on the mechanisms of a judgmental categorisation of people
Mohamed Wa Baile is a commuter: as a documentalist he commutes daily between Bern and the ETH in Zurich. He is married to a Swiss woman and has two children. He is committed to the “Fachkommission für Integration“ (expert body for integration) based in the city of Bern and is one of those idealist-min- ded Swiss people, who we are all happy about.
…. by Fredi Lerch, in “Journal B“
Mohamed Wa Baile does not sell drugs. The born Kenian studied English Literature at the University of Freiburg, and Islamic Studies at the University of Bern. He is currently working as a documentalist at the ETH in Zurich. But this becomes rather unimportant. Whoever meets him on the street does not see an academic, but a dark-skinned person and thus a potential criminal.
…. by Fabian Christl, in „Der Bund“
I am Swiss, father of two children, live in Bern and work as a librarian. I was part of the expert body for Integration of the city of Bern and today I am a member in a support group to realise the municipal acti- on plan “Integration konkret“ (integration made speci c).
… by Mohamed Wa Baile in the “Bulletin solidarité sans frontières“
Those three quotes are all at the beginning of a text which portrays the case of Mohamed Wa Baile1 – the way he is suddenly stopped by the police in the middle of the stream of commuters at the Zurich train station to have his documents checked. He refuses to state his personal data, respectively to show his docu- ments and as a result gets reported. He has faced such random stop-and-search operations without any speci c occasion or rea- sonable suspicion of a crime dozens of times already. It is obvious that he was shed out of the masses from the main station by the police as the only one with dark skin. This practice of identity checks is called “racial pro ling“. They are done solely based on physical appearances like skin tone, foreign look or religious clo- thing. Mohamed Wa Baile lodged an appeal against the ne he got and so in November there was a trial at the district court in Zurich — a trial which the defendant, together with a solidarity group2, made use of to raise the topic of “Racial Profiling“ and to speak up on those random and racist police controls.
But this should not be the topic here. What irritates me is actually what those rst couple of lines of all three accounts entail. That the checked person of darker skin is described with positive attributes and thus it is clear: this is a legalised and to be positively assessed black man. Why is that necessary? Would a racist practice be legitimate, if it was an immigrant without papers, a person applying for asylum, a welfare recipient or a drug dealer? Are there any such preconceptions behind those words and are the authors perpetuating them by making it clear that there are “others“ and that they do not want to include those “others“ in their campaign? Or is it just a strategy to raise sympathy in the audience so that at least someone will take notice of the mentioned subject matter and does not see themselves confronted with their own xenophobia?
The reason why I looked into such phrasings was a letter of an organisation which campaigns in solidarity for migrants. On the occasion of the eviction of Matthäuskirche3 the group started a campaign of defence of the sanctuary asylum. But about what really happened in the church and about the occupants and their requests the letters said next to nothing. Instead, there was a detailed report on a Chechen family from Kilchberg who was loo- king for sanctuary in a church and in the end had to leave Switzerland under the pressure of the public authorities. The letter read that the family of six was a hardship case, the father was tortured, their escape took several weeks, the family was well in- tegrated and a widely supported citizen’s initiative even campa- igned for the family to let them stay in Switzerland.
What does the accentuation of hardship case, torture and the scale of integration imply? Is it to illustrate that a deportation in this case would be a scandal and the Chechen family quali es for sanctuary? And why is the indignation only focused on the intrusion of the police in a church and their tough course of action against the protesters? Did the authors consciously refrain from reporting the occupants of Matthäuskirche and why is that? Is it because they don’t meet the criteria of mercifulness as much or because they do not af rm the middle-class world in the same way? All except one were young, healthy, strong, independent and courageous – everything else than in need for help or espe- cially worthy of protection. The only thing that they lacked were the proper papers. For me, this letter reproduced exactly the news coverage, in which there was not much more to read than the count of arrestees.
Later I have learnt more on the suit against Mohamed and the campaign of the alliance against racial pro ling. There again, I had this discomfort of something not beingquite right and it beca- me clearer and clearer why. The way Mohamed and the campaign of the alliance is being led, the lack of connec- tion to the current situation of refugees, who are looking for their future in Europe, is evident. The connec- tion to all those, who do not have a Swiss passport or any other documents they could show at an identity check by the police and so have to anticipate arrests, prison and deportation. The campaign is not consistent enough in lifting the borders between the included and the excluded but simply demands a shift of this border for some chosen individuals. Which will – at most – lead to some Swiss citizens „of colour“ who have managed to get on the side of the middle-class privileged. However, in a political struggle for the rights of those who are barred from most freedoms, one cannot simply ignore capitalist class relations, or even reproduce it without questio- ning its core principal. Because without naming those relations the structures in the background cannot be recognised. And, to me, without illustrating the background of racial pro ling, the improvement for all people concerned will stay a naive hope – hope and aspirations that deviates from the fact that identity checks by the police are more than racist selection.
