The Language of Mutual Transformation

– Words matter, stated Dirk Ficca, director of A World of Neighbours Practitioners Network as he opened the zoomcast on the way we talk about each other in the public discourse and how it creates social reality and structures.

First to speak was Mujo Halilovic, manager of The Roma Information and Knowledge Centre in Malmö, Sweden. He described how anti-Gypsyism is found on an individual, structural and discursive level. Focusing on the discourse, Halilovic, said negative things uttered about Roma in Europe are never questioned.

One of the methods the Roma Information and Knowledge Centre use to change the negative discourse is to bring people together.

– You have to do it together. You need to speak openly to each other. Discursive change makes it possible to see things in a new way and to feel and speak in new ways, he said.

Felix Unogwu, project leader at Board of Education, Malmö municipality, works with young people. Some of them have come to Sweden as refugees themselves, some are born in Seden to immigrants. He described how they time after another hear stories about immigrants being lazy, liars, criminals and rapists.

– After a while you begin to internalize all what you hear: Maybe this is what you are? And you pass it on to your children. What happens when you tell people they are worth nothing? said Felix and answered himself:

– They become wolves.

Ulrich Schmiedel, Deputy Director of Edinburgh’s Centre for Theology and Public Issues, responded to the two previous speakers and agreed institutional racism has to be addressed to see how deeply ingrained racism is in how our societies work.

– If we know how the language of racism works, we can also see what we can do against it, he said and presented the three steps that Cultural Theorist Stuart Hall has used to describe the way racism evolves.

  1. Categorization. We put people in categories based on characteristics. (All people of dark/white skin.)
  2. Racialization. Whatever the characteristic, it is biologized. (With one characteristic, others follow. People with dark skin always behave this way.)
  3. Hierarchy. (Us versus them. People with this skin colour can do this better.)

– The third step is the really dangerous moment.

As Felix Unogwu explained, young people being “othered” in Sweden, and Europe, are taken up and given a value by people in more violent extremist circles.

Ulrich Schmiedel agrees that if you are “othered” in a racist way, your response will be radicalization, but he also pointed out racism does need a radical response.

– It is a tricky term, we almost assume it is something bad immediately. But it is more a question of how are we radical? What is our extremism? With Martin Luther King you speak of an extremism of love, of non-violence. That is a response to racism that we would want to foster.

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