence of a targeted campaign by the US: they aim to suppress media reporting on (deadly) civilian victims caused by their occupation of Iraq. The purpose is to diminish its role in and prevent a discussion of their occupation of Iraq.

And when are civilian casualties considered ‘worthy’ enough according to Chomsky? That’s when their deaths can further Washington’s foreign policy. This was demonstrated in 2014 when the former US president, Barack Obama, used the threat of Daesh to get “boots on the ground” in Iraq. In 2011, then President Nouri al-Maliki refused to extend the stay of the US Army. That led to dissatisfaction and resistance in Washington who preferred not to leave. When Daesh came on the Western radar in 2014 and threatened civilians worldwide, that danger was used as a pretext to increase the number of US troops in Iraq. The (potential) victims of Daesh were in this context seen as ‘worthy victims’ because they could help Washington’s regional agenda.

3. Downward trend of terrorism in Western Europe

Contrary to popular imagination, the years after 9/11 are marked not by an increase but decrease of terrorist violence, especially in Western Europe. This is in opposition to the doom scenarios painted by some pundits and their statements of a “golden age of terrorism”. A statistical analysis shows however a contrary image and depict an overall downward trend. See the chart below:

Kill by terrorist attacks in Western Europe (1970-2015)


The figures above clearly show that there were significantly less fatal victims in the period after 9/11 than in the 21 years before. That trend began after the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) and has continued ever since except for outliers like Madrid (2004), London (2005) and Paris (2015).

Furthermore, when deadly victims of terrorism in Europe are divided between west and east, the following picture shows up: the majority of the victims in the past 15+ years fell in the eastern part of the continent (see below):

Kill by terrorism per month: West versus Eastern Europe

Source: Washington Post

Experts explain it as a consequence of the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the conflicts resulting from it such as those in Yugoslavia, Chechnya and Ukraine. An important and lesser known example of such a deadly attack is the Odessa (Ukraine) clashes in 2014. During one of those confrontations, on May 2, 46 people were killed by the neo-Nazi-linked Pravy Sector because of their pro-Russian affiliations. The map below visualizes how these attacks are divided throughout Europe:

Geographical distribution of terrorist attacks in Europe between 1970 and 2015


Source: Washington Post

In conclusion, terrorist attacks before 9/11, especially in the 70s and 80s, exceeded today’s level of activity. Violent incidents have overall been on the decline since 9/11. Moreover, the impression that most deadly attacks occur in the Western-Europe cannot be supported by the actual distribution of violent incidents; that burden falls on the eastern part.

4. Growing threat of extreme right violence

The Charleston-attack – whereby a neo-Nazi linked extremist weaponized his car to plow into a group of anti-fascist demonstrators and thereby killing one woman and injuring many others – is one of many examples in the recent history demonstrating an increasing threat coming from the extreme-right.

Indeed, a recent study has shown that 1/3 of all so-called lone-wolf terrorists in Europe are linked to the extreme right. Research from the US shows that far right extremists are even of a greater threat than Takfiri terrorism. Think-tank New America found out that nearly two times more casualties have fallen, between 9/11 and 2015, by hands of white supremacists than by Takfiri terrorists. This study is supported by a recent investigation (2017) held by the United States Supreme Audit Office – a.k.a. the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The GOA concludes from their survey that the extreme right is responsible for the bulk of all fatal terrorist attacks: 73% versus 27% by Takfiri terrorism.

However, when terrorist attacks are ranked in terms of casualties, we can make the same observation as in Europe: Takfiri terrorist attacks are on average far more deadly. Nevertheless, this doesn’t negate nor diminish the growing threat coming from rightwing terrorism. The cases of Anders Breivik, the Dutchman Tristan van der Vlis and Dylann Roof are relatively well-known, but as the following examples show, the danger from the right-wing have been building up in recent years and on the rise throughout the western world:

  • In 2013, the 82-year-old Mohammed Saleem was stabbed to death by a terrorist with extreme-right affiliations while he came from a mosque visit. Saleem died soon afterwards. The same fate was inflicted upon to 81-year-old British Muhsin Ahmed two years later. In the following year, in 2016, Labor-politician Jo Cox was shot by an right-wing terrorist because of her political position on Brexit;
  • In the US, Muslims and African Americans have been killed – and in some cases even executed – by white racists because of their religious and/or ethnicity backgrounds. Other (religious) minority groups such as Hindus and Sikhs have also been subjected by a similar fate, often because the extreme right confuses and/or regard them the same as Muslims;
  • In the Netherlands a terrorist attack was committed in a mosque by a group of five extreme right-wing racists in 2016.
  • In Greece, a refugee camp was attacked in 2016 by a group of right-wing extremists;
  • In early 2017, an extreme-right terrorist attacked a mosque in Canada Quebec. The perpetrator shot on worshippers as they were praying and killed 6 civilians.

In short, this select overview makes clear that extreme right-wing terror is not only in the march but a phenomena to be seen throughout the West.

5. The overestimated role of refugees and newcomers in terrorism

A persistent myth spread (but not exclusively) by the (extreme) right is that the inflow of migrants and refugees leads to more terrorist violence. Studies, however, show that the role of migrants and refugees in terrorist attacks have been exaggerated.

The ICCT, a research institute in The Hague (Holland), investigated all of Daesh’ linked terrorist attacks in the west and found out that 73% of all attackers were citizens of the same country where they committed their act of violence. Another 14% were visitors or residents with a (legal) residence status. A further 6% remained in the country without documentation and only 5% were refugees or newcomers (see below).

Graphs of origin attackers

Source: ICCT (2017)

The vast majority of the danger (95%) comes from citizens or residents without a recent history of migration.

The findings from the ICCT report (2017) is broadly shared by other similar studies. British think-tank The Henry Jack Society (2017) found out that, in the case of Great Britain, more than two thirds of the attacks since 2005 were done by individuals “who were either born or raised in the UK”.  In an another research by The New America Foundation “every jihadist who conducted a lethal attack inside the United States since 9/11 was a citizen or legal resident“. This study is corroborated by a recent research conducted under the guidance of political scientist Robert Pape. They found out (2017) that there were zero refugees involved in the 112 Daesh-related crimes. Lastly, liberal think-tank Cato concluded that the role of immigrants and refugees in terrorist attacks is minimal. Virtually all dead whereby immigrants or newcomers were involved come from one single event: 9/11 (98.6%). Apart from that, fatal terrorist attacks by immigrants or refugees are extremely rare in the United States.

