The best books on Black Europe

Laura Visser-Maessen Author Of Robert Parris Moses: A Life in Civil Rights and Leadership at the Grassroots
By Laura Visser-Maessen

Who am I?

My current research centers on the organizing strategies of 20th and 21st-century Black activists in the U.S. and western Europe and on the U.S. as a reference culture for European anti-racism movements, particularly in my native country, the Netherlands. I believe the recent Black Lives Matter protests in Europe are an example of the effectiveness of diasporic politics and the next phase in a much longer history of homegrown activism. Foregrounding ‘Black Europe’ as an independent field of study accordingly helps to create much needed critical knowledge about Black Europeans’ history, agency, and needs as we navigate further into the volatile twenty-first century, while simultaneously challenging the perimeters of diasporic meaning and the centrality of ‘Black America’ within.

I wrote...

Robert Parris Moses: A Life in Civil Rights and Leadership at the Grassroots

By Laura Visser-Maessen,

Book cover of Robert Parris Moses: A Life in Civil Rights and Leadership at the Grassroots

What is my book about?

One of the most influential leaders in the civil rights movement, Robert Parris Moses (1935-2021) was essential in making Mississippi a central battleground state in the fight for voting rights. As a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Moses presented himself as a mere facilitator of grassroots activism rather than a charismatic figure like Martin Luther King Jr.

This new biography recasts Moses as an effective, hands-on organizer, safeguarding his ideals while leading from behind the scenes. By returning Moses to his rightful place among the foremost leaders of the movement, Visser-Maessen testifies to Moses's revolutionary approach to grassroots leadership and the power of the individual in generating social change.

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The books I picked & why

To Exist is to Resist: Black Feminism in Europe

By Akwugo Emejulu (editor), Francesca Sobande (editor),

Book cover of To Exist is to Resist: Black Feminism in Europe

Why did I love this book?

While the Black freedom struggle is often approached through the activism of Black males, the history of the struggle in Europe—like in the United States and elsewhere in the world—owes much to Black women, Black female scholar-activists, and Black feminist and Queer networks. Yet they remain woefully underrepresented in scholarship and collective memory.

I, therefore, chose this edited volume, because it uniquely presents the stories, intersectional experiences, and visions of contemporary Black female activists, artists, and scholars from across the continent. This not only uncovers the significant intellectual, political, social, and cultural contributions of Black women, but also expands definitions of (political) activism to include, among others, motherhood and the home.

By Akwugo Emejulu (editor), Francesca Sobande (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked To Exist is to Resist as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book brings together activists, artists and scholars of colour to show how Black feminism and Afrofeminism are being practiced in Europe today, exploring their differing social positions in various countries, and how they organise and mobilise to imagine a Black feminist Europe.

Deeply aware that they are constructed as 'Others' living in a racialised and hierarchical continent, the contibutors explore gender, class, sexuality and legal status to show that they are both invisible - presumed to be absent from and irrelevant to European societies - and hyper-visible - assumed to be passive and sexualised, angry and irrational.

Through imagining…

Book cover of Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People about Race

Why did I love this book?

Next to a growing body of work on the centuries-old Black human and cultural presence in and contributions to Europe (see among others the work of David Olusoga, Peter Fryer, Paul Gilroy, Olivette Olete, and Jacqueline Nassy Brown), memoirs and autobiography provide an excellent means for understanding the Black lived experience in Europe. In line with a longer, transnational Black tradition of using the genre to counter Black invisibility in history writing and collective memory, such works often expertly combine personal narrative with historical research.

While countless other impressive examples exist (see e.g. Afua Hirsh) and Reni Eddo-Lodge’s work doesn’t fully qualify as a ‘memoir,’ I chose her work because of the honest and insightful way it addresses—and has fueled British discussions on—the meaning of citizenship for racialized subjects in the United Kingdom, and the roles class and the politics of memory play in this. As a time document of the pre-and post-Brexit era, the book also underscores the homegrown roots of what Eddo-Lodge calls today’s European “renaissance of black critical thought and culture.” 

By Reni Eddo-Lodge,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People about Race as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Every voice raised against racism chips away at its power. We can't afford to stay silent. This book is an attempt to speak'

The book that sparked a national conversation. Exploring everything from eradicated black history to the inextricable link between class and race, Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race is the essential handbook for anyone who wants to understand race relations in Britain today.


Book cover of Afropean: Notes from Black Europe

Why did I love this book?

