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CAS Prof Delves into Afro-European Culture

CAS’s Allison Blakely recently returned from Europe, where he did research for a book on black identity among Afro-Europeans

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Allison Blakely (left) and President Jose Amari Queta, head of the African community center in the district Quinta do Mocho in Sacavem, a suburban parish near Lisbon.

Allison Blakely, the George and Joyce Wein Professor of African-American Studies and a College of Arts and Sciences professor of history, has spent five months of his sabbatical conducting research in Europe. Having returned to Boston, he’s ready to begin work on a book tentatively titled The Emergence of Afro-Europe, intended to examine how European citizens of African descent are perceived within their countries and the way such perceptions are shaping an Afro-European identity.

“I am particularly interested in the ways in which the legacies of European colonialism of the past few centuries are converging with the present situation,” Blakely says. “The central objective of my project is to determine whether a black identity is being projected by circumstances upon even those individuals and groups that would prefer it to be otherwise — and is accompanied by varying degrees of social and economic exclusion, xenophobia, and racism.”

Blakely found a significant rise in the visibility of black populations throughout Europe. “The repetitive experience that made the biggest impression on me in my travels was walking through predominantly black districts in the different cities,” he says, “and encountering street scenes, barber shops, cafes, clubs, and people that made me momentarily feel transported to Harlem, West Africa, or the Caribbean.” However, the increased prominence of Afro-European communities has led to new tensions over “political correctness” regarding race, he says.

Nonetheless, during his travels in the Netherlands, Paris, Lisbon, London, and Hamburg, Blakely found that a large volume of literature on Afro-Europe was being produced — which was not the case a few years ago, he says. Blakely will spend the remainder of his sabbatical year as a Visiting Fellow at Harvard’s W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African-American Research.

Rebecca McNamara can be reached at ramc@bu.edu.

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