However, with recent attacks such as Berlin (2016), Ansbach (2016) and Copenhagen (2016), the proportion of newcomers in attacks has significantly increased. According to the ICCT (2017), the influx of refugees and migrants is not the problem per se, because “the number of criminals and terrorists in mass migration movements has been low” and “terrorists often have a criminal background to begin with”.

Moreover, Daesh focuses its operations primarily on the conflict in their home territories in Iraq and Syria; newcomers and immigrants are fleeing those places because they are against the terrorist groups. The researchers of the ICCT therefore argue that the focus should be on proper regulation of the inflow of newcomers.

Secondly, as Brookings Institute scientist Daniel L. Byman argues, the problem are not the immigrants or refugees, but to them in coming contact with local radicalization-hubs.

Indeed, we see that clearly in the case of the 22-year-old Syrian newcomer, Jaber al Bakr, who was arrested on October 2016 on grounds of planning to commit a terrorist attack.

Jaber al-Bakr arrived in Germany in February 2015 and received legal residence five months later. According to Al-Bakr’s brother, Alaa al-Bakr, Jabr was not politically active or interested in Germany before arriving there. That changed after. In Berlin, Jabr al-Bakr came into contact with extremists. A local imam is thought to have brought him into contact with and urged him to fight for Daesh in Raqqa (Syria).

In September 2015, Bakr left Germany from Syria through Turkey, where he spent about five months and then two in Syria. On his personal Facebook page, it appears that al-Bakr began to sympathize with Daesh from January 2016. About two months before Jabr wanted to commit his violence, he was arrested by the German authorities. He could be detained because another Syrian newcomer arrested and handed him over to the police (after which the suspect, Jabr al-Bakr, hung himself later in his cell).

To conclude, the vast majority of Daesh terrorists are citizens of the same country in which they have committed their violent act. Only a small number of IS-affiliated terrorists are newcomers or undocumented citizens. If then there the goal is to stop or reduce terrorism, more attention should be paid to local radicalized groups rather than border surveillance.

Decolonizing Literacy Instruction

Ashley Wolstein

Literacy instruction too often reinforces the inequities of imperialism, and as a Language Arts teacher, my research involves exploring how the Language Arts classroom can be used to decolonize the mind. While many educators possess both the passion and ‘ike (knowledge) to deliver a curriculum that decolonizes the mind, current assessment models often hinder the actual implementation of such curriculum. I believe that educational policy holds both students and educators in a yoke of high-stakes testing which works to endorse conformity and strengthen the hold of the oppressor, and this is why my research interests involves decolonizing the Language Arts classroom.

As is noted in the introduction of Freire’s book (2000), students should be allowed to study epistemology and understand who produces knowledge, who controls knowledge, and whose interests, in the case of high stakes testing, all this testing really serves. We need radicals, revolutionaries, and comrades to challenge our educational system, to either dismantle the power held by policy makers or at least inject within them a shred of doubt. Too many policymakers, in my opinion, can be classified as either the right sectarian or the leftist counterpart, one that hopes to maintain status quo and the other that believes the future is predetermined (2000, p. 38-9). This is a harmful agenda and not very empowering for anyone.

While Common Core is an improvement from the Hawaii State Assessment, it still expects all students at a specific grade level to have a specific skill and be filled with specific content. The banking notion of education, where a student is a vessel to be filled by the teacher, is still embraced, even though the vessel is supposed to be filled with some skills. The constant testing detracts from our ability to help our students develop critical consciousness, to engage in dialogue and problem-based learning. For this reason, one of my primary interests is exploring how we can decolonize assessment in order to decolonize curriculum, and then, the mind. How can be truly make education bottom-up instead of top down, and truly serve the students it is allegedly designed to serve?

In order to decolonize the assessment, I believe that we need to research how current assessments reinforce a colonial mindset and any correlation this might have with current achievement gaps. Additionally, I want to explore how a decolonial literacy curriculum might improve student literacy skills. For instance, does anyone know if students are better able to make inferences when provided texts from their culture or a similar culture (given they would have more background knowledge) and what does this mean for assessment? How do current state tests detract time spent developing student’s critical thinking, creativity, and problem solving? How does one assess these important traits, and what role can literacy play in developing them?

Changing assessment, of course, will require “how” literacy is taught and “what” text make up the curriculum. It seems that providing students with literature from multiple perspectives (indigenous authors, postcolonial authors) is an important step in decolonizing knowledge, and this is my second research interest. In order for students to be successful and prepared for what the future may bring, a reading literacy curriculum needs to be studentfocused instead of text focused, present multicultural perspectives, utilize both print and digital sources, draw from fiction and non-fiction, offer flexibility, and most importantly, lead students to think and understand deeply. I hypothesize that this deep thinking would be best facilitated by allowing students to see the world through a multiplicity of eyes, instead of jus a Western perspective. In particular, if literature can be used in a transdisciplinary way to discuss and work towards solving real world problems such as racism and poverty, I believe this Language Arts model would help to decolonize the mind and improve student thinking, reading, and writing skills. To do, we must first ask several questions: How can we challenge and imperial view of the world represented in most school books? What critical strategies can be employed and how can these strategies be used to strengthen analytical and disciplinary literacy skills? How does the way we interpret literature shape the way we see ourselves? Our community? The world we live in? How has literature played a role in colonizing the mind, historically, and how can this be reversed? How can literature, instead, by drawing upon the epistemological value of indigenous text, serve as a tool for decolonization?

And we cannot stop with reading. This literacy project also begs the question, how can we decolonize writing practices? How can writing be used to heal, as a voice, and a means to decolonize one’s own mind? As a teacher, I believe it starts by allowing student’s more power and agency when constructing text. We can no longer serve as “dominant” co-authors of our student’s writing, having them write the essays we want them to write, often for no clear purpose, and instead, view “writing as a mode of social action, not simply a means of communication” (Prior, 2006, p. 58). Students need more authentic writing assignments, and they need to understand the goals of writing (purpose). Too often, we dictate some assignment to them that lacks a clear audience or purpose. It seems the academic community needs to conduct more research regarding how to decolonize writing for the purpose of social justice, and I am hoping to connect with other educators seeking to decolonize literacy practices, and of course, think deeply about the world.



Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic.

