Being Black in Europe
In 2019, on his first day of work in Strasbourg, Black British MEP Magid Magid was asked to leave the European Parliament by an official who thought he was an intruder. Tweeting about the incident, the 30 year-old politician denounced racist prejudices and the blatant Whiteness that characterised European Institutions. On the same year, the European Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) published the results of its survey Being Black in the EU. The figures spoke clearly: one third of the people of African descent across 12 EU countries declared having faced racial harassment in the last past five years, and even a larger number (39%) felt they experienced racial discrimination.
The explanation for the persistence of racism in Europe is, I would argue, to be found in the lack of recognition of the long history of Black people on the continent and Europe’s difficulties in coming to terms with its colonial past. Therefore, celebrating Black History Month constitutes an opportunity to talk about the past and present of Black people in Europe, and to continue the struggle for racial justice.
At the end of World War II, Europe saw the emergence of antiracist movements. ‘Race-based’ discriminations were progressively entrenched in law and ‘race’ started to lose its misleading biological definition. However, legal actions can only take you so far in societies where the stigmatisation of non-White people has a long history. Furthermore, the condemnation of racism in Europe and the rejection of the notion of race as an unscientific and even dangerous concept had some pernicious effects. It gave birth to a new ideology known as ‘colour-blindness’ or ‘raceless racism’. These terms refer to the belief that the evocation of race produces racism and that, in order to ‘move beyond race’ we should simply stop ‘seeing’ race and stop using the notion of race as a category of analysis. The truth is that no Europeans of African descent aspire to be seen as different, but that they are repetitively made to feel different. MEP Magid Magid probably felt he was among his peers until he was mistaken for an outsider.
Black History Month at the EUI
Born in the late 1970s in the US thanks to the civil rights movement, Black History Month (BHM) is an opportunity to explore and celebrate Black histories, and an important reminder to take stock of where systemic racism persists in institutions and society. Today, while BHM is widely celebrated (and also commercialised) in the US and the UK, it remains marginal in continental Europe. However, in 2016 in Florence, local artists and scholars founded Black History Month Florence (BHMF), a cross-institutional network for Black cultural production that promotes the diversity of Afro-descendent cultures in the context of Italy.
The celebration of Black History Month at the EUI is an initiative that comes from researchers of African descent who believe in the need to make Black European history visible, to stimulate a reflection on the notion of race and to address the structural imbalances that continue to shape the experience of Black people in Europe. In fact, the recent establishment of the Decolonising Initiative and Decentring Eurocentricism research cluster indicates an increased interest in the EUI community for postcolonial perspectives.
BHM blog post series
Black History Month is about making Black lives visible and constitutes the ideal occasion to tell the stories of those less-seen individuals. This EUIdeas blog series includes posts by PhD researchers working on the history of European colonialism in Africa, colonial memory and legacy, African migration(s) and people of African descent in Europe. Addressing different historical contexts and perspectives on Black history, these essays help us understand structural racial imbalances that are rooted in colonial pasts.
People of African descent remain highly underrepresented within the academic world. In this light, it is important to acknowledge that most blogs in the series are written by White researchers. This is simply a reflection of the flagrant lack of diversity among the EUI community, an issue that is no longer officially ignored (the Institute’s Diversity Committee was inaugurated in September 2021). Of course, the ‘quest for diversity’ is not an end in itself, especially if academic interests remain restricted and White. Researching Europe’s colonial past, recollecting the history of Black lives and producing a postcolonial critique at large respond to an urgent need for a different intellectual production – a production in which White scholars are welcome to take part. However, we should reflect on the social position (defined by race, gender, class, age and more) from where one is able to mention and to elaborate a certain knowledge. Ultimately, celebrating Black History Month at the EUI is not only an invitation to consider Europe in its diversity, but also an incentive to treat universities as a vehicle for social change.
Daphné Budasz is a PhD researcher in the Department of History and Civilisation. Her thesis explores the history of cross-cultural intimacy, Indian migration and race in British East Africa in the period 1895–1923. She is also involved in several public history projects, including Postcolonial Italy: Mapping Colonial Heritage, of which she is the co-founder.
Click here for more information about Black History Month (February 2022) at the EUI.