Systemic Racism in Europe

by | Jun 27, 2024 | Diversity & Inclusion Strategy | 0 comments


It’s ironic that Systemic Racism in Europe made a grand entrance at the Euro 2020 final –
the football tournament where national teams took the knee as a show of support for racial justice in the earlier matches.

Above are members of the English national football players at Euro 2020.


Racial Abuse During Euro 2020

Without a doubt, Black viewers worldwide watching the England-Italy EURO 2020 final knew the consequences if certain players missed in the penalty shootout.

Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka, the three Black players who missed penalties for England, instantly became targets of vile racist abuse online after the heartbreaking loss.

In fact, Black players on the team knew the stakes were about more than just the match and their nation – they were representing their entire race.


Racism & Its Biases In Europe

Regardless of which team we supported, Black people anticipated and braced for the inevitable onslaught of racial abuse that would hit those players after England’s defeat.

But wait a minute, Europe prides itself on being an equal opportunity area –  a zone free of discrimination in its businesses, governments and institutions.Why would Black people then expect such deplorable racist behavior from the European community over a football game?

The EURO 2020 final put the world’s dirty little secret of systemic racism (systemic bias, prejudice, inequity) on full display.

For the sake of this piece, we refer to systemic racism as systemic racism (systemic bias, prejudice, and inequity).

The concept of racism in the US is about skin color.  In Europe, race is a factor of ethnicity.

 European companies avoid using the words “race” and “racism”. Instead  they use vocabulary of bias, prejudice and inequity.

The world collectively gasped in horror, as if they witnessed racial prejudice – as if it were the first time they had seen such a thing.
Their outrage went just as viral as the racist comments that filled social media.
But why was the White community’s outrage against racism so strong now? Systemic racism (systemic bias, prejudice, inequity)


Don’t Take It Personally

Racism is often viewed in absolutes – you’re either seen to be an overt racist or you believe that you are not racist at all.


However, this polarizing perspective overlooks the widespread reality of systemic racism (systemic bias, prejudice, inequity). It’s a system, and we all play a part in it. 


For those of us on the receiving end of racist situations, we understand that racism isn’t just about the ignorant behaviors of  bigots. This system has many layers, and the blatant acts of racism are often just surface layer expressions. 


Systemic racism (systemic bias, prejudice, inequity) allowed a platform of hate to run rampant at the EURO 2020. Thousands of racist texts and posts were sent to players and posted online.There were so many that one couldn’t dismiss the situation as an isolated incident.


This happened on the world stage, where international media made the English nation look rather racist. Hence the English people’s strong outrage against the racist attacks.


Though individuals wanted to distance themselves from the overt racism, they are still a part of the systemic racism (systemic bias, prejudice, inequity) that allowed for this to happen.


Systemic racism (systemic bias, prejudice, inequity) has permeated Europe and the Americas for centuries.


It exists today, cloaked in the form of fiercely protected traditions, societal norms and outdated policies.


Although we might not feel that we are personally accountable for systemic racism (systemic bias, prejudice, inequity),  we contribute to developed societies that were built to give power to a few by taking it from others. And racism was one of the ways to do that.


In this article, we’ll examine how systemic racism (systemic bias, prejudice, inequity) began, and its impact in our world today.



Systemic Racism: The Games We Play

Systemic Racism - The Game Pieces

Definition Of Systemic Racism

Policies and practices that exist throughout a whole society or organization, and that result in and support a continued unfair advantage to some people and unfair or harmful treatment of others based on race” – Cambridge Dictionary

No single person is solely responsible for systemic racism (systemic bias, prejudice, inequity), but we’re all part of this biased system.

Systemic racism (systemic bias, prejudice, inequity) has existed for centuries, and our place in it is influenced by the random factor of our birth. 


The Power Plays Of The 1%

The 1% elite that controlled the power dynamics of societies, countries, and organizations were homogeneous groups. In turn, these exclusive circles allowed a privileged few to shape reality for the masses.  Male-dominated circles of scholars, clergy, aristocracies, and pioneers governed communities and established societal norms for the remaining part of recognized society.