Prior, P. (2006). A sociocultural theory of writing. In C.A. MacArthur, S. Graham, & J. Fitzgerald (Eds.), Handbook of writing research (pp. 54-66). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Video Links

Freire Project. (2012, April 30). Paulo Freire documentary seeing through Paulo’s glasses: Political clarity, courage and humility.

Toward a Roma Decolonial Emancipation

Kale Amenge

Over 600 years of persecution, systematic oppression, social control and attempts at genocide and epistemicide in Europe have given rise to a system of anti-gypsy domination constitutive of the civilizing project of Western Modernity. Despite this, up to now, Roma issues in the European nation-states have been created and problematized in two fundamental ways. On the one hand, Roma communities have been treated as a social policy problem, on the other, they have been managed as a matter of identity politics. However, none of the social policies – articulated on the basis of the colonial logics of integration and assistance – have significantly improved the existential conditions of the Roma community, nor the problematic and uncritical so called to defend “Our culture” has contributed to the political mobilization and transformation of a State racism.

The politics of identity are, in fact, an effective way of assimilating the questions of the so-called moral anti-racism. This dynamic consists in adding subjects that represent “diverse” identities with an intellectually related profile. Such subjects are epistemically decentered from their status as racialized and are thought unconsciously through the liberation narratives of the white left, so they construct their projects of emancipation centered epistemically, politically and emotionally on the white  modernity.

Therefore, in order for a political project to not lead to merely identitarian or culturalist positions, it is necessary to offer something to those social segments interested in a real transformation of the society. Out of sheer necessity and strategic intelligence we can not afford to turn our backs on alliances, but for the same reasons we can not further postpone the creation of an autonomous and strong organization with a vocation to serve a broader movement. Anti-gypsism, as a form of racism, is a structural, systemic problem that forms part of modern societies and that is solidified from the institutions of the Western Nations. Therefore, the anti-gypsism is not an interpersonal problem related to certain prejudices or stereotypes that the majority society is harbouring about the Roma difference. There are prejudices, stereotypes we do not deny them, but these are only psycho social symptoms of state racism that uses different markers to put into action what Ramon Grosfoguel, based on the Fanonian philosophy of the Caribbean, calls “a hierarchy global superiority and inferiority on the line of the human”.

Racism is an organizing principle of the materiality of oppression in the modern world and it is impossible to destroy it if the civilizing project in which it emerges is not strongly questioned. Every truly decolonial critique is based on a fundamental premise: it is impossible to destroy one of the heads without attacking the heart of the monster. It is here that all the warnings of liberal Western consciousness are generated, this is where the accusations of rigor are produced: “anti-modern”, “essentialist”, “dangerous”; It is here that the true matrix of racism is questioned, where moral anti-racism fades. It is here that Houria Bouteldja calls “political anti-racism” can emerge. If racism is a political problem that determines in a structural way which is the materiality of domination in the societies of modernity, the struggle to be undertaken against it must be political.

Although, according to the liberal opinion, the long stay of the Kalè in the Spanish territory, which officially reaches from 1425 to the present, had to guarantee the inclusion of the demands of our communities, the reality is far from representing such naive ideal. The long Spanish anti-Romani tradition of persecution, systematic oppression, attempts at genocide and epistemicide has materialized in the implementation of 250 laws during 479 long years initiated in 1499 and apparently closed in 1978. This history has been invisibilized by the racist state and its institutions, which represents only a link between the pathological oblivion of Spanish domestic racism and the neurotic negation of its colonial legacy in the so-called Global South. The absence of reparation policies aimed at resolving the severe damage inflicted for centuries, coupled with the current expressions of state structural racism such as violence and police harassment, school segregation, social control and discipline through the so-called “community agents”, labor discrimination or the violent conformation of the racialized ghetto, the over-representation of Roma in the Spanish prisons made the Roma community of our territories a radically subalternized population based on the racial paradigm of the modern colonial power.

What could have been

In the 1970s, notable figures emerging from the incipient Roma movement of the Spanish state managed to introduce: the introduction of anti-gypsy racism in the Spanish public agenda from a Roma perspective. Artists and activists articulated their voices in a coherent way based on the demands of justice, dignity, freedom, civil rights and towards the end of racism. Although the germ of the mobilization was sown, we must recognize that its final germination has remained in a state of lethargy for more than 30 years. The 78 regime placed the Kali population in the most vulnerable situation compared to the collective rights granted to other nations of the Spanish State.

On the other hand, in the existing social movements, we find that anti-gypsy racism has not been taken into account, even in the context of its vertiginous increase throughout Europe. In this political space where all the ties of union of the different social struggles began to be constructed – the form of racism that the Roma people resisted for centuries did not occupy any place in the public agendas of the lefties, despite being the biggest racialized human community of the Spanish State. On the contrary, from the lefties to the right wing parties, everything that has to do with the so-called “gypsy question” has been confined to an anti-political spectrum of folklore and culturalism perpetuating the political and mental colonization to which our communities are subjected to. That is why we consider that no Spanish political party, has succeeded in overcoming the modern anti-gypsy logic and therefore conceiving, understanding, supporting or developing Roma emancipation in Spain.

Concerning racism, the weak strategy of the Spanish left-wing – when it exists – is to develop, consolidate and solidify the idea that decolonizing their organizations consists in slightly “coloring” their militancy with the intermittent presence of racialized faces. Conquering spaces of power for the Roma populations or other racialized communities, when in fact they are working to reach the priorities of the white political agenda and justify its model. In fact, this process, described on countless occasions, provokes the birth of a political culture of containment for any critical movement that advocates for emancipation and Roma self-organization. Therefore, as Frantz Fanon lucidly explains, no matter how many white shells you use to hide your being, the system of ethnic domination always places you within the same system.

These experiences show a profound inability to understand the role of racism and its interaction with social class, which ends up having direct consequences for the Roma political aspirations, and unfortunately we are still observed in the current left. Even at the risk of being overly categorical, we can affirm that there are no political initiatives in the Spanish state capable of overcoming the moral paradigm and articulating political anti-racism in all its dimensions.

Kale Amenge

It is in this climate that Kale Amenge is born. Kale Amenge is defined as an independent Roma organization which, from a decolonial perspective, aims to contribute to the collective emancipation of the Roma people. Through the production of critical knowledge and the confrontation of narratives and racist practices, the incipient organization will make its contribution to put in crisis the mechanisms of racist structural domination that underpin the discrimination of our people.

