This is a must-read for anyone looking to develop a deeper understanding of European history. Most of us are aware that it has been whitewashed to some degree, but this book will definitely give you a whole new appreciation of history and how it relates to the modern day.
Whether you’re an expert historian or simply a curious leisure reader this book will bring you new priceless knowledge, while being an easy read.
The first two chapters break down the common notion there was no African presence in Europe before the world wars by taking us through African influence on antiquity and Christianity. It was very enlightening to discover how differently the concept of race was understood in the past.
Unlike today, race did not stop anyone from reaching high positions within society. For example, think of Septimus Severus, an African Roman emperor, and Alessandro Di Medici, a “mixed-race” duke of the Florentine Republic.
Otele looks at the emergence of large slave markets across the Mediterranean and the denunciation of the growing slave trade by Pope Pius II, Pope Martin and other religious figures — at the same time the church was associating blackness with sin.
The next two chapters introduce us to the start of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and its ramifications. I particularly enjoyed exploring the position of mixed-race individuals in colonial society; a matter still relevant today.
Each European power’s involvement in the slave trade was unique, and helped build the Europe we know today, as well as shaping African European identities centuries before the perceived arrival of Africans in Europe.
This brings us to recent African European history, the emergence of abolitionist figures and pan-Africanism, from the 1800s to now. Otele stresses the impact of African Europeans on the arts, from Ignatius Sancho in England to Alexander Pushkin in Russia. She also takes up contemporary issues and activists, and the constant racism of erasure we still face despite the clear African influence on European history.
I started reading this book considering myself quite well read on African history and issues, only to find myself learning with each page and having all my old ideas of history completely revolutionised.
It has definitely become one of my classics and has given me so many more topics to research and learn about in my spare time. I recommend it to everyone, especially to educators and activists.
One quote from the book that struck me was, “Millennials fight against contemporary discrimination without necessarily relating it to the ancestral pain of past victims.” We all have a duty to educate ourselves on the past in order to learn from it.
This book will definitely shake your whole understanding of European culture and the African European identity.
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