By PATRICK HUNTER
Every once in a while something comes up to remind us that we – African descendants in North America, the Caribbean and Europe – are not alone. So caught up, we are, in the struggles in this part of the world, that we frequently forget that Black people are worldwide – situated in places where their numbers put them so low in the spectrum of life that they would probably think we have it made.
I recently came across an online publication called the Calvert Journal. This is a publication of the Calvert 22 Foundation. Based in London, England, the Calvert 22 Foundation list its mission as: “…to support and share the contemporary culture and creativity of the new east – Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Russia and Central Asia – enriching perceptions of the region and furthering international understanding”.
The article that caught my eye was a feature on Russian African descendants. Snippets of stories of children of African fathers and Russian mothers and their experiences growing up in Russia.
It is a reminder that many Africans went to the then Soviet Union to study – a program offered by the Soviets to increase their influence with emerging nations on the African continent.
Not too long ago, we were introduced to Ariana Myamoto, a young African-Japanese woman who was crowned Miss Universe Japan. A debate ensued about whether she should be representing Japan at the final event.
Then there was Lou Jing. Born of a Chinese mother and African father, she entered a talent contest in China which brought her to the attention of the rest of the world, and apparently was not always welcome.
Most of us are aware that Brazil has the largest population of Blacks outside of continental Africa. However, it is easy to forget that Black people can be found throughout Central and South America, beyond Guyana, Venezuela and Suriname – and in large numbers. Stories of Afro-Colombians have finally begun to emerge, while Afro- Peruvians are still relatively unknown.
We still know very little about Blacks who lived in Germany during the World Wars. We know that Hitler did not, to put it mildly, like us. We do not know how many were killed in concentration camps, and research has turned up facts about massive sterilization of mixed-race Germans during the Third Reich.
Of course, we know that there are large numbers of Blacks in many of the countries in continental Europe. Like the UK and France, many of these countries were former colonial masters in Africa and the Caribbean, some engaged heavily in the transatlantic slave trade. And, like the UK and France, many from the colonies migrated to their colonial masters – pre- and post-independence – in search of better lives.
One of the remarkable outcomes of the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) held in Durban, South Africa, was the eventual establishment of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent. As part of its mandate, the Working Group is asked to explore and report on the conditions of African descendants all over the world and recommend ways of improving their condition. (Professor Verene Sheppard succeeded the late Rex Nettleford as a member of the Working Group. She has since relinquished her participation to Prof. Ahmed Reid.)
The Working Groups acquires direct information on countries through reports and country visits. It is a useful exercise to read some of these reports, especially those on countries that we may have been led to believe may have an “enlightened” approach to anti-Black racism, or Afrophobia as the Group sometimes refers to it.
For example, in its most recent report on Sweden, it points out that Sweden was an active player in the transatlantic slave trade. Slavery was finally abolished in 1847, but “Sweden established the world’s first national institute for race biology in 1922 with the purpose of studying eugenics and human genetics and developing and practicing State-sanctioned eugenics”.
The fact that the Working Group found many similarities – a condition that can perhaps be considered universal – in the treatment of Blacks around the world is not surprising. But, some of its findings certainly are. It found, for example, that Sweden’s Discrimination Act does not include “race” as a prohibition. Indeed, the Group calls on the Swedish government to “institutionalize the recognition of Afro-Swedes as a vulnerable group, as was done with Roma, Jews, Sami and Finns”. It also calls for the government to include the country’s history with slavery in its curricula and identify and mark specific days important to Afro-Swedes.
I bring this all up because it is Black History Month. It is, I would hope, an especially appropriate time to remember that our struggle against anti-Black racism (and Afrophobia is a very appropriate word) is not confined to North America alone.
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