Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What is Afro-Europe? Who are the Afro-Europeans or black Europeans?



Some who read this blog may think what the hell this is all about. Are we trying to imitate the USA and their ‘racial’ interpretation of society? Or we trying to pigeonhole the black people of Europe in a new category? What gives us the right to bring together topics related to black people in Europe in one blog? Isn’t it racist to categorize black people in Europe as one group? Based on what? Skincolour? Culture?

The central question is what a Nigerian in Italy, an Angolan in Sweden, a Jamaican in the UK and a mixed race Congolese in France or Germany have in common. Europe is not even united so how would black people coming from different nations feel united within Europe? We don’t even have a common language. Below I will give my opinion on this issue.



500 years
What we have in common is the western and European experience, and the way we are categorized within Europe as a certain kind of people. Whether you are in France, Germany, Italy or any other European country, the majority white people of Europe perceive people of African ancestry in quite the same way. This categorization isn’t entrenched in the laws of European nations, but for centuries in the past it was. It isn’t something we can easily describe nor can we demonstrate it through clear facts and figures. However, through a history of relations between Europe and the darker peoples of the planet, the ‘black man’ has received a certain place. Although racial slavery has been abolished, and racist laws eradicated from law books, the concepts and ideas inherited from more than 5 centuries of African-European relationships are still there. Whatever the colour of our skin, we are part of this history.

An anomaly
Black people in Europe, whether with brown or black skin, whether born there or not, whether having a white parent or not, whether adopted or not, whether they speak the national language or not, whether integrated or not, ...are all perceived as a certain kind of foreigners. They are not supposed to be there. But in reality most black people in Europe have built their homes in Europe, have adopted European cultures as their own and are perfectly integrated. If not the first generation, then certainly their children.

This experience; being perceived as foreigners from a common continent (whether being really a foreigner or not), is central in the creation of our identity. Identity is based on the relationship you have with others. I do think that most Europeans of African ancestry, i.e culturally integrated black people, would prefer just to be seen as part of the country where they are living, fully accepted as members of that society. In reality it is not so. Even when they have actually forgotten the cultures and languages of their ancestors and only know the Western world as their world, they will still be seen as an anomaly within the Western world, even after generations. (It is important to note here that Italians who migrated to France, Belgians who migrated to Sweden, etc. are assimilated after one or two generations). However, after centuries of African-European relationship Europe influenced Africa, but the other way around is certainly just as true. The presence of black people in Europe is a logic consequence of the African-European history. Europe seems not to accept this logic.

Europe’s relationship with the other, (whether Africans or people from the ‘Orient’) and the way it has described the other, has been the vehicle in the creation of a European and Western identity. Unfortunately black people do not fit into that identity. We could fight for being acknowledged as part of the European identity. But this means a total reconsideration of what being European means. When we look at the social and political reality of today's Europe there is an urge to defend and protect an essentialist view of Europe as 'white and pure'. Therefore today, black people in Europe are creating a new concept of self within the Western world, i.e. Afro-Europe.

America
Besides that there is the influence of the American media in Europe. Europeans, whether black or white, consume a lot of American media and are influenced by it. Whether you’re French, Swedish, Italian, … we all watch Hollywood movies, we all enjoy the same soaps and series. We all listen to Jazz, Hip Hop, Rock, Grunge, Metal, Soul, Reggae, House .... Our pop culture is impregnated with American pop culture (Predominantly from the USA but actually also from the Caribbean and Latin America). We are all, white and black, part of the Western world. This has a direct influence to how black people within Europe are creating an identity, and how they have been categorized within Europe.

Being ‘black’ is being Western
Black people in Europe do not really have common cultural roots, but second generations feel more related to Western black culture as it is expressed in the Americas than through the culture of their parents. Black people in the Western world have very different roots and backgrounds but have a common experience. Their black identity only makes sense within a Western world dominated by white European culture.

