Meet The Young Women Fighting For Racial Justice In Europe
Groups across Europe are covering all bases of racial justice work and, behind the scenes, women are running the show.
In the months since George Floyd was killed by police officers in Minnesota, protests against police brutality have swept the globe, statues of individuals with ties to the slave trade have been toppled, and conversations about white privilege, systemic racism, and the crippling inequality that Black people face on a daily basis have been had in homes and mainstream media like never before.
But according to Google Trends, UK-based interest in the term “anti-racism” has decreased by more than two-thirds in comparison to the period between May 31 and June 6. Newsfeeds and the headlines that fill them have reverted to “normal,” and depending on whom you follow, the posts from friends family members may have done, too. Despite this, the work is still happening, as it was long before black squares populated Instagram. Initiatives and organisations across Europe are covering all bases of racial justice work, from supporting and advocating for Black people’s mental health where the systems in place are failing them, to campaigning in Germany for legal recognition that the N-word is a racist slur.
Behind many of these digital platforms and social media-led groups are women. Empowered to share knowledge and push for change, they work tirelessly, no matter the news agenda. Here, they speak to us about the climate they’ve found themselves in, the changes they’ve had to make, and the goals they continue to work towards.
Rose Frimpong — Hackney, London
Frimpong is the host of Two Two Podcast, and founder and director of the Black LGBTQIA+ Therapy Fund, which works to give queer Black people access to mental health support.
“Before I started the Black LGBTQIA+ Therapy Fund, I was struggling mentally to cope with the effects of the pandemic — the loss of life, no longer having a stable routine, losing my offline social life. The fund has given me purpose to get up in the morning and encouraged me to restart my routine again. We’re in the process of becoming a registered charity; that’s the first goal. After that, I want to help 100 Black queer people a year by giving them access to therapy through our funding and workshops across the UK.
"When we released application forms for people to apply for funds, we saw responses from people living in New Zealand, Ghana, Berlin, and America — in 10 years time, I would love to have branches internationally, especially in parts of the world where it is extremely hard to live as a queer person.”
Charlotte Nzimiro, 27 — Hamburg, Germany
Nzimiro is a journalist and founder of Black Power Germany, an education, motivation, and empowerment community for Black people. She also founded The N-Word Petition, which campaigns for legal recognition that the N-word is racist.
“Like Huey Newton said: 'Black Power is giving power to the people who have not had the power to determine their destiny.' Germany has got a huge problem with acknowledging racism against Black people and people of colour. I felt like people don't see us, not as humans, not our colour, and therefore not our struggle. I was so tired of it, tired of feeling hopeless and that nothing will change. So I created a space where Black people feel seen, understood, where they have a safe space and can get some knowledge and empowerment as well.
"[Racial justice work] feels less lonely [now]. The video of George Floyd triggered something in people worldwide. Unfortunately yet another Black person had to die to make people realise what is going on — I wish they would have listened sooner.
"In the beginning, I was scared that all the support and media attention would vanish after a few weeks, but that wasn't the case. For the first time, I feel hope, but I also know, that there is still a lot of work to do until Black people are treated as equal human beings.”
Agnes Mwakatuma, 26, And Annie Nash, 29 — London, England
Mwakatuma and Nash have experience working in the third sector and mental health, respectively. They are the co-founders of Black Minds Matter, a charitable organisation connecting Black people with free, professional mental health support across the UK.
“Now more than ever there’s a sense of unity among people around the world. The growing knowledge about racial injustice, police brutality, and systematic racism is forcing individuals with privilege to speak up on behalf of marginalised groups. No one can simply have the luxury of not speaking up, as it is becoming more apparent how much injustice still exists in the world and how it is every white person’s responsibility to apply anti-racist practices to their daily life moving forward.
"We put together Black Minds Matter after noticing the mental health of people around us deteriorate at an alarming rate. Issues such as COVID-19 and the murder of Black people in America brought out so many different emotions within the Black community. We’re working on building an organisation that will change the face of Black mental health; we want normalise therapy within the Black community, encouraging people to seek out effective mental health treatment during the early stages of a mental illness.”
Abril Muvumbi, 23 — Imola, Italy
Muvumbi is running for council in Imola, Bologna, and co-founded #ImStillAlive, an online community remembering the victims of racist violence, with her friend Victoria Oluboyo.
“The video of George Floyd was really hard to watch. I felt like I just wanted to do something. While I was thinking what was the best thing to do, Victoria [Oluboyo] called me and we decided to start the #ImStillAlive campaign. We wanted to remember all the victims of systemic racism in the U.S. and in Europe. Most of all, we wanted people to see that racism isn’t just in the USA, it’s also here.
"Work on racial justice is different [now] than before because it’s more immediate. I can launch a campaign today through social media and the next day everyone in the world can see it and be part of it. The connection among people is faster, but at the same time, it doesn’t last. We managed to shine a light on the problem of our community for like, one month — and then everything stopped.”
