Euromight: A Quest to Capture the Afro-European Narrative

Khalil Abdullah | 8/1/2013, 6 a.m.


Olive Vassell

In March 2012, the British Library — the equivalent of America’s Library of Congress — announced its decision to include Euromight.com in its archive of websites that contribute to the understanding of British society. The website, which was selected from among hundreds of thousands of websites in the country, records the history and ongoing evolution of Afro-Brits and the emergence in other European countries of an African diaspora still struggling to define its identities. The site’s founder and managing editor, London-born Olive Vassell, called the honor “a huge boost, an external recognition of the work that we’re doing.”

Research by Dr. Allison Blakely, the leading scholar on the black presence in Europe, shows that England’s identifiable 1.5 million people of black or African descent is second only to France’s 2.5 million. In most countries, the percentages are small, with populations numbering in the thousands.

However, gathering accurate data on the African presence in European countries is complicated by differing census classification systems. Does “African” include someone from Morocco or refer only to the Sub-Sahara? Additionally, as Blakely has pointed out, the discourse on immigration and other contemporary social issues has somewhat obscured the rise of black European identities — a rise similar, in some ways, to the path of self-definition still being trod by African Americans.

Vassell spoke with New America Media’s Khalil Abdullah about Europe’s ever expanding multicultural landscape and her vision for Euromight.com.

What was your initial motivation for founding Euromight.com?

I spent a lot of time in and around Europe and I was fascinated with people who were from different places in the world in terms of origin but living in Europe. I would see people like me, but speaking another language. I began to realize there were groups of people from the colonies, from other colonies all over Europe. Why isn’t somebody telling this story? I had all the skills to do it. So I said, “I’m just going to get down to it. I’m going to create the forum.” By then, the Internet was really well-developed and allowed me access to the information I needed to create Euromight.

When did your family come to London?

After the Second World War. Essentially, Britain put out a call for people in its colonies to come to the Motherland, to England, to help the country rebuild. There were some people who were there during the war to fight, but many came afterward, mainly to rebuild.

My family came from Jamaica, but there were those from other parts of the Caribbean and Africa going to the U.K. as well. Large communities of black immigrants settled in London, Birmingham, and Manchester. Those in Liverpool came during the 1600s and 1700s; they’re the oldest community.

Growing up, we had a very, very strong black community in the United Kingdom, and it was the second largest in Europe. Only France’s was larger.

You mentioned Andrea Levy’s book Small Island, about the arrival of African and Caribbean immigrants in England. How was that an accurate depiction of the post-World War II era?