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

The Books I Picked & Why

To Exist is to Resist: Black Feminism in Europe

By Akwugo Emejulu, Francesca Sobande

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

Why 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.

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

By Reni Eddo-Lodge

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

Why 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.” 

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Afropean: Notes from Black Europe

By Johny Pitts

Book cover of Afropean: Notes from Black Europe

Why 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.  

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Black Europe and the African Diaspora

By Darlene Clark Hine, Trica Danielle Keaton, Stephen Small

Book cover of Black Europe and the African Diaspora

Why 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.   

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

By Katharina Gerund

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

Why 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.

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