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Book Talk: "African Europeans: An Untold History"

Black Lives Matter: Global Perspectives Series

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African Europeans: An Untold History

A book talk for the launch of the US edition







African Europeans: An Untold History (Hachette) is now available in the US:


Olivette Otele is a Professor of History of Slavery and Memory of Enslavement at the University of Bristol, UK. She is a Fellow and Vice President of the Royal Historical Society. She holds a PhD in History from Université Paris, La Sorbonne, France. Her area of research is colonial and post-colonial History and the histories of people of African descent. She has been the recipient of several national and international research grants (AHRC, European Commission-RISE, Canadian-SSHRC). She is also a regular contributor to the press, television and radio programmes (BBC, Sky News, Guardian, Sunday Times, Elle Magazine, HuffingtonPost, New Yorker, etc).

Photo: ©Adrian Sherratt.


SA Smythe (they/them) is a poet, translator, and assistant professor of Black European Cultural Studies, Contemporary Mediterranean Studies, and Black Trans Poetics at UCLA. Their first book project is Where Blackness Meets the Sea: On Crisis, Culture, and the Black Mediterranean. Also forthcoming is their edited special issue, Troubling the Grounds: Global Configurations of Blackness, Nativism, and Indigeneity, and a full volume of poetry titled proclivity.



Dominic Thomas is the Chair of the Department of European Languages and Transcultural Studies at UCLA and the author, co-author, editor or co-editor of Black France, Museums in Postcolonial Europe, Afroeuropean Cartographies, The Invention of Race, The Colonial Legacy in France, Sexe, race et colonies, and Visualizing Empire. He is a European Affairs Commentator on CNN.


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Duration: 1:44:18



Book Talk: "African Europeans: An Untold History"

Mon, 5/10 10:29AM • 1:44:19


stories, book, question, black, europe, african, talk, european, history, professor, women, populations, legacies, people, african descent, europeans, taught, century, terms, africa


Dominic Thomas, Laurie Hart, Olivette Otele, SA Smythe

Laurie Hart 00:04

So good morning to everyone and welcome. My name is Laurie Kane Hart and I'm professor of anthropology and director of the UCLA Center for European and Russian Studies. And on behalf of UCLA International Institute, it's my great pleasure to welcome you to this morning's book talk with Olivette Otele marking the launch of her extraordinary new book, African Europeans: AnUntold History. It's just out this week from Basic Books/ Hachette Publishers, and there is a link in the chat with information on the publication. Today's event is part of a year long series we began to organize last summer, galvanized by the groundbreaking movement for Black lives on the urgent political issues it raises about systemic racism and institutional violence both in the U.S. and around the world.

Laurie Hart 01:00

Given both the global history and the contemporary sweep of racial capitalism, an international perspective is fundamental to both scholarship and activism. Our panels this year have moved widely across global landscapes, from the U.S. to the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe and the Pacific to examine the complex global lives of slavery, segregation, abolition movements and racial anti colonial liberation movements in the context of Cold War, militarism, empire building, and global racial capitalism.

Laurie Hart 01:36

The book at the center of our panel today takes a deep plunge into the long record of African Europeans from antiquity to the present in a masterful evocation of individual lives, and a brilliant analysis of the historical canvass of social categories and struggles that move and are moved by those lives in the diverse moments and places that have constituted Europe. It's full of surprises for those of us who might have imagined we knew anything about this history. And it's a spectacular final event for our series this year. Thank you all for being here.

Laurie Hart 02:11

Before we get to the main event, I wanted to offer a few brief words of acknowledgement and gratitude. First, I wish to note that U.S.... UCLA as a land grant institution, acknowledges our presence on the traditional ancestral and unceded territory of the Gabrielino/Tongva peoples, the traditional land caretakers of the Tovaangar (the Los Angeles Basin and South Channel Islands). As a land grant institution, we pay our respects to those ancestors, elders and relations past, present and emerging. I also want to give our great thanks to International Institute Senior Associate Vice Provost and Director Chris Erickson, and Vice Provost Cindy fan. And to my colleagues on the Organising Committee, Jorge Maturano, Robin Derby, Shana Potts, Ippy Kalofonos, Alden Young, Erica Anjum and the chair of our group, Jennifer Chun. We are as always indebted to the excellent staff at the Institute, including Kathryn Paul, Peggy McInerny, Kaya Mentesoglu, Alex Zhu, Oliver Chen, Chloe Hiuga and Stephen Acosta, Liana Grancea and Sonja Lacan. Finally, I want to thank our generous cosponsors, the Center for European and Russian Studies, the African Studies Center and the Department of European Languages and Transcultural Studies.

Laurie Hart 03:40

So with that, let me briefly introduce our speakers. You'll find brief summaries and links for reference in the chat box that you can activate at the bottom of your screen. First, our speaker Olivette Otele is professor of history of slavery and memory of enslavement at the University of Bristol. She's a fellow and a vice president of the Royal Historical Society. Professor Otelle holds a Ph.D. in history from the Université de Paris, at the Sorbonne in France. Her areas of research are colonial and postcolonial history and the histories of people of African descent. Professor Otele has been the recipient of several national and international research grants. She's also a trustee of the research committee at the Victoria and Albert and Bristol's mayoral chair for commission of racial equality. She's a regular contributor to the press, television and radio programs. and her latest books include an edited volume, Post-Conflict: Memorialization, Missing Memorials, Absent Bodies, and the book we're hearing about today, African Europeans, that was recently long-listed for the Orwell prize for political writing in 2021.

Laurie Hart 04:55

SA Smythe is a poet, translator and assistant professor of Black European cultural studies, contemporary Mediterranean studies and Black trans poetics at UCLA. Their irst project is Where Blackness Meets the Sea: On Crisis, Culture and the Black Mediterranean. Also forthcoming is their edited special issue, Troubling the Grounds: Global Configurations of Blackness, Nativism and Indigeneity, and a full volume of poetry titled Proclivity. And our final participant panelist is Dominic Thomas, chair of the department of European languages and transcultural studies at UCLA, and the author, co-author, editor or co-editor of many books, including Black France; Museums in Post-Colonial Europe; Afro European Cartographies; The Invention of Race; The Colonial Legacy in France; Sex, Race et Colonia; and Visualizing Empire. He has many academic honors in the U.S. and abroad and has held fellowships residences, and visiting professorships in more countries than I can count. He's also European affairs commentator on CNN.

Laurie Hart 06:13

So our format today will include the speaker's presentation, followed by comments from our respondents, followed by moderated discussion and conversation, and Q&A from our audience. We ask that attendees submit their questions on the webinars Q&A, which you'll find at the bottom of your screen. And you can write your questions in at any point during the during the session. You can write your questions anonymously or under your name. Although we probably will be limited in time and are sometimes unable to respond to all of the questions we would like, your questions are valuable and will be saved for the speakers. A recording of the event will also be posted on the International Institute's website. So now let me invite our speaker, Professor Olivette Otele, to our virtual podium.... You need to unmute.

Olivette Otele 07:11

It was bound to happen at least once. Thank you ever so much for inviting me, it's such a pleasure to be there. I would, of course, love to be there in person, but maybe another time. And I wanted to walk you through my book by looking at each chapter. And we probably won't to have time for this, but I also wanted to walk you through to the kind of process what led me to writing the book, and so on and so forth. So I'm going to start by the end, which is about the last thing I did was basically write the end of my introduction and the end of my introduction was angry and comfortable and hopeful.

Olivette Otele 07:57

Because following the killing off of African American George Floyd in May last year, well, we saw mass demonstrations across the globe in protest and protests where a lot about a lot of things that... about the power of the police as an organization that represented citizens, an organization that is supposed to protect the citizens, and yet that appears to continue to fail them and over and over. So we saw terms such as police brutality, systemic racism, or institutionalized racism, became at the forefront of the debate, particularly in Europe. And these terms were not born in a vacuum, as we know, they are directly related to series of events that shaped contemporary Europe. And that history dates back to centuries and has its origins in colonial conquest.

Olivette Otele 08:49

However, the reason why I decided to write the book on those histories -- the histories of African Europeans, that histories that span over 20 centuries and render across roughly four continents -- is not really, or only, about colonization, but it is about trajectories, identities and counters, resilience, liberation. It is about claiming one's space as an African European in the African and European history, in the African and European literary, geographic, social science, political, art books. So it is about the stories that were not taught to me as at school, but that existed and were circulating around me as a child born in Africa, in Cameroon, and as a child of the French Republic The stories of a kind of greatness of Ethiopia, Egypt, the Kingdom of Mali, and the pain that resulted from German, British and French colonizations were stories embedded into my personal trajectories. These stories were all metaphorically, literally collective sites of memory and history that shaped my education and also, of course, my intellectual journey.

