Being Black in the EU FRA opinions

The following FRA opinions build on the findings of the EU-MIDIS II survey relating to respondents of African descent. The opinions are addressed to EU and national-level policymakers to assist them in developing effective and targeted measures to combat racial discrimination, racism and xenophobia.

The opinions are based on evidence generated by the survey and the current EU legal framework, including:

  • the Racial Equality Directive (2000/43/EC),
  • the Framework Decision on racism and xenophobia (2008/913/JHA), and
  • the Victims’ Rights Directive (2012/29/EU).

Racist harassment and violence are common occurrences

Significant proportions of people of African descent experience racist harassment and racist violence in the 12 countries surveyed, including at the hands of the police. Very few report such incidents to any authority or body.

One third of respondents (30 %) say they experienced racist harassment in the five years before the survey; one fifth (21 %) say they did so during the 12 months preceding the survey. Yet only 14 % of victims of racist harassment reported the most recent such incident to any authority. Experiences of racist harassment most commonly involve offensive non-verbal cues (22 %) or offensive or threatening comments (21 %), followed by threats of violence (8 %).

Concerning racist violence, 5 % of respondents say they experienced a racist attack in the five years before the survey; 3 % say they did so during the 12 months before the survey. However, two thirds (64 %) of victims of racist violence, as well as a majority (63 %) of victims of racist physical attacks by police officers, did not report the most recent incident to any organisation – either because they felt reporting it would not change anything (34 %) or because victims do not trust or are afraid of the police (28 %).

Whereas most victims (61 %) do not know the perpetrators, they generally identify them as not having a minority background (65 %). Some 38 % of victims identified perpetrators as having a minority ethnic background other than their own. One in 10 (11 %) of those who experienced racist violence say that a law enforcement officer was the perpetrator.

The Framework Decision on racism and xenophobia requires bias motivation to be considered an aggravating circumstance or taken into consideration by the courts in the determination of the penalties imposed on offenders (Article 4). The Victims’ Rights Directive requires that victims of hate crime receive an individual assessment to identify their specific protection needs (Article 22). The full implementation of EU law entails encouraging victims to report racist offences to the police, as well as ensuring that the police properly record the racist motivation at the time of reporting. Doing so will not only support the investigation and prosecution of racist crime, but will also provide the basis for more effective victim support.

In this respect, it is encouraging that Member States agreed on three sets of key guiding principles that relate to hate crime and victim support in 2017, in the framework of the EU High Level Group on combating racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance. These sets of principles relate to hate crime training for law enforcement and criminal justice authorities; to improving the recording of hate crime by law enforcement authorities; and to ensuring justice, protection and support for victims of hate crime and hate speech. In 2018, FRA and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) began working with EU Member States to put into practice the guiding principles on improving recording of hate crime.

Police stops are often experienced as racial profiling

Large numbers of people of African descent who are stopped by the police say they experience racial profiling, an unlawful practice that undermines their trust in law enforcement authorities.

One quarter (24 %) of all persons of African descent surveyed were stopped by the police in the five years before the survey. Among these, four in 10 characterised the most recent stop as racial profiling (41 %). Another one in 10 respondents (11 %) were stopped by the police in the 12 months before the survey, with four in 10 among them characterising the last stop as racial profiling (44 %). Men are three times more likely to be stopped (22 %) than women (7 %), and they are more likely to consider the most recent stop as racial profiling (44 %) compared to women (34 %).

Overall, respondents rate their trust in the police at 6.3 on a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 means ‘no trust at all’ and 10 indicates ‘complete trust’. The lowest average level of trust in the police is found among respondents who consider the most recent police stop they experienced as racial profiling (4.8).

Profiling involves categorising individuals according to personal characteristics, which can include racial or ethnic origin, skin colour, religion or nationality. For more on profiling, see FRA’s guide on Preventing unlawful profiling today and in the future (to be published in December 2018). The practice is commonly and legitimately used by the police to prevent, investigate and prosecute criminal offences. However, racial profiling is discriminatory and unlawful. Such profiling is defined as the “use by police, with no objective and reasonable justification, of grounds such as race, colour, language, religion, nationality or national or ethnic origin in control, surveillance or investigation activities”, as outlined in General Policy Recommendation N°11 of the Council of Europe Commission against Racism and Intolerance.

Racial discrimination is a reality in all areas of life

People of African descent regularly feel discriminated against in many areas of life, whether on the basis of skin colour, ethnic origin or religion. Very few report discrimination they experience to any organisation, despite knowing of equality bodies and antidiscrimination law.

