Wednesday, 29 July 2009

'These Things of Race': Presence Africaine en Europe

SARA TAVARES, PORTUGUESE SINGER ORIGINALLY FROM CAPE VERDE

Presence Africaine / Presence les noirs in metropolitan Europe raises crucial questions of visibility/invisibility in public and private discourses throughout history. In present-day Europe the enslaved, segregated or colonized figure speaks of the past, but the voicelessness and alien status rendered by this sordid history is practised nowadays in more subtle, but discriminatory ways as seen in the State policies that prevent the influx of migrants, restrict their rights to civil liberties or inadequately address social prejudice. Italy's arbitrary laws against le straniere much to the delight of the far right-wing Lega Nord, the Mediterranean countries' shameful treatment of African boat migrants, Switzerland's controversial politicisation of immigration in the 2008 electoral campaign of the Swiss People's Party, France's controversial call to ban the hijab for all Muslims that includes Muslim Africans and Britain's new tougher visa restrictions are all damning indicators that we; the foreigners, the Africans are not fully welcome in Europe.

THE CONTROVERSIAL SWISS PEOPLE PARTY POSTER 2008

Discriminatory actions such as these do not affect all Africans in Europe; but all have experienced marginalisation characterized by the intersecting variables of race, gender, class, sexuality, nationality and culture. This is continually and systematically implictly or explicitly expressed by Europe's 'ethnic majority' citizens, private corporations, or the State and its machinery. Regardless of the crucial labour force migrants provide, immigration control is tightening across the Fortress of Europe. For example, the UK Labour Party has since coming into power in 1997 instituted seven legislative acts in an attempt to tighten its borders and the latest being the E-Borders policy being instituted in September 2009; another of the panOpticon State's ridiculous authoritarian measures in the 'war against terror'. In Italy under Berlusconi legal immigrants are subject to the most arbitrary housing law requirements and if they fail to comply; right of stay is denied. In addition to this; in July 2009 the Italian government passed new legislation stating illegal immigrants are liable to pay a fine of 10,000 Euros and can now be detained by the authorities for up to six months.

The notion of criminalizing or preventing someone from seeking a better life is preposterous and even moreso when it is instituted by a Continent that for centuries stole whatever it could (bodies included) and now, with independent Africa, engages in both legitimate and illegitimate trade activities. Whether these laws are better than the repressive laws Africans face in their own native countries is neither here nor there; justification of policy by comparison is a crafty diversion of focus from presence Africaine en Europe to arguing Africans in Africa ought to be brimful of gratitude for their supposed better life and conditional human rights and civil liberties upon their arrival on European shores.

So wonderful are these rights that suspected illegal immigrants have the right to be denied emergency medical treatment and so wonderful are these liberties that les stranieri are free to settle in impoverished ghettos across Europe's metropoles where the State has the right to offer as little welfare as possible. So wonderful is this presence immigre, that the majority White citizens of Trento, Italy can celebrate the cultural diversity of their cosmopolitan town in exotic cuisine and 'ethnic art' shops; consuming otherness without ever having to fully engage with the non-European identities to whom these cultures belong. Racial interaction is minimal, apart from public holidays on which, as I witnessed, migrants of all racial and ethnic diversities flood the town centre as these are their days off work.

While 'crickets' might silently hiss at me, 'persona non grata' for all the liberties and modern conveniences Europe selectively offers or openly chirp, "you're an Africanist who arrived in Europe thirty years too late because 'these things of race' are subtle nowadays, therefore better"; my perspective is that whether expressly or implicitly shown, the police states of Europe make clear, non-European peoples are undesirable and unwelcome strangers and I won't stop blogging against the machine till 'these things of race' come right!

A LONGER, MORE 'SCHOLARLY' VERSION OF THIS OPINION PIECE WILL APPEAR IN A FORTHCOMING PUBLICATION.