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.
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.
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.
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.