Overall, four in 10 respondents (39 %) felt racially discriminated against in the five years before the survey; one in four (24 %) did so in the 12 months preceding the survey. One quarter of respondents (27 %) identify their skin colour as the main reason for experiencing discrimination when looking for work, at work, in education or in housing in the five years preceding the survey. One fifth (19 %) identify their ethnic origin as the main ground of discrimination in these areas of life, and another 5 % their religion or beliefs. Those who wear traditional religious clothing in public experience higher levels of discrimination on the ground of religion compared to respondents who do not wear such clothing in public (12 % vs. 3 %). Men are particularly affected (men: 17 %; women: 9 %).

One in six respondents (16 %) who felt racially discriminated against reported or made a complaint about the most recent incident to any organisation or body. The most common reasons for not reporting are the belief that nothing would change as a result (ranging from 45 % when trying to use public transport to 16 % when in contact with school authorities as a parent); because the incident is not worth reporting (ranging from 40 % in education and in a restaurant or bar to 24 % when looking for work and in access to housing); or because they had no proof of having been discriminated against (ranging from 28 % in access to housing to 6 % when in contact with school authorities as a parent). Still, half of all respondents know of at least one equality body in the country where they live (46 %), and three-quarters are aware of national antidiscrimination legislation (79 %).

In light of this evidence, it can be noted that the Racial Equality Directive stipulates that “the principle of equal treatment shall not prevent any Member State from maintaining or adopting specific measures to prevent or compensate for disadvantages linked to racial or ethnic origin” (Article 5). The directive also establishes bodies for the promotion of equal treatment tasked with providing assistance to victims of discrimination, conducting research on discrimination, and making recommendations on how to address discrimination.

In this regard, it is encouraging that the European Commission issued a recommendation on standards for equality bodies in June 2018. These standards relate to the mandates of equality bodies, their independence and effectiveness, as well as to their coordination and cooperation with other bodies and authorities. It is also encouraging that the EU High Level Group on Non-Discrimination, Equality and Diversity has, in October 2018, endorsed Guidelines on improving the collection and use of equality data, through a process facilitated by FRA.

Labour market participation – not a level playing field

The survey findings on labour market participation are particularly striking, showing that people of African descent are often engaged in low quality employment that does not correspond to their level of education. The paid work rate among those with a tertiary degree is generally lower than that of the general population.

One quarter of respondents of African descent work in elementary occupations (26 %), which usually consist of manual work involving physical effort. Twice as many respondents with tertiary education (9 %) are employed in elementary occupations than members of the general population with that educational level (5 %).

These findings suggest unequal opportunities in labour market participation among persons of African descent, which could point to discrimination. Against this backdrop, it can be noted that the European Pillar of Social Rights is founded on the principles of equal opportunities and access to the labour market, regardless of racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief. The third principle under the pillar relates to fostering equal opportunities for under-represented groups.

Skin colour affects access to adequate housing

The survey findings on housing are also particularly remarkable, showing that persons of African descent experience racial discrimination in access to private and public housing to a great extent. Many also face precarious living conditions, which can exacerbate social exclusion.

Many respondents say they were prevented from renting accommodation by a private landlord because of their racial or ethnic origin (14 %). Some experienced this in municipal or social housing (6 %). Respondents face a particular risk of housing exclusion: only 15 % own their dwelling, compared to 70 % of the general population.

Nearly half of the respondents live in overcrowded housing (45 %), compared to 17 % of the general population in the EU. Moreover, one tenth of respondents (12 %) live in conditions of severe housing deprivation. This entails living in overcrowded dwellings with at least one of the following characteristics: a leaking roof; rot in the walls or windows; no bath/shower and no indoor toilet; or the dwelling being too dark.

The majority of respondents (55 %) have a household income below the at-risk-of-poverty threshold after social transfers in the country where they live. One in 10 (13 %) have great difficulties in making ends meet.

These findings need to be read against the commitment of the EU and its Member States to combat exclusion, including in housing. It can be noted that the European Pillar of Social Rights foresees access to social housing or housing assistance of good quality for those in need. The pillar’s implementation and Member States’ progress in this regard will be monitored through the Open Method of Coordination in the Social Protection Committee and supported by Union Funds, including the European Fund for Strategic Investments for social housing investments, the European Regional Development Fund for housing infrastructure, and the European Social Fund for social services.