At the Basel meeting on Racial Profiling I met R, a man „of colour“ from Haiti, and experienced, how he presented his si- tuation and his views very emotionally and erce, and how he concluded: The state, the police, the society are at war against black people, they terrorise, they torment and they offend them systematically – here in Switzerland, in Europe, in the US! I can follow that line of argument well and want to add that also at the xternal frontier of Europe, in Idomeni, in Como, on the Mediterranean sea, in Ceuta, and Melilla, as well as at the US-Mexi- can border there is war against migrants. And there is violence against the Maghrebi teenagers in the suburbs of Paris, too, and against the residents of slums of numerous Southern big cities – especially against those who do not want to endure it any lon- ger, who stand together and ght. As long as I cannot nd a bet- ter term, I will call it „class struggle“. In an interview with the WoZ4, Rasul O, living in Switzerland, puts it like this: „To call the police would be the last thing I ever did if I had a problem. The police only exists to protect the rich from the poor. And the blacker, the poorer – that is a global phenomenon. The problem lies beyond Raci- al Pro ling.“ Yes, it goes much deeper and the pro- blem is on a structural level. The criticism on Racial Pro ling however, is direc- ted rst and foremost at the selection due to physical appearances. This is not thorough enough. Becau- se neither are the police controls put into question nor is the state legitimacy criticised that, because of missing residency papers, people are imprisoned and deported. Thus the oppressive socie- tal mechanisms cannot be revealed with such a campaign.
To come back to the rst question, I notice that there is a lack of basic criticism on the structural relations – the relations, which are at the bottom of the categorisation and repression of migrants. Additionally, there is a lack of criticism on the struc- ture that enables exploitation, oppression, destruction of Lebensraum and one-sided enrichment and thus advance migration. I nd it striking, how defensive the SP, the Green Party, the Church, the WoZ, relief organisations, unions – to only mention a few – are acting, when the topic of Migration is raised. I doubt that this is only strategic. It is simply a try to prevent being vulnerable to the majority of opinions. Such a discrepancy between the humanistic idea of man and the reproduction of repressive structures has to have deeper sources. This discrepancy will be perpetuated as long as there is no conscious choice to factor in that migration is a battle about involvement and that, on the side of the privileged, privileges are being defended as much as pos- sible. As long as no one takes a rm stand and factors in that all privileges may fade, nothing will change these imagined phra- ses, because the perspective stays the wrong one.
Those phrases are also fed by the fact that our political, econo- mical and societal structure is routinely and without further reection assessed as positive. Moderate critique comes with the territory, as well as super cial suggestions for improvement. This results in time in a lack of awareness of that perspective — a perspective that always implies that our system is to be assessed as positive and thus needs to be preserved, even that other places in the world should aspire to copy this system. Simultaneously no one explicitly points out that our wealth and ful lled world only exists at the expense of a “third world“ and not everyone can be part of it. Thus, the result is selection. And this coercion of selection, or of defence of territory respectively, permeates every possible proposal for solution to overcome these migration dif- culties. This is especially true for the use of language, which I have tried to show with the chosen phrases above.
Solutions which come out of this are thus always solutions that are good for us, that t in our system, and make sense in our thought pattern. Such approaches have rarely anything to do with reality and the experience of a majority of migrants. Suggestively, people are not systematically excluded, devalued and categorised as illegitimate. The wish to help is in the forefront, to be humane, to create a fairer world and not the want to uncover violent structures or the readiness to refuse any cooperation with an exploiting, repressive system. Or in other words – there are also those circles that see themselves as progressive, open-min- ded and socially responsible that show no willingness let alone positive vision to overcome capitalist class relations. Because to do this, it rstly needs to be acknowledged that there is no legi- timacy for separating the world into excluded and included and moreover to enforce this separation and their correspondent ter- ritory respectively with violence and perpetuate it as well, while wares, capital, required resources and requested work force is moved around at will of the powerful. This however is exactly the violence of the current migration-regime working against subalterns. A regime which is the expression of the power rela- tions and that serves the protection of rich and satis ed Europe’s privileges. Which is why I conclude that we have to work on change, which will bring unconditionally legalised migration. What that would mean for a campaign on Racial Pro ling, is something we should further talk about.
While writing this I was consternated and realised how small this group of political activists is who generally criticise the migration-regime and other racist structures. And only in the discussion with the editorial team I have noticed my own temptation to complain about the ignorance of those „left circles“ whom I relied on to have a clear position of solidarity.