Olivette Otele's superb book traces the historical links between Africa and Europeby Angelina Osborne / November 11, 2020 / Leave a comment
Olivette Otele argues persuasively that the term African European, a little-used counterpoint to the ubiquitous African American, “is a provocation to those who deny that one can have multiple identities.” This multilayered work tries to shift perceptions, illustrating Stuart Hall’s thoughts about identity as a “matter of becoming… an ever unfinished conversation.”
In this superbly researched book, Otele, a professor of the history of slavery at Bristol, traces the historical links between Africa and Europe. She starts with ancient Kushite kingdoms and their queens who fought against Roman invasion, concluding with the contemporary activism of organisations like Mwasi, a French Afrofeminist collective. Otele presents a vibrant history, hitherto largely unknown to the wider public, which may well assume that the African presence in Europe is a recent phenomenon.
This richly layered history brims with stories of how African Europeans contributed to the culture, politics and language in the countries they lived in. For example, Juan Latino from Granada in Spain gained degrees while still enslaved, emerging as a prominent poet of the Renaissance and challenging European assumptions of the day regarding the intellectual abilities of Africans. Otele also considers how African European lives were shaped by transatlantic enslavement. She explores, too, how they were affected by colonial constructions of race, gender, politics, identity and power.
This book is more than just the stories of interesting lives; it is also a careful study of the scholarship on these individuals. Black scholars have used such life stories to empower diasporic populations living under oppressive racial hierarchies. Otele concludes on an uplifting note, showing how African Europeans are asserting their right to define themselves. As Otele remarks, they are reshaping the discussion around race, feminism and their own futures.
African Europeans: An Untold History by Olivette Otele (Hurst, £20)