Written in a riveting style, this book by Black British writer and photographer Johny Pitts likewise combines personal narrative with journalism and historical research. Pitts recounts his journey visiting numerous, often invisible Black urban communities across the European continent. By highlighting their lived experiences and identity formations, Pitts’ account challenges conventional understandings of ‘Black Europe’ and the ‘Black Atlantic.’ These are too often drawn from the Black British experience and its connections to the Americas, even though the majority of Europeans who identify (or are identified) as Black live on the continental mainland, speak languages other than English, and came to Europe after World War II. Memories of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade accordingly are not always central to their identities. Above all, the book uncovers the multi-layered and personal meanings of ‘Blackness,’ while underscoring the poignant ways in which those whom Pitts dubs as ‘Afropeans’ in individual European nations grapple with a sense of ‘double consciousness,’ similar to that described by W.E.B. DuBois in his Souls of Black Folk.  

By Johny Pitts,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Afropean as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Jhalak Prize
Winner of the Bread & Roses Award for Radical Publishing

'A revelation' Owen Jones

'Afropean seizes the blur of contradictions that have obscured Europe's relationship with blackness and paints it into something new, confident and lyrical' Afua Hirsch

A Guardian, New Statesman and BBC History Magazine Best Book of 2019

'Afropean. Here was a space where blackness was taking part in shaping European identity ... A continent of Algerian flea markets, Surinamese shamanism, German Reggae and Moorish castles. Yes, all this was part of Europe too ... With my brown skin and my British passport…

Black Europe and the African Diaspora

By Darlene Clark Hine (editor), Trica Danielle Keaton (editor), Stephen Small (editor)

Book cover of Black Europe and the African Diaspora

Why did I love this book?

As one of the first scholarly attempts to investigate the Black experience on a continental scale (as opposed to in individual European nations), this edited volume presents a good introduction to the multifaceted questions and approaches that emerge when studying this topic. Offering insights from various scholarly disciplines and 20th and 21st-century case studies from individual countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Britain, and the Netherlands, it provides thoughtful essays that explore the meanings of ‘Blackness’ and belonging in Europe, and the roles the local, national, global, and metaphysical play within (imaginary) diasporic discourse and identity. As such, it invites critical thinking about the strengths and limitations of the usability of ‘Black Europe’ as a concept and unit of analysis.   

By Darlene Clark Hine (editor), Trica Danielle Keaton (editor), Stephen Small (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Black Europe and the African Diaspora as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The presence of Blacks in a number of European societies has drawn increasing interest from scholars, policymakers, and the general public. This interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary collection penetrates the multifaceted Black presence in Europe, and, in so doing, complicates the notions of race, belonging, desire, and identities assumed and presumed in revealing portraits of Black experiences in a European context. In focusing on contemporary intellectual currents and themes, the contributors theorize and re-imagine a range of historical and contemporary issues related to the broader questions of blackness, diaspora, hegemony, transnationalism, and "Black Europe" itself as lived and perceived realities.

Contributors are…

Book cover of Transatlantic Cultural Exchange: African American Women's Art and Activism in West Germany

Why did I love this book?

This impressively well-researched study focuses on the reception of Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker in post-World War II Germany. Although it only marginally references the Black German perspective (for that I recommend among others the work of Tina Campt, Tiffany Florvil, and Fatima El-Tayeb), it skillfully shows how Europeans perceive notions of race and racism through the prism of (African) Americanization.

Gerund illuminates particularly how White Germans’ interactions with (Black) America can provide pivotal insights into the meaning of ‘Whiteness’ and ‘citizenship’ in a European national context. This matters, because this in turn shapes (mis)understandings of the Black European plight and thus what anti-racism activists are up against. Like the works by Black scholars on the Netherlands, such as Gloria Wekker’s White Innocence and Philomena Essed’s edited volume Dutch Racism, Gerund’s study contributes to our understanding of how (fighting) notions of race must include grasping White (national) self-perceptions and the ways in which not just the European colonial past, but also the American racial status quo function within these.

By Katharina Gerund,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Transatlantic Cultural Exchange as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From Josephine Baker's performances in the 1920s to the 1970s solidarity campaigns for Angela Davis, from Audre Lorde as "mother" of the Afro-German movement in the 1980s to the literary stardom of 1993 Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, Germans have actively engaged with African American women's art and activism throughout the 20th century. The discursive strategies that have shaped the (West) German reactions to African American women's social activism and cultural work are examined in this study, which proposes not only a nuanced understanding of "African Americanizations" as a form of cultural exchange but also sheds new light on the role…

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