Our desire to be integrated into modernity, inoculated by what José Heredia Moreno calls “subsystems of legitimation of the anti-gypsy domination system” represents the greatest impediment to political links with other pedigrees of resistance and other struggle built from below the line of the human. We urgently need to interrogate our political references acquired within our societies, to question the identities and rhetoric of liberation through which we not only struggle but through which we define ourselves. And this implies looking for horizontal alliances, to stop thinking about the target, to acquire other paradigms. Look at the genealogy with other eyes. The main objective is to focus on our condition as racialized subjectivities.

For all this, it is the will of this group to build bridges of solidarity with other peoples who, like the Roma, are immersed in the struggle for their emancipation, thus contributing to the construction of spaces for antiracist dialogue towards the articulation of a decolonized society. Our situation on the European continent, as a racialized nation without a state, places us in the zone of not being with the postcolonial subjects of the diaspora in the Global North. Despite not belonging to any physical colony, we have been transformed into a racialized inner point within the continent from the beginnings of what Enrique Dussel calls “early modernity”: the sixteenth century. The relationship of the organization with different movements originated to develop a frontal fight against racism will function as a political link of the kaló movement with other organizations and anti-racist groups led by racialized communities that will lead to a state alliance against institutional racism.

Kale Amenge is an organization formed by Roma people with an interdisciplinary formation and a trajectory of militancy and activism in different social movements. All this means that one of the fundamental intentions of the organization is the creation of a new Romano activism, supporting fraternally its current representatives, without generating bankruptcies within the Roma associations. We, Roma people need to develop new narratives articulated from a critical anti-racist perspective that will put the underdeveloped state of the Roma cause on the political spectrum.


The European Left and Venezuela

“I have been following the Bolivarian Revolution from its beginning with critical attention and solidarity,” writes renown Portuguese scholar Boaventura de Souza. He continues: “Last May 26, I signed a manifesto prepared by Venezuelan intellectuals and politicians of various political tendencies and addressed to the parties and social groups engaged in confrontation asking them to stop street violence and start a discussion with a view to finding a non violent, democratic outcome without US interference.

After that, I decided I would not again speak about the Venezuelan crisis. Why do I do it today? Because I am shocked at the partiality of European media, including the Portuguese media, a bias resorting to all kinds of means to demonize a legitimately elected government, ignite the social and political fire and sanction foreign intervention of unforeseen consequences.”

There is a big contrast with the eighties when the European left had organized broad solidarity work with the revolutions in Central America. Now they are so intimidated by the capitalist press that they don’t even dare to speak out against the US-led campaign against the Bolivarian revolution. Boaventura de Souza is an example of that courage of the left, that is now lost in the 21st century.

Read the full text of his declaration on Venezuela and the Western media here.

A decolonial approach to color


Sandew Hira, July 22, 2017


The best way to develop decolonial theory is through discussing its application in real life situations.

Take the following situation from a Summer School. The Summer School attracts activists and academic across the world. The participants are from all part of the world: Europe, USA, Latin America, the Caribbean, India, South Africa etc.

There are white people and people of color, academics and activists.

Obviously in such a space you will have a reproduction of debates and approaches that exists in social movements across the world.

The purpose of the Summer School to exchange knowledge and engage in critical discussion on decolonial theory and practice.

A professor of color who is an expert on Frantz Fanon and his contribution to decolonial teaching invited participants to make a contribution based on their knowledge, experiences and expression. They could sing, recite a poems or share a story. One day a black South African participant shared her story. The next day a white South African participant shared her story. A black participant from the USA objected to her sharing her story because she was white and her story was an example of white saviour. The space of the Summer School should be limited to people of color. The white South African should have been silenced because there white saviour should not be tolerated.

I will use this incident to discuss to questions:

  • How do we deal with racism and color from a theoretical perspective.
  • How to we deal with racism and color from the perspective building social movements in the struggle against racism?

Racism, color and theory

In the lecture on a DTM (Decolonizing The Mind) theory of racism I explained our concept of racism. It is based on four propositions:

  1. Racism is institutional, not individual. It is based on institutions (economic, political, social, cultural, technological) that operate on a global scale and that shape individual experiences.
  2. Racism organizes human relations through these institutions along the lines of inferiority and superiority of communities, not of individuals.
  3. Historically the markers for organizing these relation have been and are religion (theological racism), race (biological racism) and culture (cultural racism). Islamophobia is a form of cultural racism.
  4. Racism was established and is maintained though various mechanisms in the different dimensions (division of labour in economics, violence and intimidation in politics). The colonizing of the mind of the colonizer and the colonized are important mechanisms in the cultural dimension.


So color is one of the different instruments in organizing communities along the lines of inferiority and superiority. Furthermore, the colonization of the mind means two things:

  • It shapes knowledge, attitude and skills of both the colonizer and the colonized.
  • It detaches the content of the markers of racism from its form (religion, skin color, culture). So on an individual level a black person can be colonized in his or her mind and a white person can be decolonized in his or her mind. The colonization of the mind means that (s)he reproduces the colonial knowledge.

So if a white South African women speaks in the Summer School we see her as part of a community that has institutionalized racism in South Africa, but on an individual level we still have to judge her in relation to her contribution to or struggle against these institutions. We don’t judge her on the basis of the color of her skin, but on the content of her arguments and her actions.

On these theoretical grounds I object to silencing her from sharing her experiences.

An argument for shutting her down is based on the theory of white privilege. This theory was invented by white liberals and has gained ground in activists of color. I have provided a decolonial critique of the concept of white privilege here:

The argument for shutting her down is that white people are privileged and that they should listen rather than talk. I argue that racism is not an individual privilege, but an institutional injustice. So I judge the white individual on the basis of his or her contribution to or struggle against these institutional injustice, that is why she should not be shut down, but encourage to speak out so we can make this judgment rather that accepting that she can not make a contribution by definition.

In conclusion: from a decolonial perspective we judge a person not by definition, by but practice, not by belonging to an oppressive community by definition, but by judging their contribution to or struggle against this oppression.

The theory of white privilege can not deal with these questions.

Racism, color and social movements

There are practical and political reasons why I object to excluding the white South African participants for sharing her experiences in the Summer School.

We all come from social movements that are engaged in daily struggles against racism and the global colonial institutions. In these movements we help create different spaces with different purposes.

For example, we argue in Europe that we need organizations of people of color whose main purpose is to organize and empower the communities of color. We urge sympathetic white activists not to join our movement, but to go and engage in white organizations and bring the anti-racist struggle there. There is no place in our organizations for white people in organizing people of color. There is another space we create outside our organization where we work together in combining forces and devising strategies and tactics against institutional racism.

