Around the world, people have been taking to the streets to rally behind the cry: “Black lives matter”. Also in Zurich, between 10-15,000 people came together in early June to march in solidarity. After, many stayed and had a dance party, teaching each other simple moves to pop songs; around the corner, police in full riot gear tear gassed protesters who got too close to storefronts.
The Black Lives Matter movement started in America to bring down white supremacy by “combating and countering acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy” to “[win] immediate improvements in our lives”. The current wave of the BLM protests and demonstrations are highlighting a new way to combat racism - it is no longer okay to not be racist; if we want to see lasting change, we have to be actively anti-racist. This means a lot of critical self-reflection, education, hard conversations and action.
While many agree that racism and police brutality are major issues in America, it is important to note racism is also an issue here in Switzerland. While “Black lives matter” is a catchy rallying cry with international recognition, this blog post addresses a wide variety of racism also against non-Black people of color. According to this article, 17% of the Swiss population reported being targeted by racial discrimination in 2018, a number that is most likely underrepresentative of day-to-day occurrences.
Switzerland is a member of ECRI, the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance, who state that fighting racism cannot be achieved by a top-down approach. It must be combated through the engagement of a “civil society”. They recommend that everyday citizens engage with the discriminatory experiences and perceptions of potential victims of racism to understand and combat the problem.
According to the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, “Switzerland opposes the death penalty in all parts of the world and under all circumstances”. However, in the last four years, three people have died in Switzerland while in police custody - all of them men of color.
One case is being called “the Swiss George Floyd”. In 2018 in Lausanne, Nigerian Mike Ben Peter (†40) was “acting suspiciously”. The police decided to arrest him to “prevent a drug deal” from taking place. They kicked him repeatedly in the genitals until they could overpower him, then held him face down on the ground for 6 minutes with the weight of 6 police officers on his back. Peter collapsed under the pressure. While delivering CPR, the police claim to have discovered cocaine in and around his mouth. Toxicology reports show no traces of drugs in his system. Mike Ben Peter died 12 hours later in the Unispital of cardiac arrest. The autopsy report showed massive bruising around the groin.
The 6 police officers have been under criminal investigation for negligent homicide for the last two years and four months since Peter died. They were never suspended from the force.
Gambian asylum seeker Lamine Fatty (†23) was taken into custody as a consequence of mistaken identity. He died in his jail cell. The police officers claim to have not noticed that he had recently undergone brain surgery for his epilepsy.
People of color do not deserve to die at the hands of the police. It does not matter if a crime was committed or not, people of color do not deserve to die at the hands of the police anywhere in the world.
Of course, police brutality is only one aspect of the problem. What we need to do as engaged citizens is address instances of racism in our daily lives.
A quick Google search will uncover blog after blog citing racist incidents happening around the country: people of color automatically being perceived as foreigners; a white boy shoving a young Black girl down and calling her the n-word; an Indian student recounting many instances of verbal abuse on the street; Asian students at the ETH going to the police after finding anti-Asian graffiti and Asian students being crossed out of a photo; a bus driver refusing to take a group of asylum seekers and telling them to “go back to Africa”; and so many more instances that occur in people’s daily lives that aren’t written about.
So now that we have a basic understanding of the issue we are facing, what should we do about it? First of all, we need to be educated. Reading the stories linked above is a good start. Further, here is an article written by a Black Swiss woman calling for Switzerland to self-reflect and try to become anti-racist. Here is the Swiss Federal Department of Home Affair's report of Racial Discrimination in Switzerland. If you're interested in reading stories of immigrants in Zurich, have a look at Baba's Blog.
Next, we all need to critically look at ourselves. How has our society upheld white culture as the standard, the norm, the default? How has that benefited us? In Switzerland, being a BIPOC means sending in 30% more job applications to get a job interview than white people and having a Turkish or Kosovar name means only seeing a 5% response rate for apartment viewings. Many of us in the Bluelion community are expats; what sets expats apart from immigrants? Why are we viewed as beneficial to the fabric of society while immigrants are seen as an issue that needs dealing with?
Finally, we need to take action. The easiest things to do are sign petitions, contact your elected officials to petition for change, and donate (Here are some good resources: Stiftung gegen Rassismus und Antisemitismus (GRA), Solidarité sans frontières, and augenauf). Look up local coalitions fighting for change and join them. If you’d like to take it a step further, have the difficult conversations with your family, your friends, and your coworkers. We would love to see more discussions in the office.
We at Bluelion have all been educating ourselves and have started to talk about the BLM issues with people in our community. We’d like to make this blog post our starting point for a concerted effort to actively help combat racism in Switzerland. We are exploring a range of events to invite in-depth discussions on racism, diversity in Switzerland, and how this affects the Startup ecosystem. We invite everyone to reach out if they would like to be involved, have any suggestions, or in general would like to talk to us about how we handle our business. Are there any opportunities that you see where we could improve in creating an inclusive and welcoming community?
Many of you have already signed our 'Bluelion Community Guidelines'. We commit to posting our values more prominently in our space so that they are clear for all. The most important points we would like to highlight right now are:
We are a community. We make an effort to get to know each other. We realize that we can benefit from each other’s experience and expertise. We are a welcoming, curious, and inclusive community, and want to keep educating ourselves.
We strive to be better. We know that there’s always room for improvement. We strive to do our best each and every day.
We support boldness. We want the members of our community to be bold, because boldness is one of the key ingredients for success. We feel most comfortable around people who are okay with failure, and have the courage to implement their ideas regardless of the risks. We encourage our community to experiment, fail, and try again.
Based on these values, we see it as our duty to speak up about these issues and support our community. Further, as an innovation company, we are here to disrupt the status quo. We support startups and entrepreneurs because we believe that the way things are is not the way things could be if people had the courage to break out of the norms and forge new paths. Let us be on the front lines of fighting for a more just world.
** There are many resources out there to critically deconstruct our own inherent racism. We recommend reading "Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race" by Reni Edoo-Lodge, and "White Fragility" by Robin DiAngelo, watching videos such as Jane Elliott's "Blue Eyes Brown Eyes" experiment, and "Understanding My Privilege" by Sue Borrego. There are many Black women who host online classes with interactive workshops and a diverse selection of readings such as Rachel Cargle, or learn from educational site The Conscious Kid (or follow them on Instagram for continuous learning while scrolling).