In fact it’s because they have become part of white European culture that they are now ‘black people’ and not Yoruba, Bakongo or Banyarundi, to name just some of the many African peoples living in Africa. This is why, according to me, the European people of African ancestry are becoming black Europeans, Afro-Europeans (or Afropeans as some label us). This is why, according to me, today there is a blog called Afro-Europe, informing the world about the African presence within Europe's culture and society.



26 comments:

  1. Very interesting post Sibo. It reminded me of a short conversation I had with another blogger about this subject.

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  2. Excellent article! I have some comments, but can't fully articulate them right now (I'm at work). Will come back later with my thoughts.. but for the most part, your analysis is dead on from my point of view.

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  3. Interesting post, indeed. Yes, as a young woman living in Europe for several years, although I'm African, I'm also European and I don't want this society to push me into a certain category. I love my past and I love my present and hope to love my future because I'm Afro-Continental. I don't a definite accent, my accent is unique and is part of who I'm, so saying we are Afro-European is quite right for our present situation.

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  4. Thank you all for your comments.
    I know that not all may totally agree with me. However I am interested in sharing our thoughts on this issue.

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  5. Your argumentation is however flawed. I agree that from an American point of view, the term “Afro-European” as an analogy to “African-American” makes sense. However, this analogy breaks down in the European context. Problem is Europe is not USA. USA was built by immigrants from all corners of the world and as such has always been a multiracial society. Europe has always been “monoracial”. As a result non-caucasians in Europe will always be viewed as “foreign” regardless of the degree to which they have integrated into the indigenous cultures of the countries they reside in. This is similar to the situation of caucasians in Africa. Even though these whites may have been born in Africa and never visited Europe, they are still considered “foreign” by black Africans. I therefore feel that the term “afro-european” is nonsensical and serves no purpose. Even the term “european” is controversial. With the developments in the EU there seems to be an increase in nationalism in the various european states with a shift towards tribalism. Examples of this phenomenon include the scottish drive for independence from Britain, terrorism by Basque separatists in Spain, and the fall of Yugoslavia. Europeans are thus asking themselves what it means to be “European”. Like other diasporic groups in Europe such as the Jews, Chinese, Gypsies and so on we will always be seen as foreign and we will always be identified by the fact that we are of African decent. Personally, I choose to identify as human…….

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  6. All you say is true, but doesn't deny that people of African ancestry in Europe do share a common experience (however not a culture!).
    Europeans may not know who they are anymore, I think that immigration and the presenece of many people of foreign origin within European nations, plays a big deal in that confusion. I live in Belgiun, speak all local languages fluently (French, Dutch and German) and I'm telling you, I know how Europe loses its reference points (right here in Brussels).
    And talking about the whites in Africa. For all I know Afrikaners in South Africa are considered Africans also by blacks, maybe white Africans, maybe with a eurocentric culture, but def'ly African. They claim it themselves all the time and proudly call theri language Afrikaans (which looks like Dutch when written but is not intelligible for Dutch speakers when spoken).
    And last but not least. it is sad that people who do not have the so called caucasian look could never be considered European. A few thousand of years ago people from the mediterrenean considered blue eyes and blond hair a sign of barbarian background ... time will change when having a dark skin will matter as much as having brown or blue eyes ...

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  7. Phenomenons like Black British Cultural Studies in the UK, the Conseil Representative des Associations Noires (CRAN) in France, Initiative Schwarze Deutschen (ISD) and Der Braune Mob in Germany, The Journal for AfroEuropean Studies in Spain, ... may be influenced by African American culture but are European grassroots organisation that show us that something new is growing within Europe (whether it is considered relevant or not by others)...

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  8. Just because people of Middle Eastern or African descent, live in France or in other nations in Europe, it does not make them French or English, or European in any sense. Most of them have parents who were born outside of Europe and have no European ancestry. So they can only be considered to be French, British, or Dutch in a legal sense and not culturally in anyway, especially, since their parents' cultures have non-European influences on the children. The nations of Europe are not immigrant nations and have never been like the U.S. Even so, all "Americans" are also just legally American. There is no just thing as an American ancestry.

