Long invisible, Afro-Czechs, one of the smallest communities in the Czech Republic, are gradually emerging and speaking their minds in public.
This post is the second in a two-part series looking at their struggle for recognition in the central European country. The first part can be read here.
While the Czech Republic is considered a safe and peaceful country, occupying the eighth top position in Vision of Humanity’s Global Peace Index, there are regular and documented instances of racism, mostly towards the Roma community, but also other minorities.
There have been few echoes of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) activism that has gone global — demonstrations have gathered few participants.
A notable exception was the spraying of a Winston Churchill statue in Prague with words describing him as a racist.
Czech-Angolan dancer and singer Madalena João. Photo by Lucie Baldé, used with permission.
Madalena João, a Czech citizen of African heritage, shared her experience of racism with Global Voices:
I read that the Czech Republic occupies the 8th place in a global rating of most peaceful countries. If this is true, it is a nice assessment, though sometimes it is hard to believe. It is cool to see that there are more of us, as we are called, ‘people of color’ who work, create, sing, rap, write, or are somehow visible. I think we have a home here, and we want to feel safe here. I am more concerned with my son, as he has experienced racist comments. This comes from families and depends on how parents raise their kids.
Obonete Ubam. Photo by Filip Noubel, used with permission
Obonete Ubam, who coined the term Afro-Czech, has his own explanation for what he describes as a resurgence of racism in his home country:
For Czech society, accepting that a non-white person can be Czech is too unusual and often not digestible. We are still the target of stereotypes and antipathy. This is related to non-accepting or hate discourses of the past few years initiated by the migrant crisis. The tendency to resist foreign influences demonstrates our inferiority complex as a nation: our independence was often denied and carriers of foreign elements came here for personal benefits.
There is a glass-ceiling issue here: you start asking yourself, how far can I go before I hit it? Where exactly is this point in your career that you won’t cross, because as a non-white person, you shouldn’t?
Maybe we are just living in a time that is not very favorable to us. If history ever taught us anything, it is about the fact that we all go through ups and downs. The most significant centers of human civilization have moved across centuries from continent to continent. Africa, Asia and Arabia were at some point the center of the world. Today it is Western civilization, but nothing is eternal.
According to Martin Kříž, globalization can partly explain racism in the Czech Republic:
Globalization works fine mostly for urban youth and business circles. The fact that the global world is getting more integrated and that more foreigners move to the Czech Republic does not bring any joy to middle-aged people from regions on the margins of the country, as from their perspective, globalization is seen as the reason for less job opportunities and stress due to change. We shouldn’t be surprised then, that they express racism or xenophobia.
For the Roma community, however, the BLM movement offers a way to bring back conversations about anti-Roma racism in the mainstream. Kříž notes:
In the US it is indisputable that African Americans often have fewer chances to obtain good education and good jobs despite their efforts. In the Czech context, there is a parallel with the Roma community, but that is a rather different case.
N.B. The Roma online magazine Romea is regularly covering the BLM issue, and recently reported on a June 16 BLM demonstration that took place in Prague.