“Whiteness” in Europe

happytomeetchu wrote:

Dear Flavia, 

This post has been making the rounds on Tumblr. I’m not too sure what I think of it myself. Some points seem valid, but others make me uncomfortable (as “various levels of whiteness” and classism are rampant in the US too). What are your thoughts? 

First of all, let me say I agree with a lot of what he says, especially in regards to how racial categorizations operate in Europe and the European Union. Practically everything he says about Othering and xenoracism can be applied to The Netherlands.

But then, there are two flaws in his argument that I cannot get onboard with. Namely, this:

antiblackness is not the fulcrum of white supremacy in much of Europe and the rest of the world. 

If Sweden was a country with absolutely no colonial history, completely removed from what the rest of the continent was up to during the 17th to 19th centuries, I’d be inclined to maybe not believe his argument per se, but at least not interrogate it further because I’d assume he speaks from sociocultural and historical knowledge. However, the most basic, basic, basic (I cannot stress BASIC enough) research, leads us to this:

During this time the small Swedish slave trade began. However, after the fall of New Sweden to the Dutch, the slave trade ended. It would later be rejuvenated in 1784, when Sweden’s monarch, Gustav III, began negotiations with France with a view to creating a new alliance between the two countries. Gustav offered Gothenburg as an entrepôt to the French, in exchange for the Caribbean colony of Saint Barthélemy, in addition to subsidies. Although Sweden was successful in acquiring the island in 1784, the population of the colony was less than 1000 people, and neither were particularly propitious trading ports—sugar and cotton only provided four shiploads a year, and many of the other resources were only produced in large enough quantities to provide subsistence for the inhabitants.

However, the islands were close to the British and French trading posts of the Leeward and Windward islands. A new town was also constructed, Gustavia (named after the King), and this facilitated trade. Within a year, the population had doubled and the King saw fit to form the Swedish West India Company. The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) benefitted trade, as did the opening of free trade with Sweden in 1806; the population had continued to increase, reaching approximately 5000 by 1800. Discounting a brief period of British occupation from 1801 to 1802, the colonies continued to thrive. In 1811, 1800 ships visited Saint Barthélemy; and from October 1813 to September 1814, 20% of the U.S.’s exports passed through the island

So this, is my number one point of contention with his argument. Antiblackness is at the root of the history of all of Imperial Europe (this includes but is not limited to The Netherlands, Great Britain, Germany, Denmark, France, Spain, Italy and Portugal). All of these countries and probably more, laid down their racist hierarchies, ideologies and discourses based on this founding moment in shared history (I am not the National Archive so I won’t be doing intensive historical research which is available to everyone with exactly the same resources I have – i.e an internet connection and the capability to read in English and/ or any other European language).

My second point of contention (and a vehement one at that) is with the implication that US based People of Color (and Black people specifically) “take too much space” on the internet. Well, if there is a lack of content produced by European PoC, that’s not the fault of those who are producing their content but of those who are not. I never had an American PoC knocking on this blog telling me I am “wrong” for the way I analyze The Netherlands and/ or European Union policies. Moreover, I have been supported and promoted by many US based folks who have valued the content I put there as an addition to the work they do. Let me very, very clear about this: this blog is about my experiences and it is not meant as a “universal reader” on PoC across all the Union. I comment extensively on policy because that affects us all regardless of our unique experiences (we are, after all, obliged to comply with laws, just like everyone else). However, it is disingenuous to push the idea that “because PoC in the US talk a lot” we are not able to talk ourselves. 

In closing, a friend of mine sent me a few screenshots he took from a search under my name on several versions of European languages Google (I don’t google myself as a rule… issues, long story with anxieties, etc). Turns out my work has been either translated or commented on in at least half a dozen different European languages. So, the spaces exist, the content is being produced, people are talking to each other and reflecting. Just because someone didn’t see it, it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

For the past decade and a half I have been making all my content available for free (and never behind a paywall) as an ongoing practice of ephemeral publishing. This site is no exception. If you wish to help offset my labor costs, you can donate on Paypal or you can subscribe to Patreon where I will not be putting my posts behind a lock but you'd be helping me continue making this work available for everyone. Thank you.  Follow me on Twitter for new post updates.

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