European racism is less documented than American racism. Part of the reason is that Europe, unlike the States, is a relatively homogeneous society. Non-European immigrants to Europe are no more than three generations there, and so Europe’s history of racism, outside of starting the slave trade and colonialism, is short and few.
However, if American racism is petty, then European racism appears to be the opposite. This is not necessarily a good thing. In many ways, European racism is similar to right wing racism in the U.S. It’s racism that is cloaked and pushed in the disguise of practicality and common sense. Like right wing Americans, European racists accuse white anti-racists of being “guilty whites” or “guilty white liberals.” They often claim to be colorblind and don’t see racism where there is racism, but do see racism that they perceive to be against them (whites).
Example 1: European soccer matches. The well-documented cases of soccer fans tossing banana peels at black players and chanting monkey chants in Spain and Italy are not seen as racism, but hooliganism.
In Britain and Holland, the respective popularity of Golliwog dolls and the Zwarte Piet festival, are both defended as cultural and harmless, and dissenters are dismissed as “guilty whites” or “crybabies who see racism in everything.”
This is despite the fact that Golliwogs and Zwarte Piet are both based on 19th century American Minstrel shows, in which white performers, caricaturing black people, paint their skin jet black, wear large prosthetic red lips, sing and dance and speak in illiterate, broken English. In other words–they’re based on harmful stereotypes. What’s at stake is never simply the self-esteem of blacks, and their children, but the safety of blacks.
Often, racist caricatures deemed “harmless” by whites, tend to turn into insults and catalysts for violence against the mocked party. So, naturally, golliwog became an ethnic slur against blacks in Britain. And then there’s the popular *children’s* song in Britain: Ten Little Niggers(later: Indians/soldiers), which also served as the basis of Agatha Christie’s novel of the same name: Ten Little Niggers (later changed to Ten Little Indians, and also Then There was None).
Ten little Soldier boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were nine.
Nine little Soldier boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight.
Eight little Soldier boys traveling in Devon;
One said he’d stay there and then there were seven.
Seven little Soldier boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.
Six little Soldier boys playing with a hive;
A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.
Five little Soldier boys going in for law;
One got in Chancery and then there were four.
Four little Soldier boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.
Three little Soldier boys walking in the zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were two.
Two Little Soldier boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was one.
One little Soldier boy left all alone;
He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.
Also noted, is how the cover of the novel published in the 1930s, (now banned) shows a lynched golliwog. The history of lynching in the American south is well-documented, so the argument that it’s not harmful is troublesome. But, this is European racism–denial. Racism is acceptable to Europeans who see themselves as “less” petty when it comes to racism. In many ways they are less petty (or picky), but like the problem with “colorblindness” the non-petty nature of European racism often means tolerance of racism, and the denial of wrong.