Olivette Otele 10:11

So, for my book, I thought, I'll start with Ethiopia, and I had the amazing opportunity for many years, after many years of commuting from Wales to Paris, Wales in the UK and to Paris where I managed to secure a permanent job in strategic research, I managed after so many years to secure job in the UK. Some of you in the city of Bath, and some of you may not know the city of Bath, but for those who know a bit more well, Bath is known for its connection with a Jane Austen novel, is known for its connections with British period drama and series. It is the city that has a Roman legacy, but also it is a city that is often presented as quintessentially English. So I taught you in Bath for six years, and found that there was another history that existed in the city. And Bath was the place where the Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie resided for many years after the fascist Italian Army's invasion of Ethiopia in 1936. It is therefore... it really seemed suitable for me to start the book there, and to go back in time, as a kind of homage. And in particular, to go back to the Kushite entity, the Ethiopian queens, the Candaces [or Kandakes] and how they resisted Roman invasion from the 27th century BC onwards. So I talked about Amanirenas [a queen of the Kingdom of Kush] and other, other key characters.

Olivette Otele 11:44

But what was important for me to talk about was the Candace as the mother of the king. So this is how they're defined, they're defined as the mothers of the kings. But these women were really warrior queens and absolutely skillful diplomats. So the story I wanted to talk about, and to tell through them, was the story of the narrative duration of power, and duration, a narrative of resilience and compromise. For me, these stories have been taught to me by my grandmother, not in great detail, but you know, she heard she heard about the Candaces.

Olivette Otele 12:24

And for me, these stories were very important because they were examples of early, what I would call early Black feminists in so many ways. Of course, the Candaces were not alone. We also have stories of Ahmeheric [sp?] queens, meheric being roughly what we call nowadays dan [sp?], and we heard about... well, I heard as a child about these queens and, and how their stories shaped Sudan and Egypt and, and I heard about them as a teenager, by reading Cheikh Anta Diop, a Senegalese historian, who talks about the, the, the black origin of Egypt. And these stories are again about resistance, power, colonization. But what was interesting for me about the Ahmeheric [sp?] queens, the Candaces, was these stories rarely put women at the forefront. And they talk about colonization. It's a bit as if the history of colonization was raising the gender dynamics early, to see gender dynamics in terms of kind of sexual violence, not necessarily in terms of power and power held by women in certain situations.

Olivette Otele 13:37

And in these stories, as well, we see Africa appearing and presented in a certain way. Africa is the place of provenance. Its geographical otherness, rather than the melanin otherness. And you have other markers of otherness. And these other markers are equally important in early days. And I'm thinking about the construction of elements through religion. And it was important for me, again, to look at the construction of elements that function outside the skin color, religion, and the narrative of Arabs versus Christians is linked, of course, to the Arab occupation of the Iberian Peninsula and 70 in 700, and the Arabian hegemony in the trade of human beings.

Olivette Otele 14:24

Again, when we think about the trade in human beings, you talk about the Arab trade or the Arab slave trade, um, almost as opposed to, in a position to the transatlantic slave trade or Indian Ocean slave trade. But what was interesting for me was to look at the, the kind of economic dimension that is prevailing, rather than the dynamic of, again, relations of power. So, from the Arabs, we, we learn and we see how Christianity started to denigrate the Arabs by naming them Saracens, by naming them impure, and so on and so forth. And that otherness, that construction of otherness, is not necessarily based on physical attributes, as I said, it's really a religious one. So you have... you started to have a kind of an idea emerging about, about visible or invisible differences. And things seems clear or, or at least clearer, but again, I want you to challenge that a bit and interrogate these boundaries, geographical boundaries, racial boundaries, um, religious boundaries, and look at another category of people. And these people were the Mamulets [sp?] of Egypt. Now, some of you might not know about them. Some of them are you obviously do.

Olivette Otele 15:54

So we have the slave trade in Eastern Europe, and that slave trade was basically based on the traffic of children, those children were taken into slavery, sent across Europe, but more importantly, sent to Egypt. And those children over time, through several centuries became a class on their own. So they were raised as soldiers, and they were allowed to marry only amongst themselves. So other children are trafficked, but women this time, and trafficked and sent to, to Egypt, so marrying amongst themselves. And so you have a category of people who are based in Egypt, therefore in Africa, and who are of European descent, therefore, white, who are Africans, and who are Muslim. So otherness worked in different ways. And I wanted to talk about them because I wanted to, again, trouble the boundaries of what it means to be an African and what it means to European. And in terms of period, we're talking about 900 of our time, and they were in, you know, in existence for over 1.000 years. And the Mamulet [sp?] acquired power and some of them became monarchs and reigned over Egypt.

Olivette Otele 17:17

So what this tells us is that the history that we know today about Europeans is much, much more complex than skin tones. And we need to, you know, we need to reevaluate how we define Africans, and how we define Europeans, because of that, that legacy, that historical legacy. So speaking of traveling, and speaking of traveling boundaries, what about another man? What about St. Maurice? St. Maurice was a feeble soldier, meaning he was an Egyptian soldier, who was... and at the time Egypt was under Roman, the Roman rule. And he refused to obey the orders given by, by Rome, by going to war. And he was killed, and St. Maurice became a martyr, a legendary character. And what is interesting for me is that he, you know, he moves from kind of the confines of Africa, to Rome, but it's not really in Rome that his reputation is made. It is precisely made further north in Magdeburg, which is nowadays Germany, where in the 13th century, the cathedral commissioned a statute of St. Morris. So you have this black man proudly standing there before the cathedral and symbolizing Christianity, symbolizing resilience and power. This African who is supposed to be "the other" is becoming the symbol of, of, of survival, and not just survival, more than that -- a symbol of power.

Olivette Otele 19:09

So we have here beyond the color, the significance of the legacies of the ?? I was trying to unpack how it had been possible, given the kind of historical context at the time and so on and so forth. But Maurice is not the only one who is, along the Mediterranean, seen as an important character. Another character, and this one is much more, much well known, but he's not known because he was an African. He's not known because, you know, he conceded and he is a symbol of resilience. No, not at all. And it's Septimius Severus. Septimius Severus: Roman emperor, ruthless, like most Roman emperors were, is somebody who was born in nowadays Libya. And from an elite family, and he's going to travel to Rome have that, you know, kind of Roman education in Latin, Greek and all that, and had this very elite education, makes his way -- and he's ever so clever, ever so well calculating as well, that he's going to impress around him. But by the age of 25, he's having kind of high, very high-skilled civil servant duties, and he's sent across the Roman Empire. But it's not enough for him, he wants more power, and he is going to succeed because he was somebody who was a military leader, but also a very skillful diplomat and, so much so that he became a Roman Emperor. As I said, like most Roman Emperor, he wants more, he wants conquest. He's, he's thriving on blood, and on expansion, and he's going to go on the campaign of Britannia. And, you know, it works more or less well, he's, he's having troubles with his children. He might have been one of the greatest Roman Emperors, in terms of, when I say greatest. in terms of recklessness. He was a terrible father and his children are just these horrible, debased people who, who try actually to, to assassinate him.

Olivette Otele 21:26

Long story short, he ends up in the north of England, conquered Britannia, well, part of it, and then becomes ill and dies in York. Now, this is an extraordinary story, because he died, he dies in York. And York is just like Bath, one of the most quintessentially English cities in Britain, and, and if people in Europe know about Septimus Severus, very few people are taught about his African origins, very few people can tell you where he came from. Even though at the British Museum, for example, you will find an African, it looks like a Roman, but here's the Mediterranean. So he is of mixed descent.

Olivette Otele 22:18

And I find this story quite fascinating because it tells me the ways in which the narrative of conquest is presented, the ways in which racialization before its time actually functioned. It means that the Roman Empire had less difficulty accepting others in terms of skin color. It was about power, it was about who succeeds, who gets ahead, and who manages to kind of climb the ladders, rather than about one's origins. Having said that, that origin actually serves the purpose of some others, African Europeans. And I'm... thinking about the intellectual Cornutus [sp?], who is a skilled man, and who has had the privilege of becoming the tutor of several emperors, Roman emperors, and who is actually linked to others, many other African Europeans. And suddenly, by examining that story, I found out that there was actually a whole network in ancient Rome, a whole network of African Europeans who were well recognized, celebrated, and who were circulating around European capitals, traveling along the Mediterranean, but also further north, and welcomed and supported not as, you know, isolated guests, but, but actually as powerhouses of knowledge.

Olivette Otele 23:51

And that story led me to kind of look at furthermore, at the idea of Black Mediterraneans. Now the term Black Mediterraneans, it's just a play on words, because the term itself is borrowed from Alexandra, the scholar Alexandra DiMaggio. And Alexandra talks, when she talks about the Vlack Mediterranean, she talks about contemporary Black migrants who are crossing in dying in the Mediterranean. So I wanted to show that there used to be a different kind of Black Mediterranean and I decided to look at those prominent names. So in a way, my trajectory here is about exceptional characters. However, this idea of exceptionalism, we might discuss that later. It's a double edged sword, and we'll talk about that later.

