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Race and Identity: A Comparative Study of the Experiences of Black Immigrants in Britain and France since the 1920s

Raphael Chijioke Njoku

SLAVERY and colonialism left a negative image of Africa on the minds of Europeans. Black racism, in turn, left a strong impact on the intellectual traditions of modern African elite and people of the African Diaspora. European perception of Africa as a place of aberration is, though with decreasing intensity, a continuing determinant of European interaction with Blacks in Europe. I propose to highlight the changing images and experiences of people of African Diaspora in Great Britain and France since the 1920s. This study will focus on the effects of racial prejudices on prominent Black personalities in Europe and how this force of racialism generated a particular form of discourse, racial identity and mobilization within Black migrant communities.

This is primarily a history of ideas or intellectual history of Africa and African Diaspora. My method of study will involve first, an examination of biographies, autobiographies and memoirs of prominent African intellectuals like Kabaka Mutesa II of Uganda, Alvan Ikoku and Akanu Ibiam of Nigeria, Kamuz Banda of Malawi, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Kenneth Kaunda of Kenya, Leopold Senghor of Senegal, Leone Damas and Aime Cesaire of the Caribbean, Frantz Fanon of Martinique among others who were in Europe between the 1920s and 1960s. A study focusing on the presence of these prominent Black leaders of thought in Europe, and their interaction with Europeans is important because their ideas have continued to influence intellectual discourses and social movements among people of African descent across the world. I will supplement information from the biographies and autobiographies with occasional papers, newspapers and other primary sources reserved in archives across Europe. Secondly, secondary materials like published texts, and particularly, the Journal of Immigrants and Minorities published in Great Britain, will also yield useful information on the experiences of Black immigrants in Europe and how these experiences influenced their thoughts in the period under survey. As people of African descent in Europe, how did the African Europeans conceive themselves? Did they represent themselves as Europeans or other? What did Africa and Europe meant to them? Throughout, I will provide a sense of how the emerging trends in thought have shifted or changed since the 1950s.

Relationship to my Larger Research Interest
My larger research interest is on intellectual history of Africa and the Diaspora. My book manuscript entitled, Cultural Values and Igbo Political Leadership in Colonial Nigeria, 1900-1966 (to be published by University of Wisconsin Press in 2006), is a synthesis of the influence of both the local and European agencies on the fashioning of intellectual ideas and values held by African intellectuals, including Akanu Ibiam, Frantz Fanon, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Emmanuel Aggrey, Leopold Senghor, and so on. In other words, the proposal above is part of a work in progress. As you can see from my CV, I am primary research interest is on intellectual history of Africa and its diaspora. As a junior scholar on a tenure track appointment, I have designed a research project that will keep me along this direction in the next 5-10 years.

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