The Gamemasters: A Game Designed By The Elite

Envision the power elite from centuries ago as the game designers of their era.
They came up with their grand games:

  • Create nations
  • Achieve religious supremacy
  • Obtain commercial dominance

This privileged class created the rules of games.
In addition,they identified and distributed the game pieces among the initial players.
Game pieces included natural resources, land, money, labor, alliances, education, and weapons.

The objective of the game: to achieve individual success and status for themself and their next generation.

The game designers stacked the deck in their favor. With their distributed advantages, they established laws, processes and traditions to ensure they and their descendants maintained or improved their status. 

This advantage of generational wealth become a game piece from the second round of the game.  These privileges would accumulate as they are passed through the generations, becoming birthright.  Descendants claimed an economic head start that new players to the game would not have.


A Game For The Masses, But Not For All

Not everyone, however, was eligible to play.
Take the example of America’s Founding Fathers, who wrote the US Constitution.
They were the gamemasters, creating the game of America. The Constitution held the rules of the game.

In a newly founded country which proclaimed that “All men are created equal,” the only true game players were White men.  

Slaves were mentioned but only as “game pieces” with a value attached to property owners.
Indigenous people were actively excluded from American society (the game).
Women and children were not a consideration.

In other games around the world, colonizers and missionaries created their own game plans, forcing laws and moral code into new environments.Indigenous populations were either excluded, exterminated, or exploited in the game. 
Systemic racism (systemic bias, prejudice, inequity) was in play.



Systemic Racism: The Game Changer

A monstrous commercial industry was built on the exploitation of millions of people.  Trading slaves became a status symbol for the early power elite Americans.  European merchants and colonizers also prospered from the slave trade industry.  Some built wealth that continues to grow today in aristocracies and institutions.


Slavery and the normalization of racist ideologies progressed quietly and gradually.

How ideas become culture

Idea: The notion of racial superiority and inequality emerged as an idea.
Process: This idea translated into the processes of slavery, colonization and exploitation of certain ethnic groups.
Policy: These oppressive processes were codified into formal policies and laws that legalized racial discrimination.
Norm: As racist policies were enforced, discrimination became a widely accepted societal norm.
Tradition: Over generations, the discriminatory norms persisted and became deeply-rooted racist traditions.
Culture: Ultimately, racist traditions combined with other beliefs/practices became ingrained into the cultures of they societies.



The System Of Slavery

The Atlantic slave trade lasted 350 years. The industry drove economies, provided status & power, and made slavery (first in Europe, then in the Caribbean, and later in North America & South America) strategically crucial game piece for many games.¹

The Countries Most Active in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade


Normalizing Slavery With Racism

Portuguese merchants created the commercial classification used in the Atlantic Slave Trade. They determined that dark skin color was the criteria for being enslaved. “By the second half of the fifteenth century, the term “Negro” was essentially synonymous with “slave” across the Iberian Peninsula.”²

“Then by asserting that Africans were naturally suited for certain jobs, slaves were sorted by anatomy and the purported ability to function better in certain climates, resistance to diseases, and life expectancy. Based on this classification, they were either assigned to the fields or less vigorous housework.”

With this new set of rules, the establishment codified the value of a person’s abilities based on race. And since slave labor was a coveted advantage, the western hemisphere embraced slavery as an economic principle.³

Legislation allowed slavery to thrive, by preventing rights for people based on color. The general public felt morally justified to do so, because they were contributing to the society as law abiding citizens – following the rules of exclusion – systemic racism (systemic bias, prejudice, inequity).


Creating The Bias Of Stereotypes

Racism flourished as the western hemisphere spread the narrative that black people were “less than”. Even if the general public didn’t own slaves, didn’t participate in the slave trade, or never saw a person of color before –  folklore served as the media of the day.

Returning seafarers and merchants told stories that portrayed blacks as savages, from far away lands, who were being domesticated. From this ideology, folklore and children’s tales villainized black people.