Olivette Otele 24:44

So those exceptionals, we have of course, the, the fascinating figure of Alessandro de' Medici, who was Pope Clement VII's nephew. Some have argued that he might have been his son, but we don't know about this. Officially, he was the nephew. And Alessandro became the first Duke of Florence, I think at the age of 19. And what is special about Alessandro is that he was of dual heritage. His mother is said to have been of African descent and his father, of course, of Roman or Italian descent. What is interesting for me, what was interesting, not so much about his life, but how the narrative about his life has been transformed across time and space.

Olivette Otele 25:35

Fifteenth century Florence was all about class. So even though he was, well, he seemed to have been quite unpleasant. Some people would say in today's terms, that he might have been a sexual predator. It seems that he was protected by his class, but also people were frowning, you know, his reputation was frowned upon, because he, he, he, he seemed to not have been disturbed by the fact that he ruined certain women's reputations in Florence. What is interesting about this is that the question of color, skin tone and all the rest of it, is not, really was not, the topic of 15th-century Florence. What was the topic was, of course, his reputation and the class divide. So over centuries, he became that figure of.. some people contested that he was actually Black. Other said that his mother was probably Italian and these are all lies, and you have scholars actually writing books about this. And what is interesting is to see that even his representation in painting is changed. So he moved from this curly hair, dual heritage person into somebody whose whose skin is lighter, and lighter and lighter. Because Blackness becomes a stigma as Europe delves more and more into colonial conquest and into slavery.

Olivette Otele 27:12

Still, if we're going to look at class, class divides, let's look at somebody else who is prominent, and who, but who is in some ways at the bottom of the social ladder. And I'm thinking about Juan Latino, the kind of... a grammarian who was born, who, who is, who lived in Grenada. He was enslaved, which is extraordinary, because this is the story of somebody who was extraordinarily intelligent, and so much so that he's going to be given more education, more privileges, and who would go to work, teach in one of the most prestigious institutions in Vernazza while still remaining an enslaved person. He had the protection and the backing of the King of Spain. And he produced an extraordinary literary cannon. He wrote, for example, Austrias Carmen and Austrias Carmen, it's, well, it's never taught in school, actually. And I checked, it's not really taught in Spain either, or even at university level in the rest of Europe.

Olivette Otele 28:26

And yet the man was an extraordinary powerhouse of his time in the 16th century of Granada. He talks about the Battle of Lepanto, which is a battle that took place between the empire, the Ottoman Empire, and Spain. And the battle results from the victory of Spain but very sadly, Juan Latina managed to explain, well, we're retaining the kind of support of those Spanish elites, managed to explain very certainly that what they were doing at the time with the, the subjugation and the discrimination against Moriscos with was terrible. Moriscos were Muslim populations who had been forced to convert to Christianity. So these people were constantly guarded. They were set in... they couldn't live wherever they wanted. They were basically put in a kind of reservation, and they were monitored, monitored constantly. So so very sadly, the poem is about people's place in these, in this, in this place, of, of culture, of beauty, and how actually Catholic principles and humanist principles are really at odds with what was happening at this kind of a social... socially, really in society.

Olivette Otele 29:55

And that that was so important, the way, the ways in which he did it --- it's so subtle and so beautiful -- that ?? Molinero talks about heand when he talks about him, mentions the fact that for him, one Latina was a renaissance humanist. And that is, is beautiful. And you don't hear about Black Renaissance humanists. You hear about other people. That story, again, is not really widely taught, what is taught is about his differences and all that, but not his production, as, as an academic really.

Olivette Otele 30:35

Black presence seemed to be disturbing for a 16th-century Europe, so it was disturbing, it was feared. So... and it needed to be represented. You see more in 16th-century European capitals, you see more and more enslaved people, you see more and more fear towards enslaved people. They are subjugated by law and yet, they are, they represent menace, they represent the unknown, even when they are Christianized. So they are feared and you have that actually crystallized in the, in the, in the play Othello. Othello is a Muslim. He's got like a doulbe star, he's a Muslim and he's a Black man, um, so , you know, the ending had to be tragic. You know, tragedy, and he had to eddie. But those populations are also mocked. And we see the... more and more plays being set up and created and, for example, you have the plays written by Lope de Veda and his use of black speech to ridicule the black population. And you also see in Cervantes' play, you see Cervantes, I believe he was mentioned of one Latino, in Don Quixote. All this shows you that there's certain kinds of racial anxiety, as we call it nowadays, that is really troubling societies at the time.

Olivette Otele 32:18

Blackness is feared in the 16th and 17th centuries, but Blackness is redeemable through Christianity and conversion. Blackness is also organized. So you have parallel stories 15th-16th century weird, and all that. But you also have what are called pockets of resistance, because 15th-century Europe, and in particular 15th-century Portugal, you have Blackness organizing itself. You have enslaved people organizing themselves into early confraternities in Portugal, and noticeably, one of the earliest ones is a set up in 1471. And these people do not call themselves Europeans, they call themselves Africans. They are, they are accepting their condition, in the sense that they are enslaved, but these confraternities are there to provide support for people who join them, they're there to provide information because some of these populations are displaced in the Americas and are sent there. So it's the early examples, for me at least, of organizing, of Black organization at the time.

Olivette Otele 33:39

So if we move further, a bit more. So I kept mentioning the slave trade and really the elephant in the room is, indeed, the slave trade, and how the slave trade further shaped the notion of otherness, and clearly defined "Blackness" and "Whiteness" by putting a hierarchy in place. And that hierarchy led to what we know nowadays, or we understood nowadays as white supremacy. So for me, it was about looking at different levels of organization of Blacks, Black supremacy, the rhetoric, the words, the actions, the legal side, the cultural side, through art, through music, and so on and so forth. So it is about the foundation of the invention of race. If in previous centuries, visualization, visualization was religious, Christian versus Muslim, geographical -- Irish versus English. What I mean by that is that Ireland, Ireland and England, are quite close and yet in the 15th century, earlier even in 14th century, 15th century, you have the Irish seeing... Um, the English seeing the Irish as another race.

Olivette Otele 35:00

In the 17th century, it was by the 17th century, it was almost exclusively based on skin tone and skin color. So we have a shaping or changes in the discourse at the time in the 17th, but also in the 18th, century. And I wanted to see what it meant to be an African European and whose self-worth was based on that racialization and those premises. And again, you know, I wanted to look at exceptional individuals simply because I wanted to contrast them with ordinary people. We have less information about ordinary people, but we do have some, and I'll come back to that later. And I chose to talk about Jacobus Capitein in the Netherlands and his story is, is an incredible story. This is somebody who was kidnapped, sold to a sea captain, a Dutch sea captain, ended up in the Netherlands, in Holland -- ended up because he was he was second when he was 8 or 0 or maybe 10. And he became a bit of the child of a family, if you will. So he was taken by this, the sea captain and the sea captain decided to give him to somebody else who was a scholar. And he had this extraordinary education, taught Latin, Greek, and all the rest of it, did a dissertation that he presented to... before an audience of European scholars, and of course, high praises and etc. What is interesting though, it was a dissertation on a theology, in theology. And what is interesting is that his dissertation was about, about slavery. And I'm kind of reducing his work here, and I shouldn't do that, but basically the premises were that slavery wasn't... Slavery, when we are alive, wasn't that bad, simply because redemption comes in when we die. In other words, there are two worlds, and we shouldn't be, you know, too put up by the carnal world and the world in which we were living right in the middle of the 18th century.

Olivette Otele 37:26

So subsequent scholars have completely discarded him, saying, well, he was a racist d he supported slavery. It's... For me, we, we need to, to look at it very closely because this is a man who was taken as a child, who evolved in a very elite circle, who might have seen black people, but those people were not like him. In other words, he was taught that he was not like that and he was different. He wasn't quite white, but he wasn't quite Black. And he was extraordinary and intelligent, and he was taught and told that all the time, and so much so that he... they managed to convince him that he should go back to Africa and educate his population. And very gladly he went there and he [was] supported by, by the Netherlands, but once he gets there, he found out that there's a population of white men who are sailors who are uneducated and who are behaving in a certain way, they are behaving like slave traders towards Black people. He's taken aback -- they have no respect for him, they are the mocking him, so he decides... it's as if almost as if he found out that he was actually Black. So he took matters into his own hand and decided to to educate the dual heritage population, and in particular, condemned the fact that some of those people would have children but not provide anything for those children and leave them behind knowledge, education, but no financial support, so... But that is frowned upon, so much so that eventually the Netherlands is going to kind of let him go, so he dies completely in debt and his reputation ruined by several people. They [were] accusing him of misappropriating finance[s], but really he didn't receive much to be misappropriating any finance[s]. And long story short, he died poor and but the interesting fact is that he found out that there was another reality about the slave trade in slavery and he lived it. So he's of dual heritage not in because of his skin, but he's dual... he has a dual cultural heritage because he's both African, born in Africa, but also European.

