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Black Political Identity in Western Europe

Antonio Brown

Popular notions of “Blackness” suggest that there exists a discernable Black Identity that is recognizable on a global scale. That is, to be Black is universally understood based on ‘typical’ cultural and colloquial representations, traditions and experiences. Such identification translates into sociopolitical expectations based on monolithic representations of “Blackness”. However, a portrait of contemporary Black political identity that does not portray the diverse backgrounds, values and beliefs of Blacks in a global context paints an incomplete picture of African Descent identities.

The proposed study suggests that detailed analysis of Black identities offers an opportunity to uncover evidence of cultural distinctions that impact sociopolitical beliefs, values and levels of participation among the African descent population in Western Europe. The goal of the research project is to question the standardized models of “Blackness”, which took root in the 1960s and 1970s, and to investigate the perceptions of ideology and culture in relation to the development of ethnically diverse Black identity throughout western cultures.

Contemporary Black identity is increasingly complex and not reducible to an essentialized, monolithic model. Rather, Black identity is constructed based on implicit and explicit cultural cues and exposures over the life cycle and generations. Primarily, the study asks, what difference does diversity within the African Descent community make to the cultivation of political identities, beliefs and behaviors. Also, the study asks questions regarding the role of distinct ethnic origins in the development of a contemporary and complex definition of Black identity in Western Europe. Accordingly, the proposed study compares and examines the pertinent sociopolitical constructs, behaviors, beliefs and experiences of peoples of African descent in the Western European contexts.

In order to examine African Descent political identity, interviews with Black community organizers and community members were conducted. These discussions focused on issues of political participation, culture, ethnicity and religiosity. Participants were solicited from the African descent population in The Netherlands, Great Britain, Stockholm and Denmark. Interviewees were presented with summary topics based on questions devised from previous academic, theoretical and quasi-experimental research related to the development and existence of a definable Black identity as well as relevant political beliefs and values. Additionally, questions regarding the participants’ experiences and the connections of those experiences to their cultural identity were explored in order to develop hypotheses regarding the influence of diverse Black identities on political interests, values and preferences.

The combination of interviews and focus group discussions exemplify that issues related to class, immigration, ethnicity and national origin complicate notions of Black identity and the related sociopolitical conceptualizations and outcomes. Participants varied in relation to class, education level, age, and ethnicity/national origin. Significant effects are found cross nationally particularly in relation to recent immigrants who exhibit stronger ties to predominantly Black political cultures such as those of Jamaica and Africa. These experiences develop self-perceptions that enhance sociopolitical efficacy, but also may alienate them from members of the African descent population who have been raised in predominantly White European cultures.

Summarily, the goal of the research project is to analyze the role of national/political culture and the influences of political socialization in the varying development and construction of Black Identities.

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