Before I begin with the first ever Travel Book Tuesday on Megbeth Travels, I really want to emphasise that this post will not be a review. As a white woman I have no right to comment on the black experience as Johny Pitts tells it. However, since the murder of George Floyd revitalised the Black Lives Matter movement in June, I do feel that support from white people in particular has visibly diminished; and I would really like to help to keep the spotlight on black authors where I can. Sunbeams Jess explained what I am trying to say brilliantly well in her June 2020 Books video, which I would definitely recommend watching if you are trying to be a better ally. With that being said, I’ll now talk you through Afropean!
About Afropean: Notes from Black Europe
Johny Pitts is a mixed-race author and journalist from Sheffield, England, who has coined the phrase Afropean in order to explore his African-European identity. His book, as the title suggests, is the product of his notes from his travels around Europe – where he intends to track down other black communities who may identify as Afropean. Afropean is published by Penguin Travel, and doesn’t have a blurb to convey to you, which is quite a clever marketing technique because you have to read it in order to see what it’s all about! Going into it, my perception was that it would be all about how African communities helped to build Europe, and their legacies within the major cities. In hindsight, I should have realised when I saw the cover quote from Owen Jones (a British columnist) that it would be more deeply political than that. As he travels through Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin, Stockholm, Moscow and Marseille, Johny speaks to the forgotten Black communities on the fringes and recounts modern political history in their respective countries.
Facts that Afropean reminded me of:
- Until recently, most emigration from Portugal was illegal.
I remember learning about the treatment of minorities in this part of the world during Mark Wright’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are (it’s a weird place to learn world history, I know.) Although Mark’s episode was in relation to Andalucia, Spain, it borders Portugal and the persecution there does not appear to have been so different.
- In France, they do not keep statistics on race.
I think I learned this in my politics class at University, but it should still be at the forefront of everyone’s minds especially now that the French are completely unable to record any statistics on how minorities may be being disproportionately affected by the Coronavirus (as they certainly are in England.)
- In the Netherlands, blackface is still common due to the controversial Black Pete character.
I know this fact because I met a Dutch couple when I was holidaying in Ibiza. We were outraged that the hotel was giving everyone different wristbands because of their nationality (and not their all-inclusive/half-board status), which started a conversation about racism in general. It was through this couple that I learned about the Black Pete character from the Netherlands, who is celebrated around Christmastime. It was obviously a big deal (politically) in their home country and they sounded like they had had to defend the tradition many times before. “He is supposed to be sooty because he comes down chimneys,” they said. And as I’d never seen pictures or looked into it further, I was naive enough to believe them.
Facts I discovered through Afropean:
- Gibraltar has an Arabic name: Jabal Tariq.
You would think I would know that Gibraltar has Muslim heritage because I am British and Gibraltar is a (highly-contested) British colony. However, the fact that I am only discovering this now proves what we all already know: British schools are failing to teach it’s colonial history effectively.
- The French orchestrated their Victory in Europe footage to show only white servicemen.
At the time, French legions were on average only 40% white and many, many black and minority soldiers served to help the Allies win the war – however they were excluded from the Victory footage.
Afropean wasn’t written to teach you how to be a better ally, but yet I learned so much from it… way more than what’s included in this blog post. As my first foray into black non-fiction, it has definitely inspired me to read more. Books I’m already considering are: Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. Of course, they won’t be included in Travel Book Tuesdays but you may see a discussion post in the future!
I hope you enjoy having your eyes opened a little bit more with Afropean. In the meantime, you can use my About Me page to find other important causes and sign petitions.
*photo of Johny Pitts from the Creative Folkestone website