On the Matter of Blackness in Europe

On the Matter of Blackness in Europe: Transnational Perspectives
University of California, Los Angeles
Thursday & Friday October 10–11 2019

Academic scholarship, literature, and other creative projects on the articulations and formations of Blackness in Europe have gained increasing attention in the last decades. While the presence of Black people in Europe dates back to the early medieval period, there has been a tendency to tie the imagined project of “Black Europe” to a notion of citizenship born out of contemporary nation states. This tendency is not only ahistorical, it also fails to acknowledge how Black people in Europe have contributed significantly to the archives of radical Black epistemologies and methodologies in various and substantial ways. However, the multiplicities of European Blackness (as ontology, identity, and/or alignment) are often subsumed under the framing of “Black Europe.” It has become increasingly clear within the last few years that the effort to think what is Blackness in European contexts demands an attentiveness to the distinct points of departure in terms of the varying socio-historical conditions that inform what constitutes Blackness as well as the divergences of anti-blackness in European nation states. This two-day symposium seeks to productively engage the project of Black Europe, in particular the scholarship that centers the resistances of Black people rendered non-citizen within Fortress Europe, urban insurrections in the aftermath of police killings of Black youth in Paris and London—as well as other cities in European countries—mobilizations against anti-black imagery, and representations in public spaces such as those against Zwarte Piete in the Netherlands, struggles for the decolonization in educational institutions, and material memories of enslavement, colonialism, imperialism and its aftermath.

Engaging with the relational lived experiences and struggles of Black people in various contexts of Europe, we anticipate that this symposium will offer novel and timely perspectives on the formations of Blackness and Black struggles within and across the Black Atlantic and the Black Mediterranean that challenge homogenization while still being attentive to practices of Black solidarity that transcend national containers and are expressed in and through temporal, spatial, performative, commemorative, cultural and poetic interventions and imaginaries. The symposium seeks to explore questions such as, how do the current struggles of Black people rendered refugees challenge European Western conceptions of citizenship and belonging and urge to challenge the colonial complexions of the “right to asylum”? How do Black mobilizations against urban racist policing and the carceral condition foster abolitionist alternatives and imaginaries? How do current practices of memory making and of lived archives challenge the politics of recognition and provide transformational temporalities and spatialities of liberation? In approaching these questions, we aim to consider the freedom dreams and practices that are often placed on the margins of historical and contemporary Black archives at this historical conjuncture and time of multiple crisis. The papers will address but are not limited to the following questions/topics:

    • What can Blackness mean in/for Europe?
    • How have contemporary contributions to the transnational continuations of the Black Radical and Black feminist traditions been brought to bear in various European contexts?
    • How do various Black struggles unfold in the face of genocidal border regimes, urban policing and surveillance, neoliberal austerity policies and the current rise of right-wing extremism, gender violence, and Islamophobia?
    • What geographies and elements of Blackness or Black diasporic identity are privileged in European discourses and how can we unsettle these asymmetries?
    • How do marginalized experiences of Blackness within Europe, especially the interventions of Black Muslims, LGBTQI*, and/or those rendered non-citizen (e.g., refugees or asylum seekers), challenge one-dimensional conceptualizations of Blackness. How can we be more accountable in centering them?
    • Which kind of Black aesthetics, creative formations and emancipatory poesis are challenging the colonial legacies of Europe?
    • How does Blackness shape and reconfigure space and how is Black place-making maneuvered alongside the intersectional lines of postcolonial urbanism?
    • How do forms of embodied memory challenge Western recognition and commemoration paradigms and foster transformative temporalities?
    • How do the politics of Black Lives Matter travel to and depart from these contexts? What can BLM mean in contexts that do not meaningfully contend with “race” as a recognized category of difference and subordination?

The two-day international symposium, co-organized by Dr. SA Smythe (UCLA) and  Dr. Vanessa Thompson (Goethe University, Frankfurt) aims to approach these issues from sustained interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary perspectives. We are pleased to have as our symposium keynote, Professor Gloria Wekker. We invite scholars, activists, artists, curators, other professionals, and individuals from other relevant sectors to foster a conversation around the formations and matters of Blackness in European contexts within the socio-historical framework and landscapes of European enslavement, colonialism, imperialism and their articulations in the present.