The decolonial movement in the global South might be organized in a total different way. There are many spaces possible.

The organizers of the Summer School have created a space in which academics and activists from different parts of the world and different ethnicities are invited and accepted to engage in critical discussion on decolonial theory and practice. Everybody has the right to express and share their views in this space and the organizers should ensure that this freedom of expression is guaranteed. It is rude and disrespectful towards the organizers if participants demand that th eyclose the space they have created for some participants and open it exclusively for other participants.

If we are in a space that someone else has created we will respect their rules and regulations as a matter of principal of decolonial ethics. We will not impose our rules on the people or organization who have created the space which we enter.

So from a practical and ethical point of view we can not accept shutting down a participant from sharing her views on the basis of her skin color or on the basis of her opinions. Her opinions should be heard and discussion like the opinion of anyone else.

There is also a political argument for creating the space in the way the organizers are doing. The Summer Schools are spaces where people are encouraged to engage in practical political work.  In the struggle against institutional racism the question of white allies is a crucial question. From our political philosophy we need to organize white allies in the struggle against institutional racism. Therefore we encourage white people to engages in political discussion and speak out so we can just their views and actions in the light of how the contribute or obstruct our struggle.

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Stop bashing Houria Bouteldja and the PIR!

The French daily, Le Figaro, started a series of articles aimed at criminalizing the Parti des Indigènes de la République (PIR) and its leader Houria Bouteldja. The PIR is a member of the Decolonial International Network. They are portrayed as racist, homophobic and anti-semitic.

They create an atmosphere of hate around Houria Bouteldja and the PIR. Progressive activists and intellectuals have rallied against this attempt by Figaro to criminalize Bouteldja and the PIR. The attack against the PIR is a typical example of the rise of the police state in Europe.

Freedom of speech under attack in the UK

On Sunday June 18th 2017 the Quds Committee in the UK organized the annual Al Quds Day. Al Quds Day is an international event to protest the Zionist occupation of Palestine and is held on the last Friday of Ramadan. For years this event has been organized in Britain and every year it attracts the criticism of Zionist forces. This year a particular vicious campaign was waged against the organizing committee by the Zionist Campaign Against Anti-Semitism.

They pressured the mayor of London Sadiq Khan to ban the event. His office bowed to the pressure and supported the call. The Zionists thanked him: “Both the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime have been very helpful in facilitating contact with the right people within the Metropolitan Police Service, and we are grateful to them for their efforts.”

But the London Police stood by the freedom of expression and allowed the event to continue.

Meanwhile Islamophobic pundits created a climate of hate around the event. Majid Nawaaz, the director of the Quilliam Foundation and LBC radio presenter, along with some niche media attacked the organizers, claiming they were terrorist sympathisers, and even focused on the Islamic Human Right Commission (IHRC), a member of the Decolonial International Network. IHRC has ledged several complaints with the BBC, LBC, and various press and media regulators, as well as the police, after this year’s campaign against Al-Quds Day.

The night of 18th June after the event, a white terrorist Darren Osborn, drove his van into a crowd of Muslims at a mosque in North London killing one and injuring eight people. It has been reported that his original plan was to attack the crowd at the Al Quds Day march.

The attack on the Al Quds Day failed, but it showed the concerted effort of Zionists, Islamophobic and terrorist forces to clamp down on the freedom of speech.

The theory of everyday racism: which racism is not everyday, but only in the weekend?

Sandew Hira, June 7, 2017


In previous contributions I offered an analysis of two theories of liberalism that are popular among anti-racist activists: one on intersectionality and its application in decolonizing the university and one on the concept of white privilege. This article takes a critical look at another popular theory of liberalism: the theory of everyday racism. This theory was developed by Philomena Essed.[1]

Neglecting the tradition of black thought

There is a rich tradition of decolonial thought that has looked into many aspects of racism. Moreover, there is a wide range of black thinkers from Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas that have developed concepts about how racism impacts the daily life of blacks. There is an oral tradition that have produced icons like Bob Marley who explains how to emancipate from mental slavery.

There is a huge literature by black thinkers on the mechanisms of racist institutions and practices that impacts the daily life of blacks and many have of them have now an iconic status. Their analysis is used by radical anti-racist activists today. From Frederick Douglas and Harriet Tubman to Marcus Garvey, Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X and millions of black activists across the African Diaspora. They have made contributions on how black lives are shaped by racism every second of the day.

Essed just shoves these contributions away and repeatedly claims that she is doing something unique (my emphasis in bold): “This study examines crucial, but largely neglected, dimensions of racism: How is racism experienced in everyday situations? How do Blacks recognize covert expressions of racism? What knowledge of racism do Blacks have, and how is this knowledge acquired?”[2]

Many studies have identified the mechanisms of racism at a societal level, but few have revealed its pervasive impact on the daily experiences of Blacks.”[3]

“The lack of intellectual interest in micro manifestations and experiences may also be due to intellectual bias against the “ordinary” and the underrating of the insights of “laypersons.” It is not surprising that so few people have engaged in systematic analyses of how racism permeates everyday life.”[4]

Institutional racism

Apparently she is unaware of all the studies by major black thinkers that have dealt extensively with how racism has impacted the daily lives of black people. Just to name a few.

  • Marcus Garvey and his million-members Universal Negro Improvement Association had weekly meetings, newspapers, 1,000 branches. What did they discuss, if it was not everyday racism? Their daily experience was the basis of their analysis of racism and reported in their speeches and articles.
  • Frantz Fanon analyzed the mechanism of racism in the daily lives of black people: the superiority complex of whites and the inferiority complex of blacks; the use of language and culture, the role of gender and sexuality, the link to colonialism.
  • Aimé Césaire has explained in detail how the French policy of assimilation impacted the everyday life of blacks in Martinique and how Pan-Africanist thinkers developed the concept of negritude to combat racism.
  • The powerful speeches of Malcolm X covers many themes of how racism impacted the daily lives of blacks, from the speech on “who taught you to hate yourself” to the speech on how the press turns the victim into a perpetrator of racism and vice verse.

Essed is ignorant about these contributions. Even from a Eurocentric methodology you would expect that someone who claims to develop a new theory of racism would discuss what others have already done in this field. Not Essed. She just claims that hardly anyone before her paid attention to the daily experience of black people with racism and ignores other contributions from black thinkers.

