Friday, December 17, 2010
The Emergence of Afro-Europe from an Afro-Flemish Perspective
My interpretation of the Flag for the Flanders Region of Belgium, combined with some African colours, the 'AfroFlemish Flag' so to speak (The original flag is yellow, representing a black lion called 'The Black Lion of Flanders'. This symbol has a strong political meaning in Belgium)
I am currently working on a film about black identity within the Flemish world of Belgium. For those who do not follow the Belgian social and political situation, I live in a bilingual country with a lot of communitarian (or call it ‘ethnic’) tension between the Dutch speaking Flemish population in the northern part of the country and the French speaking south. There are no wars or fights of course (I guess you’d have heard about that) but politicians and media are constantly blaming the other side for all national problems. If white Belgians don’t even know who they are, it is an even more complex issue for those whose parents and grandparents migrated to Belgium.
However, black people of very different origin tend to stand outside this issue. As Flemish identity is currently a hot topic in Belgium I wondered how black Belgians define themselves within this discourse. I decided to start interviewing black Belgians living in the Flanders on these identity issues, using very explicit questions on identity. Generally though, we are not tempted to talk about these issues overtly.
Below I will introduce you to different books recently written on the black experience in Europe. I also featured a 10 min interview with French historian and writer Pap Ndiaye on his very intersting book 'The Black Condition'.
I planned an interview with the most famous black politician in Belgium (Flemish), a city councilor in the Flemish town of Sint-Niklaas. He introduced me to a book written by an African American professor, Allison Blakely (Boston University). The book was entitled ‘Black people in the Dutch world. The Evolution of Racial Imagery in a Modern Society’ (1993) and attracted my attention immediately. It was a very interesting interview in which I heard very good arguments about the symbiosis of black identity and European identity (in his case Flemish identity).
A quick search of Allison Blakely online made me discover he is currently working on a new project called ‘The Emergence of Afro-Europe’, i.e. he’s working on a book about us … He also wrote the first chapter of ‘Black Europe and the African Diaspora’ (2009) edited by Darlene Clark Hine, Trica Danielle Keaton and Stephen Small. I ordered it online and will read it and write about it on this blog soon. Although the introduction of ‘Black Europe’ was written by Philomena Essed, a black Dutch scholar, it is worth noting that many African American social scientists feel naturally attracted by the subject and tend to dominate it. Well, of course they have been thinking and working on racial and identity issues way before there even was a substantial presence of blacks in Europe. Allison Blakely also wrote the first chapter of this book.
Today, black people in Europe (of very different origins) tend to start analyzing their situation and identity, finding a lot of inspiration in the American world. This blog is an expression of this new trend. (Although it already started in the 1930’s with the négritude literary movement that was also inspired by the Harlem Renaissance and W.E.B. Du Bois.)
The UK were first in producing substantial work on black identity in Europe. Paul Gilroy’s ground breaking work ‘There ain’t no black in the Union Jack’ (1991) was followed by the still very influential work on the transnational black experience ‘The Black Atlantic’ (1993). As a bilingual Belgian I am naturally attracted to the French speaking world too where last year I discovered two very interesting works on the subject: ‘La condition noire. Essai sur une minorité française’ (2008) by Pap Ndiaye (only in French)(who also studied in the US, check his interview on France24 in English below) and ‘Noirs de France’ (2007) by politician Rama Yade. The former is a very detailed analyses of the black experience in France while the latter is more a short and personal overview of current racial issues concerning blacks in France. Both books emphasize the fact that black French people are not a community as such but form several communities (Africans from several parts of Africa, Caribbeans, Muslims, Christians, mixed race, …). They share a common experience though, an experience of being culturally French, being perceived as foreign, and being perceived as ‘black’ (which contains several stereotypes they are often confronted with in a predominantly white country). Recently I discovered ‘Portraits de douze noirs de France: ni éboueurs, ni sportifs, ni vigiles, ni musicien’ (2009) (Translation: Portraits of Twelve French Blacks: nor garbage men, nor sports men, nor vigils, neither musicians) by Baba Diawara, a very interesting little book. And I guess there must be tons of new literary productions of the sort all over Europe now, besides video and documentaries.
Literature and video production on blacks in Europe was virtually nonexistent in the 20th century (except for the UK and maybe France, both since the 90’s). Since the start of the new millennium it is literally booming in those countries and I guess this means that in other parts it must be growing too. I discovered interesting Spanish, German and Russian productions on Afro-Europe (all to be find on this blog) and I guess there are people all over Europe creating and working on the subject.
I would like readers of this blog to contribute their knowledge in comments below. Do you know of any important books on the black experience in Europe written in any language, whether existing in an English translation or not. Do you know of documentaries about black people in a European country? Let us know. This blog is an inventory for all this productions and is a platform to spread that knowledge gathered through all these experiences.
On an academic level there is the website afroeurop@s (bilingual English-Spanish) which brings together scholars from all over Europe who focus on the subject.
Pap Ndiaye on France24 (In English) talking about being black in France:
Pap Ndiaye, "The Black condition"
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