Race and Racism: Putting Switzerland on the Map

2nd & 3rd of June 2022


About the Event

This international conference historicizes and contextualizes Switzerland’s participation in European racist ideas and practices, at home and abroad. By spotlighting a country with a long-held proud idea of neutrality and humanitarianism, Switzerland affords us an opportunity to look at a particular mode of racism: one that James Baldwin characterized as “innocent” in his 1953 essay, “Stranger in the Village.” Baldwin contrasted his experiences of “innocent racism” in a white alpine village in Switzerland with the violent history of racism in his beloved United States of America. As a Black gay man, Baldwin experienced this “innocent racism” in Switzerland, and Europe more broadly, as one masked by benevolence and a seeming gentleness harboring a deep nostalgic naivety about the history of European racism. Hence, putting Switzerland on the map of race and racism studies affords us an opportunity to make racial innocence visible so we can examine how it feeds violence—to humans and the Earth—in the name of progress. Racism, in its antisemitic and varied forms, toward Jewish, Indigenous, African, Black, Latinx, Asian, Mixed, Muslim, Migrant, Roma, Sinti, and Yenish communities is a daily experience for many in Switzerland and beyond. Intersecting in many forms with class, ability, age, gender, sexuality, religion or nationality, this racism is rooted in Western European ideas and practices forcefully projected on to the human world, and the planet, since the 1400s.

In the French and German anthology Un/Doing Race that spawned this international conference, the editors and contributors situate Switzerland within the paradoxes of cherished racial innocence and whiteness in this small landlocked country. This Swiss-specific conversation is broadened through this conference, that is also an invitation to those born human, but acculturated into whiteness, to participate in dismantling whiteness and racism. Putting Switzerland on the racist map through this conference affords those born human, but marked as an Other, to put forward their vision of what it means to live fully human lives not circumscribed by the ubiquitous quotidian racism that remains embedded in the global structures and systems of our contemporary world.

This event was organized in collaboration with the Department of Contemporary History of the University of Fribourg, and the Graduate School Gender Studies of the University of Bern.

Donors: The conference organizers would like to thank the following bodies for their generous financial support:

  • Swiss National Science Foundation
  • Graduate School Gender Studies, University of Bern
  • Interdisciplinary Centre for Gender Studies, University of Bern
  • Fonds d’action Facultaire, Faculty of Humanities, University of Fribourg
  • Department of Contemporary History, University of Fribourg
  • Fonds du Centenaire, University of Fribourg