Olivette Otele 39:57

And this idea of dual heritage is not, again, only based on skin tone. But I wanted to look at that as well, because we talk about dual heritage people who are worn in Europe. But what about those who are born, who were born, in Africa, and I was absolutely fascinated by this story of Ga [from the Ga-Dangbe or Ga-Dangme or GaDangme miniority] women in Ghana. Ga women were women, generations of women, who tended to marry Danish slave traders and Danish traders. And those women belong to a class of people. So you have a Ga population and the community that is very patriarchal, in the sense that women have very little, very little, right[s]. But the patriarchy wanted these women to marry. Well, they're not really married, they have an arrangement that is kind of like a marriage, to live with these men. And to, you know, the proximity to whiteness allow them certain economic advantages, but it was much more than that.

Olivette Otele 41:06

The Danish needed these populations to be able to have access to resources in Africa. So these people, these populations, were intermediaries. And what I wanted to demonstrate is how these women are managing to carve a place in society and kind of escape patriarchy while providing and securing a future for their children. Because in Ga society, men and women were not allowed to live together, well, these women are going to force the Danish not to live with them, protecting, raising their children, and once their children are in their teenage years, send them if they were, if they were male, send them to, to the forts, um, managed by, by the Dutch, by, by the Danish, sorry, and to have any education. And according to Danish laws, if you have children, you have to give, well, the Mums, the mothers, an allowance, but you also have to protect the children by leaving them something.

Olivette Otele 42:04

So I looked at the work done by Hillary Jones about Ga women. But I also wanted to contrast that with something else that was happening in Francophone Africa, which was about the Signare [French African women] in Senegal, in Sunwin, in Gorée Island, this set... The Signare had another arrangement, which was like a proper marriage, which was mariage a la mode. What was interesting for me to look at is how this category of people, it's not just a community, proximity to whiteness, it's actually dictating the terms of the exchanges. These women became so powerful that they are slave traders themselves, they are ordering fabrics from across Europe, coming from, from from Asia. They are cultural icons and fashion icons. But they are, as I said, also slave traders and dictating the terms. So things are... come tumbling when France abolish the slave trade, and doesn't apply the same rule to Senegal. These women had to reinvent -- women and men had to reinvent themselves, but, but at that point, many of them actually had kind of positions in the social ladder, in governments, and so on and so forth.

Olivette Otele 43:23

So I looked at those stories. Again, it's about dual heritage. But none of these women... The Ga women were defending fiercely their African identity. The women of Senegal and the men of Senegal, the Signare were defending their dual heritage identity. And that dual heritage was all on wealth acquired over centuries. And that, that, those stories allow me to look at, for example, Denmark, and the ways in which Denmark was dealing with that past because that past until the 2000s, was not taught to the rest of the Danish population. It's a past that existed and therefore communities, in Saint Croix, for example, the rich Caribbeans knew about these stories. You know, people of African descent have learned about these stories and enslaved people, the descendants of enslaved, have learned about their stories. But these stories were not integrated into European historical narrative.

Olivette Otele 44:17

And in the year 2000, after decades, if not centuries of kind of organization and kind of activism, these stories were completely burst open and the dialogue started ... that is still violent to this day. And that is about Denmark's participation in the slave trade. Because when you talk about the slave trade, you hear about the Spanish, the Portuguese, the French, the Dutch and so on and so forth. Very rarely do you hear about this Scandinavians participation in the slave trade. I'm checking the time right now and I'm still, I'm still good. I have like three minutes,perhaps I should conclude.

Olivette Otele 45:02

I wanted to talk to you about Germany and Brandenburg, because Germany, I was born in Cameroon and we have a family history that is very much linked to Germany. And I wanted to tell you about the construction of historical narrative that is based on amnesia, but also on ruthlessness and the notion of conquest, and so on and so forth. But you know, we can talk about that later. I'm just going to perhaps, yeah, perhaps move to, to the conclusion, which is that all these stories are constantly back and forth. I'm constantly looking at past and present, because it's important for me. I'm looking and looking at them as a scholar, but I'm also looking at them as a child of Africa, a child of Europe. And how Eurasia amnesia is actually a construction of power. And how these dynamics are obliterating generations of, of, of activism and fights, but never, never completely, because there's something that gave me so much hope, by looking at these stories, is how all the time, all these populations have found what are called pockets of resistance. And little by little, how forcing 21st-century Europe to talk about these question and this... and kind of trying to address this nostalgia for, for the time passed, when those times were a source of, of trauma for so many people and citizens, forcing the governments to try and see... um, try and look at the gaps.

Olivette Otele 46:48

For example, we're talking about multicultural Europe, what does it mean? What about political representation? Where is the power? Who has the power? and for how long? Is it sustainable to still talk about pure Europe? and of white Europe? It's, it's not the reality that I knew. And it's not the reality that these younger generations are fighting for. Yes, that's exactly 40 minutes. Thank you.

Laurie Hart 47:17

Thank you so much Professor Otele for putting us in the picture and providing us with some evocative examples of the individuals that you have peopled your book with. I think we'll now turn to Professor Smythe for some comments.

SA Smythe 47:42

Brilliant, thank you. Can you hear me? Okay?

Laurie Hart 47:44


SA Smythe 47:45

Okay. Wow, that was incredible. And, and well timed, both in the sense of your talk, and also the really timely implications of this book and its U.S. book launch. So first, I just wanted to say congratulations, no one has showed the book, maybe I'll hide my little post it notes there just for the visual, but it's here, we have it. Okay, so I'm just gonna offer a couple of things. I initially had presented some questions, but I know that it's meant to be sort of conversational. So rather than sort of re-rehearse the deep impacts of your book, because you've traced it out chapter by chapter for us, I thought I would just offer a few things. And I did say I was gonna gush a little, I'm curbing it now. I'm like, censoring myself. But I did, you know, just be a bit cheeky, but I did want to say, you know, you talk to us about exceptionalism in a in a really comprehensive and evocative way.

SA Smythe 48:46

Two things I wish to say about that one, you know, as you're taking this very comprehensive, I'm going to say there were too many times, sort of historic, historiographical analysis from the classical era to the present day, you know, it really is 20... 20 centuries in in this amount. So it really is incredibly vast and extensive and despite the sort of length, when you think about 20-century-long and historical intervention, it still really gets to the heart through the sorts of narrative refraction that you offer us, in terms of refraction in the, you know, like photographic sense, in terms of taking us from broad historical scopes to individual story, but also refractive in the historical sense of, you know, giving us you know, starting with Ethiopian, so that sort of like moving back and forth through time to show the through-line of the, the narrative of African Europeans.

SA Smythe 49:46

Gilroy, Paul Gilroy, obviously, talked to us about, quite famously, about what it means from the Black Atlantic, to relegate the story of Black people to the preset. But you also show us the underside of that in a really powerful way, showing the narrative of exceptionalism. Why I wanted to dwell on that is because as you've talked to us about today, you go through and talk to us about the sort of pitfalls of the underside, the duality, even, of this kind of exceptionalism. But I did also want to just, I guess, uplift, and hopefully not an embarrassing way, because you already know the numbers, right, that in the United Kingdom today, in 2021, where we are, you know, there are, I've written it down, approximately 21,000 people titled to academic staff, 0.7% of those people are of African descent. If you want to include it, you know, Black in terms of political Blackness, which we can certainly talk about, that number goes up to 2.5%. So if that's what makes us feel better, we can think through that.

SA Smythe 50:49

But so, we're talking about exceptionalism through this historiographical lens and we also have Professor Otele here, who is, being the first Black woman appointed to a professorial chair in history also being an exception, but also resisting that narrative by really, sort of, you know, claiming and garnering the roots in what becomes then a really African European story, right? Just... I'm just saying this because Professor Otele is not in the book, but is certainly of the book in a way that I personally find moving, my comrades in the United Kingdom find incredibly moving, to have this kind of storied activism through scholarship, but also in this embodied, feminist way, is really incredibly meaningful. And you know, for the UK, a shame.

SA Smythe 51:40

So I did just want to say that here, because, and this is where I would love to, you know, one of the things I'd love to talk to you about today, is that you did say, you know, let's see, you see what the people now think about it, and in current generations -- I'm assuming that includes mine and certainly after, you know -- just where a lot of us have had to go come, I guess, come. Since I'm on Tongva land and in the United States, have had to come to the United States to learn the history and reflect it back to Britain. So by talking to us about African Europeans, in a very capacious way, that does not... it actually does not really allow for certain political positioning, that academics are actually, you know, prone to do, which is, sort of, lay political claim and label -- sort of say, that's what it is and then reify the very groups that we're trying to attend to, and often new ones too. And so terms might include, like Black Europeans, or Afropean or Afro European and these sorts of different and shifting nomenclature that sort of nobody I know on the ground, you know, nobody I know in the UK calls himself an Afropean. And yet, I read a thesis every day about Afropeans. Even though you know, a black British person wrote a book who I know, you know, Johnny Pitt wrote a book on Afropeans. But you know, that's still not, that's still not quite, there's still not quite the container of our organization/ identification, right. And Stuart Hall, of course, told us about identifications, not identity.

