by Erin Huggins
The question and answer session begins, and the panels for the day come to an end. One of the last people to speak starts to ask their question by stating, “I was expecting a Blackity, Black, Black Black event.” This individual points out how they cannot truly be comfortable and vulnerable at a Black conference on Black issues when there are still white people in attendance. The truth is, in our own group, we are mostly non-Black. And looking around, though the room was mostly Black, there was a decent amount of white people in the audience. This space was not a Black only space, and the Black members of the crowd began to cheer in agreement.
The Black Europe: The Beginnings of Black Self-Organization International Conference was organized to answer the question: “But when, where, and how did Black people in Europe start to organize themselves? Together we want to explore what Black people have done to unite and collectively represent their interests under the difficult conditions in racist societies. To do this, we focus on the historical beginnings of self-organization in post-war Europe.” The discussions were about, between, and for AfroEuropeans. Members were staying up to date with what organizations and experiences were in other European nations for Black people.
The last two panel sessions I went to featured Simon INOU from Austria, Mandu dos Santos Pinto from Switzerland, Tade Omotosho from Poland, and Karen Taylor from Germany. INOU discussed the chronological history of Black activism and activism in Austria, dos Santos Pinto honed in on networking and knowledge production, Omotosho discussed building Black|AfroEuropean economic independence, and Taylor talked about AfroGerman activism, identity, and politics. Overall, my takeaway was that this conference was made to help build international solidarity and knowledge production among Black|AfroEuropeans. I agree with the person who spoke out and pointed out the white bodies in this Black space. To me, the conference did not warrant the presence of white people. The discussion at hand was very clearly directed towards AfroEuropeans, the discrimination they face, their history, and the activism and activist groups in their nations. Moreover, another individual asked how the African|Black American experience is detrimental or beneficial to Black European movements. This discussion, however, seemed pointless due to the presence of white people. The conversation was about Black activism and positionality, and unless a conversation is focused on protest or ways of supporting Black movements, I think their presence is unnecessary and potentially counterproductive.
Still, many AfroEuropean organizations are focused on, as well as created and organized by Black Europeans. For example, in “…And I Let Myself Go Wherever I Want to,” Jasmin Eding profiles Adefra, a German-based organization founded by Black German women as a place for empowerment, comfort, and healing for women and their children, networking and communicating with other Black organizations within and outside of Germany. This kind of networking and communication exclusively amongst and between Black communities was a consistent topic during the last two panels. For example, dos Santos Pinto talked about how important networking and transporting knowledge is for the Black community and the presence of white people was not deemed as needed in any of the panels.
This helped me understand Transnational Feminism through a Black lens. During class after Jasmin Eding spoke, we discussed how Transnational Feminism calls on us, at least in part, to think about the collective, to understand our positionalities, and to consider how this impacts the way we think. For example, in response to the individual that asked about Black|African American activists’ impacts on AfroEuropeans, Taylor and Omotosho discussed the impact of colonization in Europe and the U.S and its uniqueness in both places.
This conference was an example of sharing knowledge between Black communities. It was not just the consumption of information but discussion about the information presented and also pushback against what some of the panelists claimed. Black individuals engaged with each other and actively produced group knowledge and debates. For example, Omotosho, strongly suggested Black communities needed to build economic independence. He wants Black people to build towns and hubs of Black-owned businesses and for Black people to learn skills that would help them establish and build economic capital. In response, a Black member of the audience pointed out that economic emancipation is not the only step that will empower the Black community. They also stated economic emancipation will not provide empowerment if our other bases are not covered. I agree and believe capitalism will not save marginalized groups and that capitalism inherently causes oppression. Still, as Prof. Dr. Maisha Auma points out in “Knowledges of (Un-)Belonging: Epistemic Change as a Defining Mode for Black Women’s Activism in Germany,” debate and discussion helps produce and disseminate knowledge amongst groups.
The question from the audience participants created an overall discussion about what liberation looks like for the Black community and both Black and Transnational Feminist theory frameworks holds space for the fact that this will be different for different Black communities. During the conference, I learned AfroEuropeans witnessed Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S. and realized their own power in protest against police violence, even though the reasons behind those protests were unique to AfroEuropean experiences. To that point, Omotosho presented a slide featuring a little girl holding a sign that read, “Stop Calling Me Murzyn,” which translates to “negro” in Polish. “Murzyn” is still present in Polish children’s books and was used to refer to a monkey in one specifically.
Being a part of this conference allowed me to participate in knowledge-sharing with AfroEuropeans, which I had not yet experienced. It allowed me to see transnational antiracist initiatives I had not known. Being privileged enough to witness these discussions gave me access to community and transnational Black knowledge I may not have if I did not take this course. The Black Europe: The Beginnings of Black Self-Organization International Conference reminded me that Black knowledge production is sacred and transnational. It also demonstrated the significant relationships between Transnational Feminism, anti-racism activism, and Black knowledge production and discussion.
Erin Huggins is a senior at Colorado College majoring in Sociology and minoring in Education. Her current academic interests are in family structures and how the relationships between children, guardians, and social systems. She took this course to learn more about the experiences of marginalized people and communities outside the U.S. She is especially curious about the following questions: What does childhood and family look like for German families? How do marginalized people raise their children in Germany and what challenges do they face that are unique to their experiences in Germany?