The different contributions of black thinkers culminated in the concept of institutional racism. Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture) and Charles Hamilton articulated this concept.[5] In the very definition of racism they take the daily experience of black people into account (my emphasis in bold): “What is racism?  The word has represented daily reality to millions of black people for centuries, yet it is rarely defined—perhaps just because that reality has been such a commonplace.  By “racism” we mean the predication of decisions and policies on considerations of race for the purpose of subordinating a racial group and maintaining control over that group.”[6]

They don’t talk not about abstract sociological concepts. They link the daily reality of black people with institutional racism. They explain that whites think of racism in terms of overt and covert, but blacks puts the white covert concept in the context of institutional racism: “Racism is both overt and covert.  It takes two, closely related forms:  individual whites acting against individual blacks, and acts by the total white community against the black community.  We call these individual racism and institutional racism.  The first consists of overt acts by individuals, which cause death, injury or the violent destruction of property.  This type can be recorded by television cameras; it can frequently be observed in the process of commission. The second type is less overt, far more subtle, less identifiable in terms of specific individuals committing the acts.  But it is no less destructive of human life.  The second type originates in the operation of established and respected forces in the society, and thus receives far less public condemnation than the first type.”[7]

They provide an example to explain the difference between individual (overt) and institutional (covert) racism: “When white terrorists bomb a black church and kill five black children, that is an act of individual racism, widely deplored by most segments of the society.  But when in the same city—Birmingham, Alabama—five hundred black babies die each year because of the lack of proper food, shelter and medical facilities, and thousands more are destroyed and maimed physically, emotionally and intellectually because conditions of poverty and discrimination  in the black community, that is a function of institutional racism.  When a black family moves into a home in a white neighbourhood and is stoned, burned or routed out, they are victims of an overt act of individual racism which many people will condemn at least in words.  But it is institutional racism that keeps black people locked in dilapidated slum tenements, subject to the daily prey of exploitative slumlords, merchants, loan sharks and discriminatory real estate agents.  The [SH: white] society either pretends it does not know of this latter situation, or is in fact incapable of doing anything meaningful about it.”[8]

Carmichael and Hamilton clarify how institutional racism operates in the daily practices and attitudes of whites: “Institutional racism relies on the active and pervasive operation of anti-black attitudes and practices.  A sense of superior group position prevails: whites are “better” than blacks; therefore blacks should be subordinated to whites. This is a racist attitude and it permeates the society, on both the individual and institutional level, covertly and overtly. “Respectable” individuals  can absolve themselves from individual blame:  they would never plant a bomb in a church; they would never stone a black family.  But they continue to support political officials and institutions that would and do perpetuate institutionally racist policies.  Thus acts of overt, individual racism may not typify the society, but institutional racism does—with the support of covert, individual attitudes of racism.”[9]

The analysis of Carmichael and Hamilton was not part of an academic thesis to get a degree at a Westernized university. It was an analysis for activists who were deeply involved in the struggle against racism. They articulated the relationship between institutional racism and how this shaped the life of blacks and the attitudes of whites. The social movements of which they are part have thousands of stories of how institutional racism impacts the daily lives of black people. It has been documented in books and articles, in songs and marches. Now comes an academic writing a dissertation who claims that nobody before her engaged in this type of thinking. It is amazing how arrogance can be presented as science.

Carmichael and Hamilton make a profound link between institutional racism and colonialism. They write: “Institutional racism has another name: colonialism.”[10]

They explain: “One normally associates a colony with a land and a people subjected to, and physically separated from, the “Mother Country.”  This is not always the case, however;  in South African and Rhodesia, black and white inhabit the same land—with blacks subordinated to whites just as in the English, French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish colonies.  It is the objective relationship which counts, not rhetoric (such as constitutionally articulating equal rights) or geographyBlack people in the United States have a colonial relationship to the larger society, a relationship characterized by institutional racism.”[11]

Everyday racism and colonialism

The theories of black activists on racism is based on the experiences of millions of black people – and colonized people in general – for the past five hundred years. Where does Essed based her theory of everyday racism on? She interviewed 55 black women. Essed: “Two similar groups of women were interviewed: 27 in the US and 28 in the Netherlands. The selection was based on three criteria, of which the first was used most frequently: 1) references by interviewees, 2) references through my personal contacts and 3) and references through my professional contacts. Thus, diversity was obtained in different ways… Interviewees were requested to refer to other black women between 20 en 45… About one-third of each group are students and the rest are professionals. The level of education of the black American professionals is M.A. to Ph.D…. The level of education of the interviewed professionals in the Netherlands is slightly lower than the Americans; their degrees are comparable to BA and MA.”[12]

What are the results if this is her basis to develop a new theory? She don’t understand the root of racism: colonialism. This is her understanding of colonialism: “In order to understand the impact of colonization on the development of knowledge of racism it is relevant to take into consideration at least the following factors. First, colonization is characterized by ideological domination.”[13]

No, it is not. Colonialism is characterized by brutal occupation of land, genocide of indigenous people, massive enslavement of millions of Africans and other crimes against humanity. The ideology followed the practice, not the other way round.

Essed: “The colonizers present themselves as a positive identification model and ignore the relation between colonialism and racism.”[14]

Not at all. She does not know basic historical facts about colonialism. The colonizer did not present himself as a positive identification model. There was no need for it. Enslavement meant that black human beings were regarded as cattle. They were bought and sold. They were not free men and women who could emulate the example of the white model of human being. They were registered in the bookkeeping of the whites along with the pigs and the chickens as cattle. What books did Essed read about colonialism? Surely not the book by black activists on colonialism.

Essed: “Second, the majority of the colonized population has little or no experience with whites on a level of day-to-day interaction.”[15]

On the contrary. Every morning the enslaved blacks were summoned for the morning report where the whites told them who would be flogged as punishment for disobedience of the previous day. They would hear from the whites what their tasks of the day would be. During their work whites were present with a whip and a gun to ensure that they would work without pay. Blacks were doing the cooking and cleaning of their house. The blacks had massive experience with whites on a daily basis during colonialism. How is it possible that Essed does not know these basis facts?

Essed is from the former Dutch colony in Latin America: Suriname. Slavery was legally abolished in 1863. In 1948 Suriname achieve a limited form of self-rule, where the people could elect a government, but a governor from Holland was the head of the colony. The white elite was replaced by a light-skinned elite. Suriname became independent in 1975. Many Surinamese migrated to Holland in the sixties and seventies of the 20th century.