SA Smythe 53:16

And so it really is politically powerful for this text to be talking about African Europeans, and as Professor Otele has said, thinking with us through this vast historical period, about the geographical, rather than ethno-racial attachments, that sort of bring us into conversation, bring us into relation in a way that involves, of course, subordination, but doesn't have to dwell there. And I mentioned subordination to segue a bit into the very cheeky title of Black Mediterraneans, because that is, of course, the area that I study. And this sort of understanding that subordination is not the only dynamic, it's not the, what is this? It's not the only cudgel to which Black presences, African presences, have been made manifest and can be felt in the place that we're calling Europe and the place that we're calling Africa. And a space like the Mediterranean, I say "calling," because these geographies shift, their identifications shift, the nomenclature also shifts and the chapter... chapter two or three that talks about the Black Mediterraneans is a very useful one in sort of thinking through, again, I call it this refractive lens, refractive reading between, you know, what are now nation states, between geographical regions, but also in terms of identification through the land, and how that becomes racialized through something like transatlantic slavery and other forms of racialized or racializable subordination, but what existed, what, what preceded that moment is also still constantly emerging and we can actually return to that without, you know, without either what Sylvia Winter talks to us about as mistaking the map for the territory, but also mistaking the forest for the trees to ecological metaphors that I didn't fully think through.

SA Smythe 55:13

But you know, so that we don't have to have a unified lens and corral ourselves under it, because that might actually do a disservice, is one of the things I've learned through this text and helps actually reify it, undermine any actual chance of identificatory liberation which Professor Oteles talks about... talks to us about in the later chapters. I'm speaking pretty quickly because I'm nervous and also because I don't know how much time I have, so I'm going to slow down my speaking and say just two more things. I mean, yeah, it really is just lots of cover, but I I also don't need to sort of be comprehensive, because the text does that and it's available for purchase. So yes, so I already started talking about this actually out of the gate, but one of the second question to land on, and then I have one more after this, is about the title, or the subtitle, which is "An Untold History." And I actually would love it if we could talk a bit, about more about untold for whom, since you've already said, you know, the... on an intellectual or like a scholastic academic level, right, many Black European, many African Europeans, many Black Afrodescendant people from Europe, or linked with Europe in some way, have come to the U.S. in order to learn their own histories. But that prism where it could actually offer us a space of transnational or internationalist, I don't want to like miss one for the other -- internationalism is still radically and politically important -- that we sort of re-emerged in a different form of power relation that it would be great to talk about today.

SA Smythe 57:08

And I think this touch also opens up, right. So if we're thinking about African Europeans and, and their concerns, and the swathe not just being in that of Europe, but also in and of Africa, and the relations operating in that way. And that opens up so much for, um, I would say Black people to hail the sort of political marker, but also Afro-descended people on a global scale, so that we can actually understand, in a way that you know, many other interventions have offered us, many different kinds of points of entry, but that we can actually understand the possibilities that come with contact. Absolutely. And certainly through racial subordination, absolutely through, you know, dehumanization. But what is really sort of telling to me is the way that we think about denigration, a term that I use intentionally and I'm learning about from what's... from Professor Otele as well, to think intentionally and not the way that we may hear about it in the mainstream, which is a somewhat of a pet peeve. You know, when people talk about, you know, I was denigrated here, and they mean, insulted, it actually means that things are being Blackened, and we can actually think about the racialization inherent in the language that we use, but what about actual, you know, at some illogical denigration, like the Blackening of certain figures, and people and geographies through time and space, we can actually think more about what kinds of affinities and affiliations are possible, and what kind of political liberatory sites of possibility can be held in that wake.

SA Smythe 58:41

And so, yes, untold for whom specifically? Because you go through so many geographic, historic periods, you know, maybe you could speak a bit about...what, you know, your... the encounters you've had with the text. Because we're around the U.S. book launch, I imagine, but you know, it was published in December 2019 elsewhere, so you've had maybe a year or so, even though it's been a pandemic year -- so no, no worries, if not -- but you know, how it's been taken up in terms of the insistence on bringing together these different points of contact, these different sites of what... You cite someone out, you know, talking about, like Africanity, or these different African European sites of encounter, how those have been received. Because we know, for example, about Alessandro de' Medici, but, of course, we do because he has been exceptionalized, so even an Italian who doesn't think that, you know, Italy colonized anything -- which is a very common and mainstream assumption, even today. They will say, "Oh, well, we did have, you know, here's one" -- right? But then you'll talk to them about Brandenberg or you'll go an talk to them about Prussia and they'll say, you know, they'll have no idea or perhaps vice-versa, right.

SA Smythe 59:58

And certainly when you come, when it comes to the UK, I'm personally -- I didn't learn any of it. So, you know, I definitely had to find out elsewhere through, you know, other kinds of oral cultures and actually leaving, leaving the UK. The last note that I wanted to ask... Oh, one thing that I wanted to state was when you started talking to us about Bath and it's, you know, quintessential Britishsness and you, you gave something very evocative, which is, you know, how you entered into our conversation today, but also into the book, it sounded like, you know, you were occasioned to think about the the life underneath that city. And so I guess I just wanted to throw this out for the audience that what also is here and was woven through, and Professor Otele's book talk today was another kind of underneath that has to do with gendered history, feminist history, because we also have, you know, this text I think, is going to be really iconic, it's going to bem you know, it's a trade press, so it can be, you know, accessible the way that we, you know, we can have a separate conversation about access and, and, and scholarly knowledge, but because I think everything she's written has been quite accessible and necessary.

SA Smythe 1:01:12

But with this, it'll be open to a range of people who asked, who might ask the questions still about, you know, where Black people come from, or, you know, what is the relationship between people of African descent and Europe? Are they separate? Or how do they come together in a way that's not just colonial? But underneath there is, you know, as we already talked about, the Signare women, the Candaces, the Ga women, even more into the contemporary Italian woman with veils and Afros are citing that text. Even in thinking about, you know, even in naming what is also a lesser-known history of Alessandro de' Medici's abuse allegations, right? We often don't hear these things, that women are, you know, castigated, and cast out and like thrown under the sort of morass of history so that we can have this sort of a site of Black excellence, if you want to call it that, from this very contemporary term. And also, you know, exceptionalism also works to undermine, you know, women and other minorities figures throughout history as well. And so this text really meets a few of the others that... of the very, very few others that we have, actually, that talk to us with this wide historical breadth, but also deepens its sort of political investment in the multiple underneaths that occur throughout time in history. Which is to say, we also understand that there weren't like the Ga women in Ghana and their sites of encounter, but also not as contacts, right, not in the sort of anthropological pre-civilized civilized way, right, acknowledges the kingdoms that exist, and rather, talks about, talks to us about it as a circulation of power and how we can like think through with a gendered analysis or assessment these different negotiations, as they were negotiations in the etymological and political sense.

SA Smythe 1:03:02

My last question, these are all comments, but my the last thing I did want to talk to us about, you know, really modeling the refractive reading that you've done throughout this text, is to take us back to the beginning. In your acknowledgments or in the very introduction of the U.S. version that I have, you... also and today, you mentioned the police murder of George Floyd. And so perhaps, just by way of connecting my different comments here, when you also talked about the untold history, and the questions that I was asking, really were about the sort of like swathe and the racial geographies that sort of get taken up -- political geographies that you trace. But I'm also wondering if you have any thoughts about how that works in our contemporary moment, such as, you know, we have this galvanizing global moment of the police murder of George Floyd. But, you know, if you had, for example, mentioned Roshan Charles or Sarah Reed or Sean Rigg, or these people from the United Kingdom who were also murdered by police, what would that have done in terms of tracing... tracing,or expanding the geographies and showing us how these things connect? Right?

SA Smythe 1:04:15

So you started us off by talking about police brutality, so... or like naming that, and like deepening that from your talk. And I actually, yeah, it feels to me that it could perhaps go full circle, so that we can think about other sites of un-telling and how your book gets us to sort of take a breath, take a pause, and really deepen our assessment of the rich histories that we have on the European and African continents. Thank you so much for letting me talk with you today. I know that was a lot.

SA Smythe 1:04:27

Thank you. Thank you ever so much. Professor Kane, how do you want me to answer?

Laurie Hart 1:04:52

Um, that's such a wonderful, rich set of questions for discussion. I'm wondering if we should first go to Professor Thomas for some comments and then return to a three-way conversation for the question. Would that be OK?

