African Europeans: An Untold History

Olivette Otele. Basic, $30 (304p) ISBN 978-1-5416-1967-8
Royal Historical Society vice president Otele (coeditor, Post-conflict Memorialization) delivers a concise scholarly history of the presence of people of African descent in Europe. Covering events from the third century to the present day, Otele contends that Africa and Africans had a greater influence on Europe than is widely known. She discusses the legend of Saint Maurice, a Roman army soldier born in what is now Egypt, who was allegedly executed in 287 BCE for refusing to make sacrifices to pagan gods. In the 10th century, statues and paintings of “Maurice the African” began to appear in northern Europe as symbols of the power and reach of the Holy Roman Empire. Other profile subjects include Jacobus Capitein, a West African–born minister in the Dutch Reformed Church who defended slavery in the 18th century, and Paulette and Jane Nardal, Afro-Caribbean sisters who helped spark the Négritude literary movement in 1930s France. Otele also explores the “racial stereotypes” found in representations of Zwarte Piet (“Black Pete”), a 19th-century Dutch children’s book character, and “the exoticization of black and dual-heritage female bodies” in contemporary France. Though short on political and socioeconomic context, Otele’s profiles reveal the richness and variety of the African European experience. This is a welcome introduction to an underexplored subject. (May)
Reviewed on : 03/25/2021
Release date: 05/04/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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