Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

In the US more often than not everything comes down to race. There are people who will disagree, and will say that it's all about economics one way or another, but I say that when you look at how we live and what has defined our history, our music, our literature, our cuisine-- you name it-- race is the underlying theme. From 1492 to 1619 and beyond; from the 3/5ths Rule to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and today.

The experience of racism looks different in Western Europe, and I suppose this comes down to the fact that what we think of as racial minorities in Europe were, until fairly recently, a much smaller percentage of the overall population, therefore more infrequently encountered; and, perhaps in part owning to the fact that racial minorities in Western Europe tended to be from the more affluent classes in the colonial outposts where they originated. For sure a lot of the history of Europe from the Crusades on is good evidence that local minority groups were treated every bit as brutally as our native population, or the persons of African extraction who were forced to come here. It is certain that I am over-simplifying as well. There's really never been a great time to be Romani, or a Serb, or Jewish or Pavee in Europe. Still, when you speak with Europeans one of the things that consistently strikes them about life in the US is the persistence of racial discrimination here, a phenomenon that they don't seem to see at home.

Here's the thing though-- it's there. I was aware of Zwarte Piet, Santa's assistant in Dutch tradition, but I hadn't realized that people get beaten and pepper-sprayed for objecting to this racial caricature. The Nederlands have an ugly recent history with this sort of thing which makes me sad. As imperialists go, I'd always thought the Dutch were a little better than that.

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