Decolonising the mind: Afro-Belgians to be honoured in public spaces

Decolonising the mind: Afro-Belgians to be honoured in public spaces
Patrice Lumumba square, usually seen hanging on Rue de l'Athenée in Ixelles Brussels. Credit: Belga /  Anthony Gevaert

Racism is still deeply rooted in Belgian society, largely the result of 75 years of the country's colonial rule on the African continent. Belgium is now looking to decolonise people's minds by boosting the representation of people of African descent.

Tuesday 21 March marks International Day against Racism, and in Belgium, many people continue to be affected by racial discrimination on a daily basis, Secretary of State for Equal Opportunities and Diversity, Sarah Schlitz, said.

The latest figures showed that, in 2022 alone, 735 cases regarding racial discrimination were opened, which is merely the tip of the iceberg, according to civil society organisations, as many people do not report incidents. The global and national mobilisation in June 2020, under the Black Lives Matter banner, further demonstrated the societal need for more action against racism.

While street names and statues in Belgium still pay tribute to certain colonists, the heroes of decolonisation are largely forgotten. For this reason, Schlitz launched a call for projects to highlight the contribution of Afro-Belgians.

A demonstration in Brussels on the International Day Against Racism, Sunday 19 March 2023. Credit: Belga / Hatim Kaghat

"These stories deserve to be told. Although the colonised territories have now gained their independence, there is still a need to decolonise the minds of people," she said in a statement, adding that history must be looked in the face to make Belgian society a place where "everyone feels respected and considered."

Providing role models

The call for projects focuses on paying tribute to artists, scientists, activists or intellectuals of Congolese, Rwandan or Burundian descent by better illustrating their contribution to the country in the public space through more long-term projects such as artworks and frescos on city walls.

However, people can also receive subsidies for organising a conference, events, plays, documentaries and other art forms that promote the heritage of African cultures or of African descent and contributes to the work of memory on the Belgian colonial past while addressing the issue of racism against people of African descent in Belgian society.

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"Every child needs role models, not only to feel represented but also to be inspired by the pioneers who have paved the way and enriched our society with their vision," Schlitz said.

Each project can be financed for an amount between €5,000 and €30,000 and must be submitted to the FPS Equal Opportunities before 9 May 2023. Approved projects can take place between 11 September 2023 and 30 June 2024.

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