Black Europeans: A missing link?
Europe is ethnically diverse – always has been and always will be. This in itself is not a problem – merely the everyday lived experience of European citizens and residents – particularly for those who live in Europe’s major cities. Neighbours and compatriots have ancestry drawn from all over the world, different religious traditions, different histories, but a shared future. The problem is that power and resources are not fairly shared among all citizens. Too often in Europe one’s ethnicity, religion and/or history is a marker of exclusion and disenfranchisement. This remains too often true for people of African descent in Europe.
There are an estimated 15 million people of African descent in the EU. Numbers and histories vary considerably across EU states. They make up as much as 3% of the UK population, and a few thousand people in central European or Balkan states. Their trajectories into Europe can be traced to former colonial relationships, economic migration, or people seeking sanctuary, with increasing numbers born and raised in Europe. The entry points for many Africans seeking sanctuary in Europe of Lampedusa, Kos and Calais act as flashpoints for debates about global migration, economic globalization and social justice, but little is currently said about the futures of those Africans and their descendants in Europe and the implications of their presence in Europe for the future of the continent and its peoples. What is clear is that people of African descent are now a permanent feature of European societies.
The European Network Against Racism (ENAR) has highlighted the persistent experiences of racism, discrimination and exclusion that many people of African descent face. From the labour market, to health outcomes, discrimination in the immigration and criminal justice systems, racist violence, poorer educational outcomes, and weak political representation; there remain significant barriers to people of African descent being able to maximize their potential. This is to the detriment of European societies as a whole as well as to the minoritised individuals and communities. While there are few estimates of the economic contribution that people of African descent make to EU economies, it has been estimated that in the UK alone people of African descent contribute £10 billion to the economy annually.
The European project has anti-discrimination at its heart, with a fundamental commitment to ensuring that we learn the lessons of the Holocaust and past European divisions through pursuit of human rights for all EU citizens. This project, however, appears to be failing with regard to Black Europeans. Further, the desire for ‘ever closer union’ can be interpreted as being not just between nation states, but also between European citizens. Trans-national identity groups may offer an interesting means of pursuing ever closer union and a means of counteracting the democratic deficit faced by European institutions.
This project seeks to map the shared and unique experiences of people of African descent in European states, build new solidarities, engage European citizens of African descent in debate and discussion with others about our shared future, and plot key steps on a journey to equality and inclusion for people of African descent across Europe.
Curator: Rob Berkeley