Falling back into a forgotten past: Racism at university

By Hendrik Jaschob

It is a slightly sunny day at the Faculty of Arts and Social Science in Maastricht (FASoS). The first sensations of spring arise and a certain easiness returns on people’s faces. It seems that the dark season of winter slowly gives way. The university backyard blossoms of spring vibes. All at a sudden, however, something happens which you would not expect at a university campus. Next to a group of students that enjoy their lunch, another student is complaining about the massive workload which its study brings him. At this very moment, this student carelessly reveals in his conversation that he would not be a “nigger”. He immediately intends to unsay what he just said, but it is too late. This sentence leaves a vacuum of unconsciousness behind.
What does such a saying mean? How can such form of discrimination be used at a university which emphasises on its international outlook? In a great variety of rankings, the University of Maastricht is well-recognised as one of the most international universities in the world, connecting students of all kinds of colour and ethnicities. It is troublesome that such a word is being used with such carelessness, regarding its meaning of slavery, colonialism, oppression and harassment in the past and even today. In a recent non-representative survey, as the German online magazine Bento reports, the students committee of the University of Cologne, Germany, reached out questions to more than 1600 students about racism. Although their findings are not representative, the results would be horrific in terms of racist and nationalist thinking among students. Obviously, there is no correlation between the incident at FASoS and the student survey in Cologne. Nonetheless, it gives an impression of the deep manifestation racist thinking in European society, even among students.
With regards to the rising danger of right-wing movements all over Europe, it is even more troublesome that racist thinking is also reflected among students. What is more is that populism is on the rise all over the globe, while the 21st century will challenge humanity in a sense that has never known before and which actually requires global solutions and cooperation. We experience a time of increasing global instability which is underlined by global leaders who constantly add oil to the flames such as the potential Republican nominee for the presidential election, Donald Trump who generalises entire social groups as criminals and greatest threat for the future of the United States. But this type of populism is not only limited to the election campaign in the United States. Populism is also on the rise in Western Europe, as Le Front National and Pegida show. It is on the rise in Russia, Hungary, Poland, and also in the global South. The effects of this form of populism are increasingly sensible. The mounting number of burning refugee homes all over Europa and lockdown of borders are influenced by this brinkmanship. Furthermore, it strongly fuels stereotyped thinking. No matter, if white against black, or black against white. No matter, if Christians against Muslims, or Muslims against Christians. One could endlessly add more stereotypes to this list.
Therefore, it would be too dreamy to think that racism has ever disappeared. Stereotypes, xenophobia and racism also exist in a growing global world with more knowledge about different cultures than ever before. Hence, it is worthwhile to remember a phrase that Nelson Mandela, first Black-South African president, once coined when he said that racism would be the blight in human conscience. The incidence at FASoS only shows that the struggle to fight for a world without racist thinking still continues and reminds us of not falling into bygone times of concealment.

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