afro european history


The African Diaspora - Brown POC around the world and how they identify themselves

The word “Diaspora” has its origins in the Latin word “diaspeirein” meaning “disperse”. Accordingly, we understand the term African Diaspora to refer to the “dispersal” of Africans outside of the African continent. Here the meaning of the word “dispersal” is two-fold: Firstly, its usage can be applied to the actual process of dispersal. Secondly, and more commonly, the term refers to individuals residing in countries outside of Africa who have been dispersed, either through choice or through force. 

The latter usage of the term is therefore an umbrella term to describe a variety of individuals and groups, who can be described as members of the African Diaspora. We acknowledge the depth and breadth of the different groups under the term “African Diaspora”, who may have come from opposite ends of the continent, have left under different circumstances, and may be integrated into their communities to different extents.

Since the late twentieth century, the term Diaspora (Greek διασπορα, a scattering or sowing of seeds) has described people or ethnic groups who have left their traditional ethnic homelands by force and have scattered all over the world. The term is often used when referring to a minority ethnic group or a religious group. Originally, the term Diaspora referred to the populations of Jews exiled from Judea in 586 BC by the Babylonians and in AD 135 by the Romans. Since early modern times, the confessional minorities of Christianity were part of a Diaspora. The term describes the process of dispersal and the dispersed ethnic population. 

Today ‘Diaspora’ refers to, among others, the Jewish Diaspora in the modern sense (Jews who live outside Israel), the Christian Diaspora (Christian minorities in East and South East Asia or Catholics in Northern Europe and Protestants in Southern Europe) ), the Irish Diaspora (Irish refugees due to the Irish Potato Famine and political oppression), the Armenian Diaspora (the dispersal of Armenians after the genocide in 1915-16), the South East Asian Diaspora (the scattered refugees from South East Asia due to several wars such as World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War), the Islamic Diaspora (the Muslim minority in Europe and North America) and the African Diaspora.. 

The African Diaspora has been formed by the movements of Africans and their descendants to regions throughout Europe, the Caribbean, North America, South America, and Central America. The majority of the African Diaspora descends from individuals who were taken into slavery; however, we are witnessing an increase of voluntary immigrants and asylum-seekers. 

Apart from problems which the Diaspora faces, the situation of the Diaspora poses the question of cultural identity. On the one hand, many are caught between voluntary or forced dissociation and exclusion, and on the other hand, many assimilate to a degree causing them to lose their own ethnic language or religion. These consequences afflicting the African Diaspora have left many searching for their place within their new culture.

“Portrait of an African Man” (c. 1520-30).

Painted by European Artist Jan Mostaert

The identity of this man has been lost to history but there are indications that he was either associated with Margaret of Austria’s court or her nephew, Charles V. The man wears rich clothes, gloves, and holds a sword, all indicative of his important status. The insignia on his hat and bag allude to possible Spanish or Portuguese origins. Although African kings were depicted in paintings of “The Adoration of the Magi”, they were often stereotypical representations. “Portrait of an African Man” is significant because it is one of the only independently painted portraits of a African man that has so far been found from the Renaissance period.

The African Diaspora in Europe

Historical Overview

The history of the African Diaspora in Europe is still largely misunderstood and has not received much recent academic attention. It originated tens of thousands of years ago when human society, in the modern sense, first came into being. During this time, several waves of men and women from the African continent had begun to migrate to Europe. There is sufficient evidence of the existence of African descendants during the times of the ancient Greeks and Romans due to trade and exploration.

Here is a link to one of my previous post on African images on Greek coins.

As infrastructure grew and means of transportation improved, the dispersal of African people continued to increase throughout Europe. Not only were Africans entering Europe, but Europeans were developing ways of traveling deeper into Africa. As Europeans began to trade with local tribe leaders and merchants within Africa, the forced displacement of the African community increased with the sale of members from these African communities. Colonization spread throughout Africa with several European countries claiming land with valuable resources. 

Today, more Africans and African descendants are integrated into European society, but problems continue to exist within different areas of society. Many of these problems differ depending on which culture or country the Africans and African descendants are located. This will be looked at more in depth in regard to Germany, Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Portugal. 


John Blanke (16th century) Trumpeter in the Court of King Henry VIII, 1511

The presence in Tudor England of John Blanke is an early example of the role blacks played in the aristocratic courts of Europe. As well as personal servants and horse grooms, many blacks served as musicians. Most commonly, they seem to have played the trumpet or large kettle drums. This tradition continued throughout the early modern period.