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  9. Sibo,

    This is a very interesting post. You write that the majority of white people in Europe perceive peoples of African ancestry in the same way. I think that that is a very true statement, and as an American I can tell you that surely it extends beyond white people only in Europe. In America, the history of blacks is as old as the country itself, and there has been a long period of time in which black culture has grown and black people have formed communities across the country. This is much different in Europe. The communities in each country tend to be smaller and less connected. Thus, I think it's absolutely appropriate to try to unite black people across Europe. That sense of community is important, and it seems like it has been a difficult thing for black Europeans to achieve across borders.

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  10. I’d like to make a comment on the anonymous comment above, stating that Europe has never been an immigrant nation as the US has been. Therefore, according to this post, people with ancestry outside of Europe can not be considered European, as they have cultural influence from Africa, the Middle East, etc.
    This is a problematic statement. America has been an immigrant nation for the last 500 years, but people have migrated around the world as long as they have existed. Let me give an example: France.
    France didn’t exist 2000 years ago, several pagan Celtic tribes lived on the territory called France today. Then the Roman empire expanded and influenced the culture, habits and physical features of the people living in what was then called Gaul. Still there was no French culture, but several mixtures of Celtic and Latin cultures and people. During that period the pagan tribes who mixed with Latin culture became Christians, but still, Christianity was rather marginal. Then came the German tribes (pushed into the Roman empire by Asian tribes entering Europe from the east, as they were pushed by other expansions in Asia). The Franks settled in what is nowadays France and gave their name to the country and culture. They too influenced the language and culture, but not as strongly as the Roman empire, during that time traditional Germanic cultural elements mixed with the Christian culture, and this is the time of the great Christianizing of the people of France (between 500 and 1000 AD). It’s only centuries later that the Kings of France have created the French nation with the imposition of one standardized French language, education, …
    then came the revolution, then came Napoleon, then came colonization.
    During colonization France had black and north African ministers and delegates in Paris. After colonization many peoples from the colonies migrated to France and became part of that country, adding their culture to the mainstream and contributing to the constant mixing of culture and reinvention of French identity on a territory known as Gaul 2000 years ago.
    The same story could be told for any country in the world. Believing that Europe and its nations has always been like that and shouldn’t ever change is a fallacy of historical truth. Culture, language, identity, … are in constant change and evolution. That’s how it is and will always be.
    Two last rhetorical questions to make my point: Are the Hungarians not real Europeans because their ancestors are the Huns (from Asia) who only arrived in Europe during the 9th century AD? How far back do we have to go to call people indigenous?

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  11. WOW! Thought provoking. The presence of the black community in Europe is something we cannot give a blind eye to. I do agree that there is confusion about how to tag us as our presence and experience here is different from the black Americans. Still, we are here and we cannot be ignored if there is a want for progress.

    I am a native African but my daughter is half Italian and Italy is the only home she has known. Italian was the first language she spoke, and even though she is biracial, to me she is Italian. I call her Italian, not because I want to deny my roots, but because that is what she really is. I can call myself Italian as well because I am an Italian citizen. But my sense of being Italian is very different from hers. My cultural upbringing and influence is not Italian, but that doesn't matter. Home is where I make it and I made mine here. However, as a parent, it is my responsibility to make sure my daughter feels home in where home is for her.

    What does that really mean though to the rest of the world that would like to call her a coloured child or a decendant of an immigrant? Besides the fact that she has my smile and is slightly darker than some of her Italian friends, she is very much as Italian as they are. I have been out of Africa for so long that I have forgotten what it is to really be African, therefore my African influence on her will be based on nolstagic memories and nothing more. The real essence of her experience is here and she knows it...that is what we (the black immigrants) should teach our children, regardless of who wants to say what. It is already granted, being 'different' is going to set them up for trials (just like we are living it daily ourselves), and the last thing they need is a sense of not belonging, Home is where you make it, regardless of the colour of your neighbours skin (or yours for that matter).