Olivette Otele 1:05:07

Yeah, that works. But I don't want to forget. So exceptionalism, untold history, why not contemporary, why, you know, George Floyd and why not the others, but for me, it's linked to the untold and the question of racial hierarchy at different levels. So, so I just, I don't want to forget, this reminds me this. Okay.

Olivette Otele 1:05:12

Sounds great. We can we can come back with, with even more questions at the end as well. So, Professor Thomas, let me turn it over to you.

Dominic Thomas 1:05:43

Okay. Well, thank you so much, I promise to not, to not be too long. I wanted to thank you, Professor Hart, for organizing this wonderful event, and all the staff at the International Institute and the Center for European and Russian Studies. And it's such an honor for me to be able to even participate in this conversation with Professor Otele and Professor Smythe. I always learned so much from reading your work and from listening to you. And so I hope to just contribute a few suggestions, comments, and so on, that will hopefully shape the rest of the discussion today. The first thing I wanted to say is to really sort of highlight the importance of this work. And for me, the sort of the key aspect of it is that most of the discussions that take place dealing with ethnic minorities, Africans in Europe, racial questions, and so on, tend to be post-colonial or post-migratory discussions. In other words, they focused almost exclusively on the 20th or the late 20th century. And what's so incredibly important about this work in providing this incredibly long and comprehensive history and overview of these questions is it actually goes about dismantling and forces us to rethink the history of Europe itself, and the specific links and interconnections between Europe as space between the continent of Africa, and the various ways in which these two histories are interconnected and implicated. And it's impossible to have a conversation about the contemporary without improving our understanding of this legacy.

Dominic Thomas 1:07:25

And the ways in which I see this play out in the contemporary context, which I would love to hear Professor Otele talk a little bit more about, are organized around a few set of questions. So, on the one hand, we've got this other space known as the European Union, and the European Union has been embroiled for at least the past decade on a whole range of questions that have to do with belonging. And in many ways, you could say that if there's anything that European Union has not done well, it is to sort of enlist people in kind of building and coalescing around this identity as to what it would mean to be European. And yet we have in these fascinating character categories of the African European, the Afropean and the Afro-European, this broader transnational identification that takes place around a historical and a racial marker that have allowed populations through common histories and common experiences of discrimination within Europe and elsewhere, to build and consolidate these identities. So I'm really interested in thinking a little bit more about that.

Dominic Thomas 1:08:28

I'm also interested in this kind of paradox of Brexit, which is, to me the sort of the lifting up of the drawbridge on this history. While at the same time, you hear the government reaffirming this sort of global Britain global history, and the extent to which populations having identified in the UK as being African European, find the European part, an amputated cut-off, and because of the Brexit dynamic. And these questions also fit into the discussion that you made or the comments that you made about Bath. And I'd also love to hear you talk more about the city in which you, you work, the university in which you work, and the various debates and polemics around monuments, museums, statues, and in that particular history, and how those debates have played out in that context and how they relate to the work that you have been doing.

Dominic Thomas 1:09:26

And I'm also interested, as Professor Smythe underscored, is the sort of the proliferation of these different terms and what they potentially mean and how useful or not useful you find them, such as Afropean, Afro European and the use of the hybrid here. And finally, how these different categories, so for example, it is very different and being or claiming to be Afro French, because of the particularities of the colonial experience, but also the specificities of the French Republic and the ideals of universalism and so on. And how being Afro British is different, and Afro Swedish, Afro Flemish, Belgian, and so on, and how those various, what you might call hyphenated identities, play out for you, and why the term, why the category, African European can be a can be useful for you. So many of these questions connect, connect with what Professor Smith has already an outline to sort of areas in which we could further look into this book.

Dominic Thomas 1:10:31

But as I said, at the beginning, when I find them, so important, so crucially important about this work is this, is this longer history. And if I could just jump to one quick section at the beginning of your book as a way to kind of open up this discussion. And it very much connects with the context in which we're talking around institutions, around universities and around the ways in which we are trying to change the curriculum and the institutional frameworks in which we are working. And you say, or you write, "The mass demonstrations led by the Black Lives Matter and consequent debates about racism have highlighted both the need to expand knowledge about the histories of people of African descent, and the urgency with which we must revise the teaching of colonial history in the Global North." And so I'd love to hear you talk about ... strategies, tools and ways in which we can further think about these absolutely crucial questions that now define our positions and roles in the various institutions that we work in. And so I just, once again, thank you for this incredible book. And it's such an honor to be with you today and on this virtual panel talking about these important questions. So thank you.

Olivette Otele 1:11:50

Thank you ever so much. It's always a bit odd for me, because there are several Olivettes in me and there's Olivette the scholar who gladly says, "Oh, yeah, in honor of me too, yes." And there's the Olivette who sees a sense of urgency, whose a bit... who's thinking, "We're not done yet, we have so much to do. We're scratching the surface, and let's let's not get carried away." And who, who, therefore has a hard time accepting the congratulations. But I'm going to just put her to sleep for now and just to bask into your compliments.

Olivette Otele 1:12:31

And okay, so the questions. I'm teaching, it's funny, you should say that, because right before this talk, I had a meeting with the university. So the university was, it was about anti-racism, and the ways in which we are fighting against racism and oppression and addressing the legacies of the past. And I don't want to celebrate the University of Bristol, there are many things that are wrong about that university, but I do want to say is that some of the push of the city, grassroots organizations, students and staff, something incredible is happening in that city. And the university has understood that it cannot avoid being part of this. So the talk, basically, that that I gave was one of the strategies, the renaming of buildings at the moment. You will, you will hear more about it on the news, but it's about renaming certain buildings that have the names of slave traders. And the idea is, for me... was to explain to them that it's not just about changing the name on a building. It's about what that building and that name when it was chosen, meant. And it's about the people who allow that to happen, because we have the big names, that behind the big names, you have hundreds of people who've benefited from transatlantic enslavement and who supported that and who are not, you now, pinpointed, and who are not held accountable. But it's not so much about holding them accountable, it is about where the money went. It is about what do you do now to live together?

Olivette Otele 1:14:03

So it was about, for me, teaching was part of it, de-colonizing the curriculum. Of course, we understand that it's about unpacking, it's about adding, it's about enhancing, it's about challenging certain cannons and so on and so forth. But for me, fundamentally, as a teacher, it means inclusive teaching, it means including the stories of people from various communities and allowing them to exist into academia. It's bringing the expertise of grassroots organizations, community leaders, and people of African descent, and so on and so forth, bringing them into academia so that they teach us how they have been able to survive for so many centuries. Because it takes skill to be able to transmit stories. It takes skill to be able to actually teach without using certain canons. You... We're teaching, we're being taught through food. We're being taught through music, cloth, we're being taught through silences and those on the outs... those silences on the outskirts of certain hegemonic discourses are also teaching lessons for us.

Olivette Otele 1:15:10

So that's what I was saying earlier, to universities and gods, that decolonizing is much more than that and renaming is not enough. And knowledge production, who gets to produce knowledge and who gets to share that knowledge, is incredibly important to me. I was taught by my grandmother, she wasn't an academic. And her stories have survived because she was told by her mother, her grandmother, great-grandmother, and those women were the victims of sexual violence from the German colonizers. So these stories have remained with us, and we had so much learn. Now, the tools for teaching are equally important. Do we stay on our ivory tower, or do we actually physically move from those buildings to the communities that teach us? This is the next step, because you can stand out in the museums -- it's much more than that. So that's one thing.

Olivette Otele 1:16:10

About Afro Welsh, Afropeans, the terms mean different things to people who are using them. ??? at my talk, not a few days ago, actually, his trajectories is about... is a certain outlook on Black Europe that is different from from mine. And it means something for him to use the term African and I respect that. And I think that we need to respect that by allowing them to exist, the plurality of terms is really related to the context and to the intellectual and emotional journey that we're all going through. So I have no problems with that.

Olivette Otele 1:16:49

African Europeans in this, in this book was an echo, a kind of reach -- me reaching out to the U.S., me telling that African Americans, a lot [is] wrong, but the basis of organization, of the coming together, the history of African Americans have taught me so much as an African European, that it's almost an homage for me that I'm paying, because I want to use those two terms together, because they mean something, they mean struggle and they mean liberation. That is not over, it's ongoing. But why can't we come together? Hence, the idea of transnationality, transnational, transnationalism. That is incredibly important in that I mentioned in the book. And it's one of the questions that came out about that. And transnational identities are complexly beautiful.

Olivette Otele 1:17:43

So Brexit arrives, and Brexit, we're taught to vote for Brexit, and so on. Well, the Brits shout for Brexit and so on, and so forth. And you know what, the numbers came and people of African descent are the ones that do not vote for Brexit. They were told, by Brexiteers, that if they voted for Brexit, then more more resources will be dedicated to the Caribbean to Africans. And therefore, so they didn't believe that, what they didn't know didn't understand, was that it was something that exists outside the grand narrative studies, community, communities of people of African descent in Europe, and the only way forward was to reach, reach out to them. And I'm glad about that. But cutting off that and cutting from Europe -- Europe, of course, has many flaws, as you mentioned, and as I say, in the book, but transnationalism, you know, transnational identities and organization and organizing, rather, will still exist, whether that's Brexit or not, because people of African descent have been organizing for centuries anyway. So they don't necessarily need the European Union for that. But it would have been, you know, make things easier.