Saha, 27 — Brussels, Belgium
Saha is an industrial safety engineer born in Paris, France. She is the founder of Moi Fille D'Immigrés (translates to "Me Daughter of Immigrants"), an Instagram account committed to sharing the stories of immigrants.
“Today, we have access to a lot of information so pretty much anyone can share their story. I followed [racial justice] accounts from Black people in the U.S. and the UK, but I didn’t really see the equivalent in France. I think it is important to hold that attention and focus on what has been going on for years in order to improve our future.
"I hope that Moi Fille D’Immigrés can start discussions, even if it’s just one person reading my work and reflecting or sharing with their friends. More globally, I just want to raise awareness of the fact that Black people of immigrant descent in France do exist and that their stories are worth being heard.”
Anonymous, 17 — Ireland
A second-level student and founder of Youth Activists Ireland, an Instagram account dedicated to encouraging, supporting, and engaging young people to be involved in and vocal about social justice.
“I started the Youth Activists Ireland Account on Black Out Tuesday. The killing of George Floyd had sparked anger and frustration within the Black community not only in America, but all around the world. That day, I realised that people my age — teenagers — need to be more informed about what is going on not just in Ireland but around the world.
"This current moment in time has most definitely made racial justice work different to before — social media has had a massive role to play. Reading articles to educate yourself more, signing and sharing petitions, using the hashtag #BlackOutTuesday, sharing pictures and videos from the protests all around the world. I do believe this has been a real, significant, and impactful movement so far, but it's not over.”
Tanya Compas, 28 — London, England
Compas is a youth worker and founder of Exist Loudly, an organisation creating spaces for young, queer Black people across the UK to build community and share joy, both digitally and IRL.
"Conversations around racism and anti-Blackness were all over the media, both social and mainstream for a period of time. But things have died down, peoples social media feeds have reverted back, conversations are no longer at the forefront, people’s cup of care has run out. But you see, it’s easy for those who are white or a non-Black POC because they don’t have to deal with the everyday lived realities of being Black, nor do they feel the same emotional connection to the violence inflicted on Black bodies globally that Black people do.
"Change needs to be systematic, change needs to be structural, but we’re not there yet. Performative allyship is rife and it seems like now more than ever, people want a pat on the back and a Blue Peter badge for doing the bare minimum. People need to be OK with being a silent ally. Help shouldn’t be given in return for being ‘shouted out’ or publicly thanked.
"I’ve been using the phrase 'exist loudly' for years now, it came from this idea that when you are Black and/or queer, you are often told you are ‘too much’ or ‘too loud’ and sometimes directly or inadvertently told to minimise aspects of yourself to make other people feel more comfortable. Exist Loudly is a big 'eff you' to that."
Sohna Sumbunu, 18, Lakiescha Tol and Veronika Vygon, 19, — Amsterdam, Holland
Students Sumbunu, Tol, and Vygon are the founders of Zetje in!, an Instagram-first organisation campaigning for a future where equality is the norm.
“After the death of George Floyd, we wanted to make a change in The Netherlands. Since racism and discrimination is taught, we wanted to use some of those same institutions to ‘unteach’ it, which is why we made the choice to start with primary and secondary education.
"Hopefully our work will make people more aware of their own preconceptions and what’s going on in their surroundings. It’s important to know history from different perspectives and link it to what is going on currently — we hope that people will be more understanding towards one another and embrace each other’s differences.
"The impact of the protests for George Floyd was enormous. The scale and the number of people involved has been huge, bigger than what the three of us have seen before. We think that the pandemic played a big role in it since many people were even more interconnected through social media. Everyone was following the events at home through their phone, laptop and/or TV.”
Lou, 24 — France
Lou is a recent graduate and founder of La Charge Raciale, an Instagram account dedicated to highlighting racism faced by people of colour in France — "la charge raciale" is an academic concept created by researcher Maboula Soumahoro.
"People tend to underestimate the power of activists on Instagram, but I wouldn't be the same person without this type of account. Information and resources are everywhere. It's just way easier to educate ourselves, about everything, every form of social oppression. It can be overwhelming, but I truly think social media helps to politicise people about racial justice.
"There are way more grassroots organisations [than before], way more organised associations or structures that call out situations of racial discrimination or act in a concrete way. People of colour are gathering, discussing, debating, and finding solutions. They're structuring themselves and are able to identify more and more the oppressions they experience on a daily basis.
"I think people get more politicised about topics they didn't necessarily know about before. It helps to gather, to start discussions, to discuss concrete actions that could be taken in the future. Because of Instagram, activists can form real communities and proper structures — and this is how it can change."
Yvonne, 20 — Bristol, England
Yvonne is a student and one of the founding members of All Black Lives Bristol.
“We saw what was happening in America and we wanted to do something in solidarity. I believe we were driven by pure passion and rage. I feel as a generation we’re a little bit more united; it doesn’t matter what race you are — everyone is getting involved. We want to find a way to educate people so that they can push for change as well.”
These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.