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  12. Naan, Why don't you call her African-Italian? Because that will both recognise her African roots but also allow the Italian side that belongs to her. African-Italian is the best way to describe the new generation of Africans and children born in Italy, and those of one parent African and one Italian. Don't let her African roots go missing by calling her just Italian, she has the right to claim both cultures. Please check out this blog: http://myafroitalianlife.blogspot.com.

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  13. There's no such thing as Afro-European and any person that isn't of European descent can't be European. And any people except Europeans are indeed foreigners in Europe. It's vaguely amusing that people who immigrated here have a claim on a country or culture that they have no business with. Being born somewhere or being a citizen doesn't mean you're part of a nation(or that you're a national), no matter how politically incorrect this is.

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  14. We have a claim on the culture and the country because as long as we pay the taxes and contribute to the economy why can't we claim something back. We are Afro-Europeans like it or not RV we are Afro-Europeans because we are not going away from Europe. The society is becoming more cosmopolitan and being a part of a nation doesn't mean to be born or to have an ancestor there, in this era being part of a nation means feel the history and costume of the ever changing society. Plus many new borns have parents who never left Europe, so how do you call them RV?

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  15. Anonymous, a nation means a group of people with the same perceived ancestry, race, religion, the same culture and language. Being Italian doesn't mean being born in Italy or having a passport from the Italian government, it means being ethnic Italian. So you are as Italian or European or British as I am Chinese or Asian. Actually, the whole hyphenation thing is ridiculous because you can't be both African and European or be part of two nations, you are part of only one.

    And give me a break with the paying of taxes. In most European countries immigrants take more in welfare than pay in taxes being a net burden on the government. Besides, you are making the stupid assumption that being part of a people means supporting their government. A state is just a sovereign political body, doing it wants doesn't make you part of anything(I could explain to you why the US are the United States and not the United State, but I'm not feeling in the mood for it because obviously you prefer to learn whatever makes you feel good and what is popular, regardless of the validity and veracity of those claims). I won't even go into the crime rate trends and so on brought by immigrants into Europe. So this doesn't really make your case about claiming a country or a culture, even if it would be a valid argument, even though it is not.

    This wasn't even the point, the point is that a nation means what I said it means, not what people want it to mean. Just because you want to be part of something or wish something was true, doesn't mean it is. Obviously, I might want to start making people belive I'm a Chinese man, but that won't change who I am and that I will never be Chinese.

    I don't have to do anything about the new borns who have parents here because I'm not responsible for them - their parents are. I, or society in general, don't have to cozy up to them. They won't be part of the nation of the country they're in though and no matter how much they'll wine about racism and exclusion, that won't change facts. Just like the fact that the whole concept of Afro-European is a vaguely amusing farce - if it wouldn't be, you wouldn't need to brainwash people to see you as one of their own or make the kind of logical fractures you are making to support your claim. And sure, you might not go away from Europe, but you still won't be European.

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  16. Let's agree to disagree. It is difficult to open up a closed mind. Cheers.

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  17. Nice, that's what people always say when they're wrong(agree to disagree), combined with an ad hominem. Cheers.

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  18. RV, you clearly didn’t read my comment about the history of people and cultures. Cultures change over time, and we are going through a change. If you’d be born and raised in China, and most of your friends would be Chinese, … I guess you’d be confused and feel whatever culture you are part of is within yourself mixed up with Chinese cultural features. You’d be Chinese and so many more things.

    Apparently you didn’t move or travel a lot in your life; I grew up in three different continents, I grew up with 3 different languages and I have white, black and brown people in my close family. More and more people in Europe share this experience with me. That’s the consequence of colonization RV, and nowadays globalization… that’s reality. If white people decided to conquer the world in the last 5 centuries, we shouldn’t be surprised to see people of colour within the nations of Europe today … it’s just a logical consequence of Western history.

    And if I feel European, who are you to tell me my feelings are wrong? The real, white and authentic European? This is home for me too. So what am I, and my whole family supposed to be? Going back to Africa, or where I was born? Is not an option. People of my ethnic background are not welcome there, and the country is a total wreck. Besides my ancestry is not only from Africa. I have grandparents who had family members who were collaborating with the Nazi’s during world war 2. That too is my ancestry. And honestly, besides Western Europe, the States, Canada and wherever in Latin America (the mixed up continent par excellence!) there is no other place on earth where I would be accepted as a citizen with the same rights and plights. So therefore, thank you Europe for accepting the consequences of your own history.

