The State of Racism in Portugal: debating the anti race discrimination law 

February 28, 2020, 11h00

Museum of Aljube Resistance and Freedom (Lisbon)


20 years after the enactment of the law that prohibits and sanctions racial discrimination (Law 134/99 of 28 August) and 15 years after the transposition of the European Directive on Racial Equality 2000/43/EC (Law 18/2004 of 11 May ) to the Portuguese legal order, there is an urgent need to analyse and open a public debate on the implementation and enforcement of this legislation. As such, one of the COMBAT project key goals was to fill the void that persists when analysing institutional racism in Portugal and, more specifically, the role of legislation in combating racial discrimination.

This seminar presents the results of the analysis of a set of administrative offenses initiated by the Commission for Equality and Against Racial Discrimination (CICDR) - under laws 134/99 and 18/2004 -, between 2006 and 2016, in three specific areas: security forces, education and housing/neighbourhood.

The analysis sought to deepen the sociological understanding of the main issues raised by recent academic literature, the reports of international monitoring agencies, as well as the work of a set of anti-racist associations, namely: 

(i) the limited impact of legislative measures for racial equality in several European Union countries - including Portugal - as well as in other international contexts - such as the United States and Latin America - in which the number of complaints is low and the jurisprudence development weak;

(ii) the absence of a systematic collection of data on ethnic-racial inequalities, in a context in which anti-racist initiatives within the scope of public policies for integration remain marginal;

(iii) the limited and de-historicized understanding of (institutional) racism in legal definitions and the tendency to consider racism as a phenomenon restricted to extraordinary incidents or events resulting from the individual's pathological behaviour, and not as something incorporated in the institutionalized practices of public entities and private and in patterns of behaviour that condition daily social relations;

(iv) people's reluctance to report racial discrimination and racist offenses to the competent bodies, revealing distrust and fear of repeated victimization;

(v) the limits of public integration policies in questioning how institutional structures are permeated by racial discrimination and the difficulties in making the debate about institutional racism public.

In this context, the seminar places at the core of the debate the limits of the notions of discrimination and racial hatred in the implementation of legislation and its consequences in denying the historical context and the institutionalized dimension of racism. These limits are evident in the way in which the evidence and the intentionality of discrimination are mobilized in the legal argument, constituting racism as an impossibility in the contemporary social reality. The seminar will provide empirical material to debate the notion of racial harassment, the place of racist slurs in the understanding of racism, and the reality of racial segregation in the fields of education and housing, as well as the responses from public policies, especially in the fields internal security and the activity of the security forces.

Seminar to present the results of the COMBAT project - Combating racism in Portugal: an analysis of public policies and anti­discrimination law (financed by the Foundation for Science and Technology - FCT and co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the operational programme COMPETE 2020 (PTDC / IVC-SOC / 1209/2014 - POCI-01-0145-FEDER-016806).