Mapping Black Europe | A New Anthology Maps Black Presence In 8 European Capitals

Leading Black scholars and activists examine this issue—with first-hand knowledge of the eight European capitals in which they live, documenting how People of African Descent have collectively marked their contributions to them.

by GRIOT - Published on 17/04/2023
Sonia , Dreading the Map, 2021. COURTESY Rock

Black communities have been making major contributions to Europe’s social and cultural life and landscapes for centuries. However, their achievements largely remain unrecognized by the dominant societies, as their perspectives are excluded from traditional modes of marking public memory.

‘Mapping Black Europe: Monuments, Markers, Memories’ portrays Black communities in eight European capital cities (London, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Luxembourg, Roma, Oslo, Warsaw) and documents how People of African Descent have collectively marked their contributions to them.

Highlighting existing monuments, memorials, and urban markers Afropean scholars and activists discuss collective narratives, outline community action, and introduce people and places relevant to Black European history, which continues to be obscured today.

The cover of the book is an image taken from the installation Dreading the Map, by UK-based Jamaican-German artist Sonia E. Barrett. Photo: Damion Griffiths and Oliver Barrett.

Since the beginning, professor, author and curator Natasha A. Kelly and journalist and professor Olive V. Vassell, who founded and headed the pioneering Black European news site, Euromight.com,  decided to write and co-edit the book with the goal to making visible the lives of People of African Descent, creating connections, and exploring how their common African heritage unites them. When they began working, at first they compared their respective home cities, London and Berlin, but they soon realised they wanted to expand their research to Black communities in other European cities.

“Shining a light on Blackness in Europe, including sites of public memory, from monuments and statues to street names and city plaques, allows for comparisons between these communities, and creates a “Blackprint” of Europe,” Kelly said in a recent interview on The African magazine.

Beside highlighting the experiences of each city’s Black communities, the anthology offers answers to questions such as “What is the state of Black memory in Europe? Which African-centered philosophies have helped to rewrite their distorted histories? How is community activism involved?”

The project began in 2019. Kelly and Vassell assembled a group of writers—academics, activists and journalists—with lived experiences of each city. Some had been born in the locations they write about, while others had lived in them for decades. All chapters unfold with an examination of Black Lives Matter in each city, which was heightened in the summer of 2020 during protests over the police killing of George Floyd in the USA. “The protests in 2020 profoundly affected the concept of our book. They had a powerful impact on Europe, especially Black Europe. In addition to calling out racist violence in the USA, they also highlighted occurrences of police killings in our own cities. We knew we had to document them,” Vassell said.

Professor Olive Vassell and Dr. Natasha A. Kelly. Photo: Danard Grays

Mapping Black Europe: Monuments, Markers, Memories is the network’s first joint project and promises a lot more for the future. Over the next few months, the editors and authors plan to share the book throughout the USA and Europe, as well as in Africa. “We are following in the Pan-African footsteps of the Black intellectuals who came before us. Rewriting history from a Black European perspective is essential to creating Black European futures,” Kelly said.

Mapping Black Europe: Monuments, Markers, Memories is available for free download on our website.

Sources: The African Magazine, Columbia University
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