Do you know the names: Kingsley Chinagorom Echeta, Adama Traoré, Mzee Mohammed, Zyed Benna, Bouna Traoré, Laye Kondé?
But, you do know the names: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Amadou Diallo, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling?
solidarity |ˌsäləˈderədē| noun : 1 unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group
The difference between the first set of names and the second is: the first set of names are Black (and one North African) men killed in police custody (or while fleeing from police) in European cities between 2005-2016. While the Black Lives Matter movement has sparked a global response, it is still primarily understood and referred to in the context of the United States of America. Although the movement originated in the U.S. it is relevant to people all over the world, because there is racism and anti-Blackness globally. In European countries where Black people are an even smaller minority than in the United States, Black Lives Matter has inspired activism and art as well. I know of Black Lives Matter solidarity protests in Paris, Vienna, and Copenhagen–although I’m sure they happened in other European cities I didn’t hear about. A major issue is that violence and racism against non-whites in Europe does not get as much attention unless it has to do with refugees, which makes it seem less about race and more about nationality. However we know that perceived nationality often has to do with race: who looks like they belong? As demographics shift in Europe anti-Black racism and other forms of racism are being discussed and challenged more. Many Americans, whether they are activists or not, do not know or hear about it. The above names are a testament to this.
Last month a Black French man, identified only as Theo, was beaten and raped with a baton after being stopped by French police in Aulnay-sous-Bois, a suburb north of Paris. He was hospitalized suffering critical injuries and internal damages. There were a series of protests in the suburbs of Paris following this incident. Many people did not hear about this or the protests even though it happened just last month in February. Media outlets in France, around Europe, as well as a couple in the U.S. continuously used the word “alleged” when referring to the rape of Theo. The use of semantics to withdraw responsibility of the police during incidents like this is also a common occurrence in the United States. Many of my European friends were posting about the violence against Theo and were necessarily outraged. Whereas none of my American friends even shared an article about it. I asked a few of my friends in the U.S. if they heard about Theo and only one said they did. He mentioned hearing something about it vaguely, but for some reason did not feel inclined to share Theo’s story as he would have if it had happened to a Black man in the U.S.
For many historical and social reasons Blackness and the Black experience in the U.S. is the quintessential example of being Black. However, it is not the only experience. There are many ways in which American-centricity usurps other meaningful and important expressions of Blackness happening in other parts of the world. In the case of Black Lives Matter and any anti-racist movement, many people in Europe share similar (but not the same) experiences. Although in most European countries it’s very difficult to outright shoot a Black person in cold blood on the street, it’s very difficult to shoot anyone on the street regardless of their race, there have been several reported and unreported instances of Black men dying in police custody. Even further among Maghrebian and sub-Saharan African men, the rate of police harassment is comparable to that suffered by Black men in the U.S. even though the numbers of Blacks in any European country is much lower than in the U.S. Additionally, citizenship is another factor in Europe where many Blacks are first generation or recent immigrants. Yet and still, that does not make the struggle of Black Europe or Afropeans (as you like) any less valid or monumental.
Solidarity for Black lives can not only focus on the U.S. case because it is a global issue and there are Blacks (and others) fighting everywhere against anti-Blackness and racism. Solidarity is inherently mutual, and yet is often unintentionally treated as unidirectional. The media may not report on instances of violence against Blacks in Europe, but it is not new for the media to be biased. The Black Lives Matter Movement and other anti-racist movements led by Black people in Europe may not be as big or popular as in the U.S. but they exist and are growing. A Black consciousness exists in many European cities and often uses Black American activism and culture as a model. Solidarity is not one-way, it is a reciprocal-circular action and discussion. Solidarity can be transnational conversations, exchanges, sharing of information, etc. It is not stagnant or linear. If the struggle against anti-Blackness and racism anywhere, in the U.S. or Europe or Middle East, is going to successful than it has to be global.
Geographies of Blackness, the experiences and culture of people of African descent who identify as Black, have always been transnational and global. The struggle should be the same. I encourage Black artists and activists in the United States to learn about Black artists and activists in Europe who are also doing work around Blackness, racism, consciousness-building, etc. Part of my work is to document and expose the links between Blackness in American cities and Blackness in European cities in hopes of creating cross-cultural, translational bridges to create more effective activism and more inspiring art. In addition, the solidarity with Black Europeans and non-White Europeans can aid in the feeling of isolation many Blacks and people of color feel in the U.S. The creativity and movements that can come from a reciprocal solidarity are endless in my opinion. As I continue my work as a Black urbanist studying geographies of Blackness in the U.S. and Europe, I hope my work encourages and helps activists in the U.S. see European Blackness just as many Black Europeans are able to see, feel, and learn from American Blackness.
[*Note: I could also write an article on the intersection of gender and how names of Black men killed by the police are more common knowledge than names of Black women. Although I did not mention it, I did not forget about violence and harassment against Black women, and how this is disproportionately undocumented, reported, or written about.]