  • The Black Arab (eastern Europe) who kidnaps women and girls. 
  • The legend of the Ravine of the Blacks in Spain.
  • Schmutzli (Switzerland) and Zwarte Piet (Belgium & Netherlands), the naughty, dark companion to Father Christmas

These characters are both feared and are beloved in European cultures. They are deeply traditional propaganda which perpetuate  stereotypes of racist and prejudiced sentiment.

Systemic Racism in Europe

“Negerpige med abe” af Jan Jebsen, ca. 1690, Kongernes Samling






A trendy show of status among European aristocrats was to have a collection of exotic pets and enslaved people from Africa on display, as seen in paintings like “Black Girl With Monkey” from 1690.   Royal Exhibit at Rosenborg Castle, Denmark.







The effects of systemic dehumanization were widespread.
Much of international wealth was tied to the slave trade, making them staunch opponents to the abolitionist movement. 

The ruling class’ resistance was so strong that it took over 100 years for the abolition movement to end slavery in the Americas and Europe. The fight over slavery led to the American Civil War ultimately ending 350 years of legalized racial enslavement.



A Play-By-Play Look At Systemic Racism

To demonstrate how systemic racism grows in an environment, we’ll focus on the United States.  

Oppression continued after slavery through laws that enforced rigid segregation and denied Black Americans equal rights and opportunities.  We will explain how overtly racist laws affected people in the height of segregation and how systemic racism continues today.

Privilege and Systemic Bias

Emancipation – A Game Piece Discarded

The Emancipation Proclamation freed 3.9 million slaves in America virtually overnight in 1865. They left the plantations with nothing—no shelter, education, money, property, or support networks. Although slavery was abolished, there was no active support to help integrate this group into society.

 At that time, freed slaves comprised 12.4% of the American population.4 They were new citizens –  and unexpected players in “the game” created by the ruling class 100 years prior. Unlike the starting line up of players who either created or were invited to the game (immigration), Blacks were not a welcomed addition. They could not influence the rules, nor were they provided any game pieces (advantages) upon entry. The Black culture was marginalized. 

For the poor White population, freed slaves competed in the same market for agricultural, unskilled and domestic servant  jobs – and at less money than what the poorest Whites were earning. To ensure that the majority ruling class maintained their power over others,  politicians created Jim Crow Laws.5  


Racist Rules Exclude Players From The Game

For nearly 100 years in the US south the law made it mandatory to separate and discriminate against people based on skin color. Just image – every law abiding citizen had to commit racist acts. That is systemic racism.

Barriers To Education

During slavery, it was illegal for a slave to gain an education.
Now that Blacks were free people, Jim Crow laws prohibited them from attending schools with White students,  and White teachers could not teach black students. 

When primary education became compulsory for all American children, they were segregated into black and White schools in the US South.

“Local school districts diverted state education funds to the support of schools for White children. In some [areas] distribution of school funds reached the proportion of $40 to $1 spent, respectively, on the White child and on the Black child.”

With a lack of funding, Blacks had little chance of gaining a strong basic education and opportunities. 

Systemic racism created barriers to education


Barriers To Healthcare

Blacks could not gain access to hospitals run by White people, and White doctors would not treat black people. As there were already systemic barriers to obtaining a basic education,  it was rare to have enough Black doctors to serve their communities. This vicious cycle of poor health care opportunities continues today and is evidence of

Systemic racism created barriers to education
Systemic racism limited healthcare accessibility


Barriers To Benefits

As the American economy strengthened, Social Security was introduced, guaranteeing retirement income to millions of citizens. But the Social Security legislation specifically excluded two occupations: agricultural workers and domestic servants. For historical reasons, these were the two dominant professions of Blacks in America.”7 Black people were locked out of any benefits given to the rest of society.


Systemic racism created barriers to education
systemic racism limited healthcare accessibility

Systemic racism blocked benefits


Barriers To Fair Housing 

Banks across the US  blocked Blacks from accessing housing markets. during the Jim Crow era. Banks had blatantly punitive methods for ethnically diverse home buyers.  Americans built wealth through homeownership.

