The word African Americans is a common thing to hear, but African Europeans come as a surprise to me. Why did you choose this word or expression?
The term Afro-European also opens the door to a world of interpretations and conversations about how the multiple cultural heritages of identities are shaped.
In his book, North Africans, who are mostly white, are included in the same general category as sub-Saharan Africans, who are mostly black. But from a historical point of view, the two groups enjoyed a completely different reception in Europe. do you agree with me?
The North African Roman grammarian Cornelius Fronto identified himself as an “African”. We don’t know if it’s white. Septimius Severus appears to have tanned skin. One of the main thesis I defended was that over time, skin tone became more important, except for those considered exceptional (Juan Latino, Jacobos Capitan).
Could it be said that the Romans were less racist than Renaissance Europeans towards Africans?
The concept of race as we understand it today is a very modern term. The Roman Empire was highly culturally diverse in nature. A person’s skills in education, cunning, and communication were traits that determined his social standing, not the color of his skin.
A famous Flemish painting over Lisbon in the 16th century shows a black knight, possibly from the Kingdom of the Congo, an ally of Portugal. Was this really an exception, or did some Africans make it in Europe in the early days of discoveries?
The idea of achieving success must be included in the historical context of Portugal establishing links with the African kingdoms and trying to build diplomatic and commercial relations with them. The nature of bonds was based on a form of equal partnership in the early stages of the sixteenth century. Thus, prominent African personalities in Portugal were not a rarity.
Portugal was a major slave-trading country, but it also abolished slavery in the European part of the empire in the 18th century. Does this mean that radical legal discrimination based on race was difficult to accept in Europe?
European kingdoms, including Portugal, did not want to see African slaves in their cities in the eighteenth century. They used the laws that monitor black bodies to achieve this goal. However, they wanted to continue to benefit from the captive trade and the plantation economy, so the slave trade continued at the same time.
Can you tell us how an African before the nineteenth century could achieve any success in Europe in terms of integration?
It depends on the country, but some of those who were released and had some financial resources were able to set up small businesses. Those who have received education can do some limited administrative work. Those who were left with some land, either through benefactors or family ties, could also work the land. However, most of them were not free and belonged to the European elites, even if slavery was prohibited by law on some European lands (the Free Land Act applied in Great Britain, France and Holland in the second half of the eighteenth century).
Are Afro-Europeans today still torn between origin and place of birth, or is it increasingly easy to reconcile the two elements of expression?
The division is a European classification. In France, it is French of X, Y or Z origin. In the UK it is Black Briton, which is a term found in the census, so it is a legal term. These classifications often include racial hierarchies that place them at the bottom of society. I decided to turn things around, and accept the rating to prove that it doesn’t need to be erased and doesn’t need to be viewed negatively.
Born in Cameroon and living in the UK, how do you see the African influence in British society?
By the way, I’m French too! African influence in British society is less controversial. Racism exists in the United Kingdom, but the importance of Africa in building the British Empire and the Commonwealth is widely recognized.
Do you think Europeans have an idea of Africa’s contribution to humanity?
Yes and no. From the traces of the first humans on this planet that were found in Africa, to the forced contribution of African captives to the global economy from the fifteenth century onwards, to African natural resources, there are huge archaeological and archival materials housed in European Union archives that document these stories. The problem is that many European countries have resisted the teaching of these stories for centuries and have preferred national narratives that assume they invaded and rescued Africans. So there is partial and mass amnesia that must be addressed.
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