Conference Review of “Afroeuropeans: Black In/visibilities Contested” - University of Lisbon, July 2019

Carol Ann Dixon's picture

“Black In/visibilities Contested” was the title of the 7th Biennial Afroeuropeans Network Conference, held at the ISCTE-IUL (Instituto Universitário de Lisboa), University of Lisbon, Portugal, 4-6th July 2019. In keeping with previous gatherings, this transdisciplinary event provided a forum for knowledge exchange and critical dialogues pertaining to the histories, lived experiences, cultural geographies, political activism and diasporic identities of African-descended people in Europe. 

The three-day schedule featured two keynote presentations, 32 panel sessions, six poster presentations, a cultural programme of film screenings and artistic performances, and a concluding round-table discussion through which delegates were able to engage with the conference’s six sub-themes:

* Black Europe and its Intersections
* Afroeuropeans in the Arts and the Mediasphere
* Activisms, Resistances and Public Policy in Late Capitalist Europe
* Black Cities: Public Space, Racism, Urban Cultures and Segregation
* Decolonising Knowledge on Black Europe, African Diaspora and Africa
* Theorizing Blackness and Racial Europe.

The opening keynote – “Hidden in Plain Sight: Institutional Racism, Cultural Resistance and Knowledge Production in Black Europe” – was presented by sociologist Stephen Small (Professor of African American Studies, University of California, Berkeley). His survey of the history of racism and anti-racism in Europe spanning several centuries addressed four “striking similarities” he had observed and examined about people’s lived experiences throughout the continent during research for his monograph, 20 Questions and Answers on Black Europe (Amrit Publishers, The Hague, Netherlands, 2018): (1) The ambiguous “hyper (in)visibility” of blackness; (2) “Entrenched vulnerability” – as recently exemplified by the Windrush scandal in the UK; (3) “Institutional racism” – experienced in every sphere and at every echelon of societies; (4) “Irrepressible resistance and resilience” – seen through the social mobilisation and community activism of grassroots anti-racist organisations, as well as via the creative and expressive arenas of the visual, literary and performing arts and the mediascape.

The second keynote – “Beyond the Black Paradigm? Afro-diasporic Strategies in the Age of Neo-Nationalism” – was presented by Fatima El-Tayeb (Professor of Literature and Ethnic Studies, University of California, San Diego). Through a nuanced deconstruction of selected European nations’ structurally racist, “colour-blind” approaches to addressing issues of diversity, inclusion and community cohesion over many decades, Fatima El-Tayeb proposed a range of strategies for countering the neo-nationalism that has falsely constructed European people of colour as “eternal migrants” and also fuelled an upsurge in anti-Black racism. Central to her presentation was a call for more intersectional research and analysis of black diasporic populations in Europe to better understand how racialized religious allegiances, class and LGBTQ+ rights activism intersect with ethnicity. She also advocated the importance of building coalitions through the use of “storytelling narratives” that show the connectedness of different forms of oppression, as well as the need to focus on “trans-local” agendas that circumvent national borders.

For further details of the keynotes, conference photographs and summaries of selected panel sessions, please see my full-text review on the Museum Geographies blog – which also includes images from the delegates' tour of the Bairro de Arte Pública in the Quinta do Mocho district of Lisbon, home to the biggest outdoor public art gallery in Europe:

The next biennial network conference will take place in Belgium during 2021. 

Dr Carol Ann Dixon

Researcher and Education Consultant


ORCID Research Profile:

(P.S. As my review focuses primarily on the arts, heritage and media-related panel discussions, feedback from fellow conference participants on some of the other panels, as well as the concluding round-table session would be most welcome to continue these important conversations online.)