  • Redlining – Banks systematically denied loans or mortgages to Black Americans seeking to purchase homes in White neighborhoods, essentially “redlining” those areas off for non-Whites.
  • Steering – Real estate agents actively steered Black homebuyers away from White areas and towards segregated non-White zones.

Discriminatory lending and housing practices by banks, realtors, and local governments made it extremely difficult for African Americans to purchase homes outside of segregated non-White zones designated by Jim Crow laws.

Residential segregation severely limited economic mobility and wealth building for Black families who were confined to less desirable urban areas with lower property values. Generations after Jim Crow,  the wealth gap  between Whites and ethnically diverse Americans continues to widen.

Systemic racism created barriers to education
Systemic racism limited healthcare accessibility

Systemic racism blocked benefits

Systemic racism denied economic opportunities



Systemic Racism Explained


Restricted Voting Rights

The right to vote was a source of pride and empowerment. It was a basic game piece that every citizen (male at that time) had to influence their society.   

Freed slaves were now citizens, and citizens had the right to vote. The sizable community was a threat to lawmakers who promoted slavery. It was time to change the rules of the game – specifically to prevent Blacks from influence the society with their vote. New requirements be eligible to vote. 


Literacy Tests

systemtic racism literacyIn order to vote in the south, a citizen had to be able to read/write. The irony was that it was illegal for slaves to learn to read & write. “Illiteracy among the [black ] population was well over 95% in 1863, which meant that less than 150,000 of the 4 million slaves emancipated could read and write.”8   


Property Tests

systemic racism propertyMany states allowed only property owners to vote. Many Blacks who had no land, could also not secure the loans to own property through barriers of systemic racism in financial institutions. A conservative  estimate was the 50% of the literate freed slaves owned property –  75,000  could vote : 1,8% of the black population


Grandfather Clause

systemic racism grandfather clausePeople who could not read and owned no property were allowed to vote IF their fathers or grandfathers voted before 1867. Since most Blacks were slaves before 1867, the grandfather clause worked only for Whites.



systemic racism purging votesFrom time to time, and without warning, officials purged the voting rolls, removing registered voters from the official lists of voters. Often they could not register to vote again until after the election. Purges more often affected Blacks than Whites. 


Poll Taxes 

systemic racism poll taxIn Southern states, citizens paid a tax to vote. Those with low income could not afford the right to vote.



systemic racism violenceIf Blacks successfully maneuvered the barriers to voting, the threat of violence was a major deterrent. Those who tried to vote were threatened, beaten, or killed. There was a risk of harm to their families. Their property was destroyed, and often, they lost their jobs or were thrown off their farms.9

Systemic racism created barriers to education
Systemic racism limited healthcare accessibility
Systemic racism blocked benefits
Systemic racism blocked economic opportunities
Systemic racism suppressed voting rights


Voting Rights Today 

By the late 1960’s, the US Civil Rights Movement shifted public sentiment, and the laws that enforced explicit discrimination and acts of racism were repealed.

In their place came several iterations of the Civil Rights Act – laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.   This statement is plastered everywhere and law abiding citizens attest to their fair treatment of people because of these laws.

As Blacks and other groups fought for equal treatment, they still weren’t and aren’t  adequately represented in government,  job markets, or evenly dispersed throughout US populations. Why?   Systemic racism (systemic bias, prejudice, inequity)


A System Of Barriers

For 300 years America violated the basic human rights of Black people
12 generations of African Americans were purposely excluded from participating in society  (marginalized).

Systemic racism created barriers to their education

Systemic racism limited healthcare accessibility
Systemic racism blocked benefits
Systemic racism blocked economic opportunities
Systemic racism suppressed their votes

In comparison, White America claimed these advantages by default. 
Generations compounded the interest of privilege, making it possible to collect more game pieces in their quest for prosperity. 

Blacks had to compete with 300 years of generational wealth, networks and opportunities
with very few, if any, of their own game pieces of advantage.

Even though the American government declared Blacks and other ethnicities equal to whites, policies, loopholes, process, traditions,  keep racism alive most in subtle and unnoticeable ways. This is when systemic racism continues to spread.