    But anyway RV, if you want to believe in your homogeneous and eternal group of people with same culture and language and colour, go ahead! But please let us feel and experience our identities the way we feel most comfortable with. Your world is changing and we are the expression of it. I hope it doesn’t bother you too much. And if so, well, there is not much to do about it, right?

    Peace&Love!

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  19. I really like this comment Sibo Kano, you brought out the words I was looking for... "I grew up in three different continents, I grew up with 3 different languages and I have white, black and brown people in my close family. More and more people in Europe share this experience with me. That’s the consequence of colonization RV, and nowadays globalization… that’s reality. If white people decided to conquer the world in the last 5 centuries, we shouldn’t be surprised to see people of colour within the nations of Europe today … it’s just a logical consequence of Western history."

    Well written...

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  20. Peace Afro-European, I am very glad that you are here and I certainly understand and agree that you very well should be. I would like to have a contact email to connect you to other diaspora Afro's LOL. I am from Israel which is NorthEast Africa not the Middle East. Please contact me at melekisgods.son@gmail.com

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  21. RV, reading your response gave me the impression of reading an ignorant person's opinion, so I won't even repond to that, but Sibo Kano covered the same thing you are so blindly defending. It just shows how very ignorant you are about people's rights to a sense of belonging and citizenship. No offense intended.

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  22. Hi there, Afro-European people.

    It has been a while since the last time I was here... And as I see, there are very intersting post, as could not be otherwise. I've been thinking about the topic of my upcoming article in the Foundation I work with, back here in Spain. This gave good points and enough material to think.
    Beside this, very instructive post, Sibo. Though I also think there is a small difference with African American-for now-, you have made very good points. Its true that we do share things, experiences of being a minority in whites countries-wich is not really true anymore, but it's okay-, the feeling of being pointed at as the perennial foreigner even if you spent your whole life here... yes, but it's also true that you have several influences, do not even the same language to communicate (I try to use english, but I would prefer spanish, definitely), and so on.
    Finally, just to state that, whatever we are, the only truth is that we need to get self-conciousness, to unite and manage to make a better place for other Balck people in future Europe or just in the world. It's not easy to dare to look beyong the mainstream culture sold at School since you are a child, an intended homogenous culture where you don't fit in... thanks Goodness we do have a sense of collective identity, and we do ha the Internet to have a glimpse on others experience. Peace.

    Simon

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  23. Greetings!

    I've just read this 2009 post & the comments and want to commend most of those who have written thus far, but particularly you, Sibo Kano. Your January 20, 2010 11:49 AM post was so on point. It should be required reading and processing for all those people trying to understand the transition Europe and other places in the world are going through with regard to race/ethnicity.

    I'm African American and grew up in the 1950s when "White" and "European" were considered to be synonymous referents. Even in that decade there were Europeans who were People of Color (mixed White/non-White or otherwise). But now as you wrote, Sibo, as a "logical consequence of Western history" and as a natural result of globilization, there are even more People of Color in Europe, some born there and some immigrated there.

    As an outsider looking in, I suppose that those persons who live in Europe (and elsewhere) who are biologically White/non-White could advocate for a change in the definition of who is "White". But even if that was the path that one wanted to take, it seems to me (again as an outsider), that given the realities of racism in the world, it would be pyschologically healthier and more realistic for those persons in Europe to consider themselves as Black or Brown and as part of the larger referent of "African Europeans" or "Afro-European", with the specific applicable referent such as "Afro-Belgium"; "Afro-Italian", "Afro-British" etc.

    In my lifetime we African Americans went through a number of self-referents before "African Americans" became our largely accepted formal group & individual referent (with "Black American" still being used as an informal referent for the same population, and more people of African descent who live in the USA- not to mention more people of African descent who live in the Americas apart from the USA).

