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Government policies ‘overlook’ racism, says VUB researcher

16:30 24/11/2020
From Flanders Today

Research carried out by Laura Westerveen of Vrij Universiteit Brussels’ Institute for European studies reveals that Belgian and German governments ignore structural racism when setting policy. Instead, policy texts put the blame on individuals themselves.

Dr Westerveen looked at how the gap in educational and labour market performance between people with a migration background and people without is addressed in Belgian and German policies. What she found is that policy texts refer to inequalities in terms of individual shortcomings, such as insufficient language skills or a lack of qualifications.

“Policy discourse pays little attention to structural causes of ethno-racial inequality, such as racism,” says Westerveen. “This is the kind of racism that, regardless of the intentions of individuals, is present in our economic, political and educational systems and can affect the opportunities of migrants and minorities. By focusing on individual deficits, the government shifts the responsibility for inequalities to migrant and minority groups themselves.”

Westerveen identified the main points in 176 official education and employment policy plans from 2000 to 2017. The plans come from federal and regional authorities in Belgium and Germany.

She examined statements related to the cause of ethno-racial inequality in education and on the labour market, and what solutions are proposed – but also whose responsibility it is considered to be.

She found that the qualities of people with migrant backgrounds are stated as the problem and that racism and discrimination are almost entirely overlooked. This framing is also reflected in the proposed policy solutions. Here, too, the focus is on language classes and individual competences, and rarely on concrete anti-discrimination measures.

“Presumably the neoliberal tendency in Europe plays a role in this,” she says, “in which many essentially structural problems are reduced to individual problems, which are then linked to migration background.”

According to Westerveen, there are differences in the discourses depending on the region. “The biggest difference can be found in Belgium,” she says. “The Flemish discourse points above all to language deficits of people with a migration background. In Francophone Belgium, on the other hand, there is a colour-blind discourse that emphasises socio-economic inequality instead of ethno-racial inequality.”

Photo ©Dirk Waem/BELGA

Written by Flanders Today