Olivette Otele 1:19:02

And another point that is about Bath, Bristol... Yes, a lot. But that would be like a whole talk -- alot, so much, is happening like every day, I'm exhausted. Every day something is happening. So we had the toppling of the statues, but that was very specific. You know, it's provoked a debate about statues and monuments, of course in the UK, and imperial nostalgia and all the rest of it. But at Bristol levels, so many things are happening because the Bristol example is is really what happens after discussions have reached an impact. Discussions have been taking place about that statue for decades, and young people just decided to do it. And these young people, as some of you have seen, they're not necessarily defined... racialized as Black. In fact, a lot of them were dual heritage and white. What does it tell us about contemporary Britain? A narrative that you don't see, a narrative that is not actually shared, which is a multicultural understanding of fighting liberation.

Olivette Otele 1:20:05

And for me, it's incredibly important. I see it through my students, wealthy students going to communities and working with communities, or at least trying, with, you know -- there are limitations to that that come with, with their background class and race and gender -- but a lot of them are trying and I get involved into this. And the turning point was when those students decided to ask the university to address the question of great renaming, to address the question of racism, to address the question of the lack of Black professors. Hence the university running in, trying to snatch me from the university [to the south?] that can work there because, because of the students who are demanding this. So a lot is happening.

Olivette Otele 1:20:53

Now I'm going back to your questions. Professor Smythe. Okay. So exceptionalism is something that I'm really glad, you know. I've wrestled with it throughout this. The archives are, are forcing me to use exceptionals, but I was resisting it so much. And the ways in which I tried to use first one, not exceptional, but who constructed the narrative was through, for example, ??? I talked about Elias Rugoss [sp?], who was a slave trader who brings Juliana to, to the Netherlands and tries to force her to go back to the Caribbean because once in the Netherlands, she was raped -- this is an unknown person, we don't even know what happened. But for me, that shows me that there were so much resistance against the law, against the policing of Black bodies, that that much more than we know of. We have another example of policing of black bodies, the noirs, that's used for black people that's in 1776.What happens is these populations, Black people are, are... people of African descent, Caribbean descent, they forswear to carry a cartouche if they were to circulate in France. Cartouche, which is a form of identification, and which is already racial profiling as we see it. ??? But, but for masters who bring them from the Caribbean, it's a problem because then, who's going to serve them? who's going to wait upon them? And these populations who are coming from the Caribbean are put in detention centers -- that would be the term today, detention center. So it's not a new phenomenon.

Olivette Otele 1:22:38

Worse than that detention centers, people are finding means or masters are finding means to remove them from those centers, simply because, for example, for those who are wetnurses. What happens? So a lot of things were happening under the radar for people who were not exceptional, who actually force the law to either harden or loosen at will. And I was fascinated by these stories, and how they contrast with the exceptional, because the exceptional means there's only a few of us and therefore, if there's only a few of us, it means that the rest of you, or "you lot" as the British would say, you lot cannot do that. It means that only a few of you who are intelligent enough to achieve that, which is completely... what's the term, it's Latin, for ridiculous?

Olivette Otele 1:23:24

And so, untold story. For me, it was interesting as well, because the publisher came with and I told him, no I just explained in the book proposal that these stories were known by my grandmother and by other people, so they're not untold from us. And yet you want me to talk, for marketing reasons, ok I'm going to run with it because this is actually about questions of erasrue and memory and memorization -- erasure from national narratives, but known by others. So that erasure allowed me to talk about resistance and what is taught on the margins and what is shared on the margins. And yet again, that allows me to talk about the stories of liberation. And, and yeah, that's, well, there was another question, but I forgot. I don't remember, sorry.

Laurie Hart 1:24:15

I can intervene for a moment with a question from one of the attendees. There are many other questions I think we can return to as well, from both SA and Dominic's comments. But let me contribute something from the audience. So there's a thank you all to presenters for a wonderful discussion. History is complex indeed. I'm also wondering if you can share some thoughts or how we can reconcile the analysis of Ethiopian empresses resisting European colonialism as early examples of Black feminism with the histories of violent and brutal processes of Abyssinian colonialism, including enslavement of some of the conquered nations and nationalities, such as the Oromo people, the Harare people, Sidama people and so on, by these same emperors and empresses as part of the unification and consolidation of power in the Abyssinian Empire. Legacies of that violence, including, including the contested legacies of the emperors and empresses is an ongoing source of tension in present-day Ethiopia.

Olivette Otele 1:25:22

Yes, certainly, as the person who asked the question mentioned, history is complex and all these are not mutually exclusive. Okay. So while this was happening, enslavement was happening. While people in the Caribbean were fighting against oppression, somebody that I didn't detail in the book that I've called Nathaniel Wells, who was the first black chef of dual heritage, his mother was... he basically, he became, at the age of 15, what would be nowadays a multimillionaire because his father was a slave trader. He freed or manumitted his mother and his mother went on to buy slaves. So these stories are not mutually exclusive. And this is how are they [inaudible]. Does it mean that they were not an example of Black feminism? No, they're still an example of Black feminism, but they were also aggressive women because they were in a situation where they wanted power at all costs. Yeah.

Laurie Hart 1:26:22

Thank you. There's a... there's a question about Basil Davidson and his books and films that talk about Africa's relationship with Europe and whether or not you have comments on his work.

Olivette Otele 1:26:34

A long time ago, I read his book, when I was a Ph.D. students, and what I took from it was that some of the analysis for me was based on archival material that was uh, that hadn't been used before. So I salute his work. But other other pieces for me were not relevant in terms of the analysis of the enslaved, the voices of the enslaved, they didn't exist so much in his work. And, you know, there's nothing wrong with that as such, but as a person of African descent, I thought you would need a broader view of that history.

Laurie Hart 1:27:13

There's also a question from a participant about Beethoven. And I find it interesting, because it sort of returns to this question that you pose about the interplay in the reception of... in the, in the sort of categories that you're talking about, about the interplay between the, the level of the skin, the skin and interpretations that come immediately from that, as opposed to other, you know, sort of, you know, the, the question about dual heritage and so on. And so, I wonder if you could just make a comment about the general idea of Beethoven in, in relationship to being thought of as Black.

Olivette Otele 1:28:03

Oh, I don't know about Beethoven and this idea of being Black. It's not even something that I, uh, I contemplated because I just I just thought that it leads us to a path of does it matter if it was Black? I mean, what does it say? Why is it important? The flip side of that question is, it does matter that Chevalier de Saint-Georges was indeed Black and was forgotten. So I'm much more interested in the Chevalier de Saint-Georges and his music and Mozart's reaction to him, because Mozart's refused to meet him, however, Handel met him and, as I said, commissioned his work, rather than whether he was Black or not Black because I... it didn't prevent his music from being known.

Laurie Hart 1:28:55

Okay. Thank you. Thank you very much for that, for that answer. I wonder if... just to return for a second to some of the questions from our commentators. Dominic's question about the, the, the effort in Europe to, to build or find a European identity or... and the relation, you know, the contribution of your work, interestingly, to, to, to that, to that question: about building a European identity, that the individuals whom you describe in, in forging their own lives seemed to, in a sense, build a European identity. And I'm wondering, I'm wondering what reflections you might have on the way in which that question is posed in the European Union and also, how one might actually think about it completely differently on the basis of your work.

Olivette Otele 1:30:02

That's interesting. I don't know the impact, if my work will have an impact. And that thought, what is interesting for me is this idea of a European identity that is almost monoculturally based, essentially a lot around what they call the "native European." If you if you listen to identitarians, and many people are sharing their views, you know the Identitarians, the ones that are stopping vessels on the Mediterranean because the fortress of Europe needs to be protected. And there's this idea that you have European natives who need to be protected from the invasion, and therefore, that implies that there's one monoculture, which is completely untrue, historically, and at the current moment. So that's why I'm saying nostalgia for an empire that was already imagined. It's like, imagined community 2.0. And I really think that this is a futile effort. Um, yeah, they have the means to do that, they have the laws, and we see a rising far right. But I also believe deeply in my heart, and that might be naive, is that if people of African descent have survived all these steps into the 21st century, I don't see how we won't survive this either. So, yeah, [they'll] try.

