Intolerance and Discrimination in Europe and the US (Part III)

In my previous two posts, I laid out examples of problems regarding race and discrimination in both Europe and the US.  With this final post, I want to address Spencer Boyer’s claim that “the United States has an important story to tell European audiences and many best practices to share.”  If the US suffers from similar problems as our friends across the Atlantic, then what can we teach them?  What kinds of action have Americans taken here in the US, that Europeans could adopt for their own situation?  Based on what I have read about the topics and my own observations as a teacher, I conclude that there are two key solutions to tackling intolerance and discrimination: 1) the need for a broadly popular, bottom-up movement, and 2) education about global regions and culture.

The first topic that needs to be addressed is where the proposal for change comes from.  As I mentioned in Part I of this series, the narrator of the piece on racism in soccer brought up an important point about how Europe has not experienced a movement similar to the US Civil Rights movement.  Until the people of Europe unite for a bottom-up movement, then I’m not sure how effective EU policy will be.  Additionally, citizens need to support national and EU policies aimed at fighting discrimination.  In a rare moment of the stars aligning in my favor, on August 27, Eurobarometer tweeted about Special Survey 393, “Discrimination in the EU in 2012.”  (The full report is 238 pages, so I would recommend reading the Summary, which is only 30 pages.)  One of the sections of the Summary discusses “effectiveness of efforts made in the Member States to fight all forms of discrimination.” (p.12)  We see that “31% of Europeans say that the efforts made in their country are not effective (giving a score from 1 to 4 on a scale from 1 to 10), while 37% consider the efforts to be moderately effective (points 5 and 6 on the scale) and 22% believe the efforts made are very effective (points 7 to 10 on the scale)11. The average score is 5.1.”  It seems to me that when they report scores of 5 and 6 as “moderately effective,” they are trying to paint a better picture than the reality.  As a teacher, a score of 5 or 6 out of 10 is failing or on the verge of failing.  While the report informative to learn about Europeans perceptions of types of discrimination and the causes, I was surprised that there were no questions about possible solutions.  Since the EU is aware of discrimination and the problems it causes, why not include public opinion about solutions in the report?

So what would a bottom-up movement look like?  What popped into my mind was something like a European Citizens’ Initiative.  Looking at the requirements, we see that proposed initiatives must have the support of a minimum of 1 million EU citizens from at least 7 Member States.  This seems to be the best option for the beginning of a Europe-wide Civil Rights movement.  The goal of an ECI is to have the European Commission propose legislation; therefore, the organizers would have to have a clear sense of their goals.  The obvious examples of American legislation designed to tackle discrimination are the Civil Rights Acts.  Let’s say that the ECI receives the support of 2 million citizens; that’s a big people’s movement.  The problem, however, is that the population of the EU is over 500 million.  This means that our hypothetical initiative would need to receive much, much more support, if the population is going to “buy into” the legislation.  A movement like this would have to receive broad support in ALL 28 Member States.

I think another area of importance in the fight against discrimination and intolerance is education.  People need to be taught beginning from an early age to be tolerant of cultures and beliefs other than their own.  The obvious place for such learning is in the schools.  Classes about world history, geography, religion, etc. need to have a place in every curriculum.  In my discussions with German friends and what I observed during a school exchange, it seems that European schools already offer such classes.  Schools might also want to consider offering clubs for minority students where they can meet to discuss issues they face at the school.  Of course, universities and colleges should also have programs devoted to teaching and researching issues of race and diversity.  In addition to departments devoted to global regions and religions, the University of Wisconsin for example, has the following departments which focus on minority populations in the US: Afro-American Studies, American Indian Studies, Asian American Studies, and Chican@ and Latin@ Studies.  In checking the universities in the states bordering Wisconsin (Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and Michigan), I learned that all of them have similar departments or offer degrees or certificates in similar areas of study.  Since my knowledge of European languages limited to conversational German, I took a look at a few universities in the UK.  If I understood the websites properly (as the university systems and terms are different here and there), then it appears that universities in Europe already have departments devoted to the study of global regions and religions.  Finally, as student populations on both sides of the Atlantic become more diverse, teachers must undergo training as well.  For example, in the past, the school district in which I work has paid consultants to come in and help lead staff training on racial diversity.

To conclude, what, if anything, can our friends in Europe learn from us when it comes to fighting intolerance and discrimination?  The US is undergoing its own issues dealing with immigration, so I don’t think Europe can learn from us there.  We also still have problems dealing with ethnic diversity.  Since it appears that Europeans have grasped the importance of education in solving these problems (although let’s face it, one can always try to do more in this area), then it seems that the big lesson that the US can offer is the importance of movements akin to our Civil Rights movement.

Have I missed anything?  American readers- are there any other solutions or lessons we can offer to Europeans?  European readers- is there anything the US can offer, or should  the solutions come from within?

Thanks for reading.

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