Voter equality was declared in 1964, yet voter suppression continues to this day.
Since 2020, 17 of 50 US states have passed dozens of laws that restrict access to voting, many that directly affect minority populations.10 These modern forms of voter suppression demonstrate how the antiquated racist rules still shape the game. 
Stacey Abrams – fighting voter suppression.



Systemic Racism: The Game Today

Though these civil rights acts in the US and parts of Europe were meant to even out the injustices of racism, there remain engrained discriminatory loopholes and legislation that continue to exclude and bring more barriers to access. 


systemica racism education

Today  “American students routinely receive dramatically different learning opportunities based on their social status. The wealthiest 10 percent of U.S. school districts spend nearly 10 times more than the poorest 10 percent, and spending ratios of 3 to 1 are common within states. Despite stark differences in funding, teacher quality, curriculum, and class sizes, the prevailing view of the society is that if students do not achieve, it is their own fault.11 –   This is the systemic racism. 


Economic Barriers

Though the discriminatory practices are illegal, subjectively biased (racist) decisions by banks and mortgage institutions limit economic opportunities for people of color, immigrants, and other underrepresented groups.



Limited Career Development

Any leading or senior role in a mainstream (white) business was practically impossible for Black people until the 1980’s.   

There remains an underrepresentation of “diverse” leaders in the corporate world.  As of May 2024,  7 Black CEOs are part of the Fortune 500. They make up 1.4% of the CEOs.12 While the population of Blacks in America is 13%

In the United Kingdom the  FTSE100, has no Black executives in top three roles of UK’s FTSE 100 firms.13
Currently, none of the FTSE 100 companies have black individuals serving as board chairs, CEOs, CFOs or CPOs.

Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) disclaimers are plastered everywhere in company environments.
Even though businesses claim zero tolerance for racist & discriminatory behaviors, there exists an embarrassingly obvious segregation of executive management teams and underrepresented colleagues.

systemic racism - McKinsey


Harver - systemic biasHow ethnic bias shows up in work job market in the US & Europe.



Over a 40 year period, unemployment levels for Black men have consistently been double the rate of White men. In that time, the number of Black men graduating from universities has risen – creating a wider qualified talent pool, yet the proportion of unemployed Black men has not budged. 

Systemic Racism - unemployment

Racial Profiling

Racial profiling is the act of suspecting a person on the basis of their race or ethnicity,
It is an illegal practice in the US and discouraged (if not illegal) in Europe:  however the practice flourishes via systemic racism.  

In the United Kingdom, police officers are permitted to search an individual without reasonable suspicion.14  Black people were eight times more likely than White people to be stopped and searched by police in 2022/23.  Why such a significant difference for an ethnic group?   Systemic racism (systemic bias, prejudice, inequity).

Systemic Racism - Stop & Searches

Studies from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights indicate that this systemic bias is widespread practice throughout Europe against ethnic minorities in
Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Slovak Republic and Spain.15

The majority of folks mean well and follow the rules and laws of their society.  If those laws and traditions were created with bias and prejudice, then the tradition of prejudice and racism continues today.   



Conclusion: The End Game?

Systemic racism (systemic bias, prejudice, inequity) affects everyone, benefiting the majority at the expense of ethnic minorities.

Individuals of the dominant society often don’t feel personally responsible, as they are following the laws of the land. But these laws formed a prejudiced and racist foundation.

Nevertheless,  many citizens of the majority culture still argue that society’s current “game” is fundamentally equitable and free of discrimination – even though it is built on a solidly prejudiced and racist foundation. They contend that minorities need only work harder to reach the same level of success that they have. 

Systemic racism continues to  impact people of color all over the world. Biased policing, limited career growth and lower economic status all show that ethnic minorities still suffer from a power structure that keeps them at a disadvantage.

So how do we break the cycle – How do we interrupt the game?

Those with the most privilege often ignore or are ignorant to these patterns of experience

Those in the privileged and influential positions, can become aware of the biases ingrained in their systems.

In conclusion, anyone can use their influence, on behalf of others, to reshape prejudiced systems, processes, and norms  to create more inclusive structures. 



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

While you're here

(share what you're up to)