Workshop 6 - Stopping racism early on

Europe, we have a problem. Recent studies paint a rather bleak picture of our willingness to deal with immigration in a positive way. Indeed, racist sentiments and hate crimes seem to grow right along with the number of people seeking refuge on our continent. What can we do about this dynamic? What role should citizenship education play in countering it?

You can't have your cake and eat it, too

Rainer Münz, head of Research and Knowledge at ERSTE Group and fellow at the Hamburg Institute of International Economics (HWWI), doesn't pretend there are easy answers to these questions. However, in his opening remarks Münz proposes one way of dealing with anti-immigrant sentiments in Europe, re-joining two sides of a narrative that too often is argued in a one-sided way: You cannot benefit from immigrant workers on the one hand - like care givers from Eastern Europe - but on the other hand argue for an end to free movement of labour. Citizenship education, he urges, should focus on making people realize their self-contradictory mindset and guide them towards transfering the positive individual experience they have with immigrants to a more positive general view on immigration.

School's never out!

Ioannis Dimitrakopoulos, head of the Equality and Citizens' Rights department at the European Union's Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), prefers an institutional approach: As one of the earliest and most influential places of organized societal interaction, schools should be our main target in preventing racism from manifesting in the first place. Formal education, he says, can take on the task of preventing feelings of hate towards "the other" - the earlier the better. The extent to which school administration and teachers have prioritized education against racism and xenophobia so far, isn't sufficient by a long shot. Studies show how young members of ethnic minorities are often confronted with racist discrimination early on in their educational careers. Schools simply cannot be ignored as the most obvious partner in fostering a climate of respect.

We cannot afford being late

Workshop participants agree with Dimitrakopoulos: We almost cannot start too early with Human Rights education and practicing empathetic thinking. Empirical data show: xenophobic attitutes can settle early on in a child's socialization but they are by no means there from the beginning. What can citizenship educators draw from this insight? We not only have to change the curricula of primary schools to include conflict and diversity training. Other influential social settings like family, peers and the media have to be taken into account as well.

Should we rely on government or civil society?

How can citizenship educators best offer their services to this range of societal groups? First, they need the material resources necessary, workshop participants conclude in their recommendations. Long-term government funding for citizenship education and a reliable legal framework are the most obvious conditions to be established. But in order to integrate into our hate-prevention strategy those social groups that are outside of the formal educational sector, civil society needs to step up as well. Media, organized religion and community leaders need to refrain from using anti-immigrant sentiment and fear of social decline to rally support for their respective missions. If we want to take conflict prevention seriously, there is no societal group that doesn't have to take on its responsibility in countering racism and xenophobia.

Social Exclusion
Conference Day: 

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