Essed: “Third, it appears that the experiences in the Netherlands, after migration, contradict previous expectations blacks had about life in the Netherlands. Fourth, it follows from these factors that blacks when they arrive in the Netherlands, are not ready to deal effectively with racist situations.”[16]

Here is a curious argument of Essed that shows her limited understanding of racism. What is the origin of racism? It is in the interaction between black and white. If there is no interaction, then there is no racism. Because most people from the white elite had left Suriname, there was no daily interaction between whites and blacks. In her theory this means that blacks in Suriname did not know what racism was, because that knowledge is derived from the experience of interaction. Only when they migrated to Holland they got to know racism but were “not ready to deal effectively with racist situations.”

Like in other Caribbean countries Suriname also had a black nationalist movement after 1948 that had produced ideas about racism and colonialism. Based on their daily experience in Suriname they argued that racism existed in the superiority-inferiority complex that shaped the attitude and behaviours of blacks. Racism was in the educational system that promoted the concept of white superiority. It was in the culture that saw black as inferior. It was in the language policy that prohibited blacks to speak their own language and use Dutch instead. It was there in thousands of acts in the daily lives of the people. There was no need for a day-to-day interaction with whites for this system of racism to be in place.

In Europe in the nineteenth centuries there were hardly any blacks, yet racist theories were devised in that period and influenced policies of governments. Essed’s theory of racism can not deal with these crucial pillars of racism.

The new theory of everyday racism

Essed’s claims to develop a new general theory of racism. She does not claim to have developed a new theory for racism in the USA or the Netherlands) in the late 20th century. Her ambitious claim is that she has developed a new general theory on racism. Hj

“The central place of experience in my approach to racism suggests an agenda for another kind of research,” writes Essed.[17] “It is my aim to demonstrate that the concept of everyday racism has a more general relevance in race relations theory.”[18] She claims to “presents a new approach to the study of racism based on the concept of ‘everyday racism’.”[19]

It is a general theory of racism that can help us understand the phenomenon of racism in general, which means racism in its historical development, from the enslavement of Africans in the Americas to the Apartheid system in South Africa. She does not limit her claim to a specific historical period or country. If she would, then obviously she would ran into trouble. If you say this theory holds for racism in the USA and the Netherlands in the period 1970-1980 for 58 black women, nobody would even take the effort to look at it. So she must declare it to be a general theory. But then you don’t need to be a genius to see the nonsense in talking about everyday racism during slavery in the USA or Apartheid in South Africa.

In order to make a case for the uniqueness of her concept of everyday racism Essed makes a caricature of the concept of institutional racism.

Essed’s main critique of institutional racism is this: “Many studies that implemented racial oppression as institutional discrimination are problematic because they ignored the role of ideology in the structuring of discrimination… most of these studies also have the usual problems of macrosociology. Manifestations of contemporary racism have not been studied in detail in a systematic, theoretical, and analytical way.”[20] She continues: “One major thesis of this study is that the traditional distinction between institutional and individual racism is misleading and insufficient to explain the (re)production of racial inequality in society.” [21]

The studies by black activist definitely deals with the role of ideology. Just read Garvey, Fanon, Césaire of Malcolm X. They don’t talk about macrosociology. But then, she does not take these black thinkers into account when she developed her new theory.

Essed does not understand the theory of institutional racism. Carmichael and Hamilton explained the concept of covert racism. It is “covert” for whites. Carmichael and Hamilton write: “This is a racist attitude and it permeates the society, on both the individual and institutional level, covertly and overtly. “Respectable” individuals  can absolve themselves from individual blame:  they would never plant a bomb in a church; they would never stone a black family.  But they continue to support political officials and institutions that would and do perpetuate institutionally racist policies.  Thus acts of overt, individual racism may not typify the society, but institutional racism does—with the support of covert, individual attitudes of racism.”[22]

They are referring to white people who would never plant a bomb in a church. They are not talking about black people when they talk about covert racism, because every black person experiences racism. For them every racism is always overt and naked.

Covert racism is not an object that needs to be discovered. It is a state of mind of white people who are in denial of their racism. But Essed uses this concept as a object of knowledge, something that need to be discovered … by black people. That is why her research question is formulated in those terms: “How is racism experienced in everyday situations? How do Blacks recognize covert expressions of racism? What knowledge of racism do Blacks have, and how is this knowledge acquired?”[23]

The methodology of everyday racism

Taking the Eurocentric positivist tradition as her methodology Essed develops a method to detect racism based on individual experiences, not on collective experiences. Collective experience brings you to institutional racism, because a collective is already an institution. Eurocentric liberalism takes the individual as the actor in social processes. Eurocentric Marxism takes class as the actor. Essed is grounded in the Eurocentric liberal tradition of individualism.

She writes: “Individuals are actors in a power structure. Power can be used to reproduce racism, but it can also be used to combat racism. This study shows how power, operative in everyday situations, perpetuates racial and ethnic oppression. Note, however, that I focus on racist practices, not on individuals. To talk about ‘to be or not to be a racist’ simplifies the problem. Although individuals are the agents of ,racism, my concern is practices and their implications, not the psyche of these individuals.”[24]

Apparently power has no colour in Essed’s theory of everyday racism. This is a naïve view of power in racist societies There is no white power, just a neutral power in general that can reproduce racism, but it also can combat racism. Which power is that schizophrenic that is both reproducing and combating racism? The theory of institutional racism holds that power has a colour. White power exists. And white power does not combat racism. Black social movements build power, sometimes in alliance with whites.

Essed says that she focuses on practices, not on individuals, but she means practices of individuals. She shows that by declaring that she is not interested in the psyche of these individual but in their practices. Here whole research is about interpreting the individual experiences of the 58 women.

There is no discussion about institutions that produce and perpetuates racism: economic, social, political or cultural institutions. It is all based on the interpretation of individual experiences.

She has even developed a procedure for the assessment of the individual experiences. Essed: “The comprehension of racist acts was defined as the ability to explain specific experiences in terms of situational knowledge and in terms of general knowledge of racism. The comprehension of racism in everyday situations can be conceptualized as a ‘strategic’ process following a specific sequence.”[25]

The sequence consists of five steps in detecting whether a specific experience can be labelled as racist:

Step 1: Acceptable or not?