Dominic Thomas 1:31:24

Yes, if I could just add on one thing. I think that one of the fascinatings things is that the book has been written, it's sealed in these two beautiful covers, one in the U.S. edition one in the U.K. edition. The journey I'm excited about at this stage is the process of translation. And not just into other languages, but into other, you know, discursive spaces. So I'm going to be interested to see more how this book gets read once it's translated into French, but also when it's read in the academy, and in Denmark, in Germany, in Italy, and the various ways in which different elements of the book will appeal to different components of these debates. Because there's, of course, the Venn diagram as to how the Afro component is articulated in these different national spaces. But it's also interesting to look at the particular histories, legacies, far-right policies and so on, and how they're working out in those individual spaces. So I think the journey has really just begun in terms of the. of the book, and it's hopefully an exciting one.

Olivette Otele 1:32:31

Yes, I hope so too, because the translation is happening as we speak, and the book will be out in 2022. And it's been... and I'm having conversations with the translator about certain words that the French don't have. And I'm finding it hard even to find a word for them, even though in French, because it's so this culture and the culture, the colonial legacies, and the colonial mentality are so imbued into certain words, it is, it's, it's hard. In Germany as well, next year. And in academia, it's going to be another discussion because for us, academia and ivory tower have got their own vision of what constitutes a scholarship, and so on and so forth. And so I'm in advance, I'm a bit amused, because it's a provocation, this book, and I'm enjoying how people are reacting, it triggers certain strong reactions that are positive, but it's amusing.

Laurie Hart 1:33:34

I think that returns us a little bit more to a question that SA posed about those, those reactions. And it also strikes me that one of the things that is significant at the moment is, is turning the lens a little bit away from the U.S. as the paradigm of, of these movements and as I say, mentioned ,there are, there are, there are other, you know, incidents of police brutality and other places that... And if the Black Lives Matter movement was a galvanizing movement, it was not, it was not the only, it was not the beginning of movements elsewhere. And so I wondered if you could speak a little bit more both about the reception and reaction to the book and also about this kind of question of, of the sort of U.S.-entrism of some of the conversations.

Olivette Otele 1:34:28

It's interesting, yes. And the reactions to the book for me, again, it was a lot. I give a lot of ?? for Black, for Black British people ?? And I keep forgetting and I keep apologizing to them and put them in this book, because it is saying some people's names, it's saying them as they contribute in various ways to building that story and narrative integration and that continuity. So that's one thing. The other thing is about police brutality, why do I speak about the U.S. laws? Simply because that conversation about YouTube, this brutality, French police brutality, has taken on a new turn because of that demonstration. These are stories we know. what's had... has been happening for decades now in terms of racial profiling, police brutality, news entries. But the demonstration, the "enough is enough" triggered something that is more to do with people who are not at all involved in this, who suddenly realized that, hang on a minute, we have a problem, us too. As, for example, British multicultural, cultural diversity -- we, too, have that problem, but we thought this would these were isolated incidents. Now that has allowed ?? to actually open the Pandora's box that was, that some of them, some people were refusing to look, or actually didn't know, because there are various circles.

Olivette Otele 1:35:54

And it is an important moment, because that, that, you know, there's no... almost every other week, now we have details about police brutality, on the news on BBC, Guardian, and so on and so forth. We have news about trials -- as we speak, one of my friends is representing one of these people -- we have the news, whereas before they were not even mentioned, you have to, you know, dig deep and fight people to have been mentioned in the media. So I think it was a turning point for me and I wanted to mark that. And I also wanted to nudge the Americans to kind of see the impact they had on Europe, but also invite them to look at the fact that there's power in numbers. U.S. African... people of African descent in Europe and, and American descedants, are very well organized. But there's even more power in reaching out to European communities and grassroots organizations in Germany, in the Netherlands, in Britain, and France, and so on and so forth. So, yeah, there's never too many.

Laurie Hart 1:37:03

Thank you, we do have a couple of more questions from the participants. [That] they continue to ratio of African histories in Britain and beyond is now seemingly being welcomed by the Academy, or at least in part, is this work possible without African-descended people doing it? What other questions are contemporary scholars of African descent asking that would otherwise be noted, maligned or ignored? And our Black question seen as biased if a scholar is identified as such?

Olivette Otele 1:37:33

That's an interesting question, that's the story of my life. You know, your biased because your'e Black. Even today, in that earlier meeting, where I was basically challenged on... when I was giving information about the Willis family, who are the founding fathers of the university. This is scholarship, this is archival research. And yet it was challenged in a question about, I'm not a historian, but I knew that this and this. So we're still having those, those, those reactions. And we still have that. But I do believe that anybody can do the research about the history of people of African descent, and I completely am in favor of that. But we do have a problem in Britain, when those stories are only done by white scholars, and the numbers are there to prove it. So we have a number -- a flurry -- of posts in recent months, even one year, that have been put in place, and that are about hiring a Black professor, a Black lecturer in all the rest of it. But it's very, very... it's not about hiring a Black professor, the posts are usually about teaching Black British history, research o Black with British history, but they're not swinging fence, or people of African descent. Which means that we still have a problem and there's still resistance in the hiring process. I do believe that who gets to tell the story matters. And we need to do that and Britain is so, so far from doing it. And it's still resisting as we speak that this is a, an uphill battle, and I can't... Being in these spaces on my own is painful. But there are so many barriers that even opening the door to others to get in is almost impossible. And I can't do it on my own. And we need allies for that. So that's why we need to come together to fight this.

Laurie Hart 1:39:31

Thank you so much. We have time for just one more question and it's a very interesting one. Thank you for such a wonderful talk. I'm wondering about the identification question and the specificity of European components, as opposed to the African component. That is, what about being Cameroonian British, or Cameroonian European rather than Afro European? I ask in part because of the problem of making Africa monolithic as part of the diminishing of the diversity of the continent.

Olivette Otele 1:40:03

That's another interesting one, because I talked about entities and the way those identifications are represented across the European continent. So it's not just about Europe. So it's not just about Africa. I talked about Libyans, but I talked about m Europeans, but I talked about Egyptians. I'm Cameroonian French, so I can be specific. My children are Cameroonian French, German, Welsh, Finnish. So it... you know, all these things matter and I can get really specific in another book, perhaps, but I can get really specific. So there's no monolithic about individual experiences, as I indeed tried to show I hope, in my book.

SA Smythe 1:40:56

Yeah. Hi, I also think would have been... we had a brief conversation about this at the at the start, with the different geographies that we can sort of, we can name and I also look forward to Professor Otele's next book about these nuances. But, what's also really sort of important is not to sort of -- I think it's never really useful, perhaps, to sort of do a reversal of perceived asymmetries, right? And so if Europe seems to be hailed, then... and is not seeming like a monolith, then we don't need to do the same for Africa, which makes sense because there is this sort of... I mean, there's, you know, websites and texts talking about Africa is a country or Africa is not a country because it gets hailed in this way, in this historical sense. But actually, there is a like political potential that I think we... this book, what this book does offer by talking about Libyans, Ethiopians, this history, you know, Italians, but not just Italians, but Romans and then obviously, the Romans from the Holy Roman Empire, is actually thinking about power relations, which I don't want us to lose sight of, right?

SA Smythe 1:41:27

I mean, the text does start with Cedric... with a citation from Cedric Robinson's Black Marxism, which is like 500 pages, very specifically talking about, you know, the Gauls and then, right? Llike, so it does get quite specific, but we do well to sort of understand that the relationality between, you know, the world between African and European actually portends, portends a lot for us. And that doesn't preclude, as Professor Otele is saying, the geospecificity, the ethno-racial specificity of individual experiences, but we actually maybe need to attend more to the presences of African people and European people together throughout history.

Laurie Hart 1:41:27

Thank you. Beautifully said. Dominic, do you have any further concluding comments, we have just a minute or two?

Dominic Thomas 1:43:00

Thank you again for, for letting me participate here. It was a wonderful event, I'm really want to thank, first of Otele, for coming to UCLA to to meet with us. And I look forward to more discussions, especially having discussions across the Channel, the Atlantic and France, when the book comes out there. I'm really excited and eager to see how it's received there with all the debates, polemics, and so on. So just the first of many conversations, I hope, and thank you.

Olivette Otele 1:43:27

Thank you ever so much, please, please, Professor Smythe and Thomas, when you do come, you know, let me know we can we can go to the pub ...

SA Smythe 1:43:38

I'm going back home in a few months. I'll see you there.

Olivette Otele 1:43:40

Oh, please do.

Laurie Hart 1:43:43

I want to thank everyone -- Professors Otele, Thomas, Smythe for such a fantastic presentation and conversation, and for being here to wrap up our year of talks in the International Institute and to thank everyone who's participated and the wonderful audiences and hope that, as Professor Thomas said, the conversation can continue. This has been so important for us. Thank you so much, Professor Otele. And thank you to everyone.

Olivette Otele 1:44:15

Thank you.

Laurie Hart 1:44:16


Olivette Otele 1:44:16


Duration: 1:44:18


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Sponsor(s): UCLA International Institute, Center for European and Russian Studies, African Studies Center, UCLA Department of European Languages and Transcultural Studies

7 May 21
10:00 AM - 11:45 AM

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