    In the USA, over time, the hyphens are usually dropped in group names so African-American is almost always written as "African American".

    In my lifetime (around the 1970s), the term "Afro-American" was used but was later rejected. I think that was in part because "afro" didn't reference any geographical place like "African" does, and in part because an "afro" was a hair style. That said, if "Afro-European" is the accepted general term for people of African descent in Europe - which it appears to have become - then that referent is the one I will use.

    As was and is the case in the USA, people have "the right and the responsibility to name themselves and speak for themselves rather than to be named and spoken for by others". [That quote is from the "Kawaida" philosophy of Maulana Karenga, the founder of the Black holiday, Kwanzaa.]

    Thanks for what you are doing to make the world a better place for Black people, for Brown people, and for all people.

    Azizi

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    1. "if "Afro-European" is the accepted general term for people of African descent in Europe - which it appears to have become - then that referent is the one I will use."

      In the US, 'Black' and 'African' might be synonymous; but that is not the general case in the Old Worlds, where the One-Drop Rule wasn't mandated. If I don't call myself Black, it is not because I want to distantiate myself from my "Dark-Skinned Black" ancestors, but quite the opposite; it is because I, like many "Afro-Europeans", still have a living connection with Africa and can appreciate the Africans' viewpoint just as much as that of the Europeans: I'm 'White' to my Burundian relatives, 'Brown' to my "multiracial" Belgian family and, only when I'm the darkest guy around, 'Black' to unrelated White Belgians. But let my Kirundi username serve you as evidence that I am "proud" about my "African" heritage, as a legitimate full-fledged Muhanza (clan ID) and Muhutu (ethnicity) - both valid according to the patrilineal inheritance thereof, set up by my Barundi ancestors and having nothing to do with Eurocentric classifications.

      And it is because, despite the Whiteness replacing half the Blackness in being "a half-breed" (as truth2011 calls it), I want to maintain and proclaim my link to Africa, that I too support the term 'Afro-European' (even though I identify myself rather as a 'Hutu-Belgian') over any other:
      it unites not only Black and Brown, but even my White Octoroon relatives, and so on, all the while claiming our European citizenship.

      I hope this makes you understand me differently from last time, Azizi.

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  24. Hello, Bazompora.

    I'm sorry that I don't remember any previous comments that we may have exchanged.

    Thanks for sharing information about the racial/ethnic terms that you use and that other people use for you. Your comment was very interesting reading and typifies why I'm glad to have found this Afro-Europe blog.

    I'm aware that "Black" is defined differently throughout the word. Also, I'm aware that because of slavery, most African Americans can't identify their ancestral root to the extent that most Afro-Europeans can, and that is our lost.

    What I was trying to share in my previous comment to to this post, is that currently in the USA, "Black people" can be the same population as "African Americans" and "Black people" can also refer to other people of [some] African descent who are in the USA but don't consider themselves to be "African Americans". It's complicated and different people define who is "African American" and who is "Black" differently.

    For example, I don't agree with the position that the referent "African Americans" should only be used for people of some Black descent who have at least one ancestor who was enslaved in the USA. First of all, history documents that there were some African Americans who weren't enslaved.

    Also, I believe that people of some African descent who live in the USA can choose to call themselves African Americans if their ancestors are from the Caribbean, or from South America, or Canada, or Europe or wherever.

    Here's a link to a blog post that I wrote on this topic: http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2011/09/why-we-call-ourselves-african-american.html

    "Why We Call Ourselves African American"

    Best wishes,

    Azizi

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  25. Because blacks (Moors) were the first inhabitants in Europe, ie they built the castles in Scotland, English Royals, etc - I thought the term "Afro-European" encompassed that part of history.

    "It is generally known that black people have been residing in European countries since the early colonial times. But even before the 15th century and during Roman times, a time when colour of skin still wasn’t a racist stigma but just another physical feature, black people lived in Europe. Remains of a man with black African features were found in England recently, dating his life back to the 13th century."

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