Step 2: Acceptable excuses for unacceptable behaviour?

Step 3: It is because I am black?

Step 4: Is the specific event excusable?

Step 5: Is the event socially significant?

An event could be something like this: “S19, aged 43, recalls an occasion in a Dutch shop when she was obtrusively being watched by one of the saleswomen.”[26]

Or: “C28, aged 21, has problems with learning French. She is the only black student in class. Her difficulties with the language are much increased when her French TA (teaching assistant) appears very impatient with her. The situation grows worse with each lesson, until one time C28 has become so nervous that she cannot quite understand a specific question addressed to her in French and subsequently responds quite of line. The TA gets at her.”[27]

These are examples of everyday racism. It is about experiences that any black person can have on any given day. That is why it is called everyday racism.

You won’t find an example like this: Trayvon Martin had visited his father’s fiancée at her townhouse at The Retreat at Twin Lakes in Sanford. On the evening of Sunday February 26, Martin was walking back alone to the fiancee’s house after purchasing some items at a convenience store. He was followed by George Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch volunteer. Zimmerman shot the unarmed Martin dead after an argument.

How does the theory of everyday racism deal with this event? To be fair, it happened in a weekend and not everyday, so maybe it is not everyday racism but weekend racism. Posing questions like “is it acceptable, excusable, significant” in the case of Travon Martin would make you look like a fool, at least with people who have an anti-racist consciousness. In order to comprehend this, you need to understand how the institution of police violence operates in a racist society. Everyday racism brings you nowhere.

Implications for social struggle

There are major differences between the theory of everyday racism and the theory of institutional racism for the struggle against racism.

Institutional racism focuses on the institutions that produce and perpetuates racism: economic, social, political or cultural institutions. It identifies these institutions, analyses the way it works and devises strategies to bring them down or change them.

Institutional racism addresses the question of power. White power is embedded in the above mentioned institutions. To confront white power institutional racism tackles the question of black power. How to empower black people, how to fight mental slavery, how to organize black people to build economic and political power in social movements and confront white power.

Institutional racism links the struggle against racism to the struggle to decolonize the world. Racism is framed in the context of colonialism and its legacy.

Everyday racism takes the individual experience as the basis for its analysis. Therefore it limits its policy towards individuals and does not address the problem of institutional racism, white power and black empowerment. Its main focus is convincing white people to open their eyes for covert racism and acknowledge that it is there. Its strategy is to promoting non-racist interaction between individuals.

Essed provides a list of problems that need to be tackled.

Here is the list[28]. As you can see the overwhelming majority addresses white people and what they need to do to change their attitude. It is not about black empowerment and how to build power to forces changes.



  1. Cognitive detachment

– withdrawing altogether

– lack of responsibility for race relations

– Ignoring the problem of racism

  1. Whitecentrism

– Whites as the norm group

– Passive tolerance

– Tokenism

– To define one black as the good exception

  1. Obstacles impeding equal participation

– Barring

– Avoiding or withdrawing from social contact

– Ignoring

– Failing to facilitate black participation

– Discouragement

– Not acknowledging contributions/qualification

– Inflexibility/additional requirements

– To give less/secondary facilities

– Excluding from position of authority

– Reserving menial work for blacks

– To lower the standards

– To withhold relevant information

– Deception

– To fire



  1. Denigration of perspective/personality

– To attribute unreliability

– Attributing oversensitivity

– To pathologize

  1. Cultural denigration

– To define as uncivilized

– To define or treat as backward

– To attribute Happy-go-lucky mentality

– To attribute language deficiency

– To attribute laziness

– To attribute insensitivity

  1. Biological/cultural denigration

– Criminalization

– Underestimation

– To define as overly fertile

  1. Biological denigration

– Race purism

– To attribute sexual pathology



  1. Denial of racism

– Failing to take a stand against racism

– Reluctance to deal with racism

– Refusing to admit racism

– Anger against blacks who point out racism

– Over-friendliness

– Claiming to mean well

– Self-pity/backlash

– Pveremphhasizing black against black conflict

– Acknowledging only extreme racism

  1. Management of ethnic difference

– Overemphasis on difference

– Majority rule

– Ethnization of jobs/tasks

– Cultural non-recognition’

– Rejection of ‘ethnic’ behavior

– Mistrusting/unity among blacks

– Fragmentation

– Ethnic registration

  1. Pacification

– Patronizing

– Expressing gratitude

– To keep close control

– To give pity/charity

– Creating/reinforcing dependence

  1. Denial of dignity

– Humiliation

– Belittlement

  1. Intimidation

-Physical violence

– Sexual harassment

– Petty harassment

– Rudeness

– Ridicule/jokers/racist talk

– Name calling and verbal threats

– Authoritarian behavior

  1. Retaliation

– Resentment

– Opposing/punishing assertiveness

– Other

The theory of everyday racism presents itself as a new analysis of racism. In fact, it is an old analysis that has been propagated since the days of slavery by black people who are colonized in their mind and have learned to wait for the white men and women to acknowledge their everyday racism in order to change society.

[1] First in her dissertation: Essed, Ph. (1989): Understanding everyday racism. An interdisciplinary theory and analysis of the experiences of black women. Diss. University of Amsterdam. Amsterdam. Later she developed it further in: Essed, Ph. (1991): Understanding Everyday Racism. An Interdisciplinary Theory. Sage Publications. Newbury Park.

[2] Essed, Ph. (1991), p. vii.

[3] Idem, p. 1.

[4] Idem, p. 8.

[5] Carmichael, S. and Hamilton, Ch. (1967): Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America. Vintage Books. New York.

[6] Idem, p. 3-4.

[7] Idem, p. 4.

[8] Idem.

[9] Idem, p. 5.

[10] Carmichael, S. and Hamilton, Ch. (1967), p. 5.

[11] Idem, p. 6.

[12] Essed, Ph. (1989), p. 48-49.

[13] Essed, Ph. (1989), p. 69.

[14] Idem.

[15] Idem.

[16] Idem.

[17] Essed, Ph. (1991), p. 294.

[18] Idem, p. 2.

[19] Idem, p. vii.

[20] Idem, p. 7.

[21] Idem, p. 288.

[22] Idem, p. 5.

[23] Essed, Ph. (1991), p. vii.

[24] Idem, p. viii.

[25] Essed, Ph. (1989), p. 60-61.

[26] Idem, p. 65.

[27] Idem, p. 64.

[28] Idem, p. 133a-b.