SP: Hi Géraldine! Could you tell me a little about you?
Géraldine: Hi! I’m a 25 year old Junior Art Director for Serviceplan, where I’m part of the creative team. I was born in Belgium, but my parents are from Benin and I lived there for several years.
SP: Could you tell us what is Black History Month is exactly?
Géraldine: Sure. It’s a month where African-Americans celebrate black history and the diaspora that helped make America what it is today. This month is there as well to talk about racial discrimination and all the things that impact the African-American community. I wish their history could be celebrated every day, but at least this is their month where everyone knows they will share and others can learn about black history.
Géraldine: Of course, we (people of color) are not historians. If you need to know something, don’t just go to the black person you know and expect them to answer all your questions. Go search and educate yourself on racism and on intersectionality. It’s not our job to educate non-black people on what happened in the African community. But this month, you (non-black people) can be part of the discussion as allies. However, it’s black people who have the platform and whose voices are being heard. And hopefully, at some point, it will be a regular part of taught history and it won’t need to be celebrated separately.
SP: What does it mean to you?
Géraldine: Not that much to me personally, because I live in Europe and it’s different from the American situation. There, they used to have specific areas for people of different ethnic backgrounds. In Europe, we are all mixed, which I think is great, because we all get the opportunity to learn about each other. In Europe, you won’t as easily see something like a ‘black month” or an “asian month” celebration, as there is so much culture in Europe that everyone would be like “ok, but we need a month for this country and this community as we exist too.” You know?
SP: Perhaps it’s also because in America there is a large population of Afro-Americans, while in Europe, the population of African people in comparison is way less and a lot more spread across the continent.
Géraldine: I’ll use my own example: my parents are from Benin, which is near Burkina Faso and Nigeria. They directly came from Benin to Belgium. Whereas with most African-Americans, they are descendants of slaves. They don’t necessarily have a direct connection with Africa. America is all they know, and it IS their culture. They have the right to be represented as much as the white American, because that’s the only thing they know.
SP: Do you feel like there should be something equal to commemorate the specific history from Belgium? Like the colonization that happened in Congo. Do you think we should do something more with that?
Géraldine: The thing is, it would be hard, because in Africa there are more than 50 countries and every country has its own history. We can’t just take a month and say we celebrate everyone as there are so many countries and some are not even on the same page, some don’t get along, some still have political war going on, …
Géraldine: There are so many countries that would need to be celebrated that we wouldn't have enough weeks in the year to include everyone. African countries celebrate their own indepence days, and that’s when a lot of us celebrate too. For example, in my family we all come together and celebrate being freed from France’s colonization.
SP: What about countries we have a specific history with? For example, Congo has been colonized by Belgium, yet we don’t really have an ‘anti colonization day’ here to commemorate that. How can we do better?
Géraldine: What I think Belgium (and countries in general) should do to honor history better, is to TEACH history better. Meaning: not just quickly go over what happened, but acknowledge the bad things our country did. And then, we should talk about African history as well.
Géraldine: Did you know that in Africa, we had a lot of big Kingdoms that had a lot of influence back then? For example, in Benin, we had the kingdom of Dahomey, and all the guardians who protected the king were Women, who were called by Occidental people the Amazones of Benin. But people here are not taught that. If you want to teach history, you need to show the different sides of it. Don’t just talk about Africans as if we are people to be pitied and portray us as victims. Show us as people that also have a rich history. There were big rebellions during slavery. For example in Dahomey, even though their main income was to sell slaves, the Kingdom fought until the end to be able to protect their land. But this side is not shown at school.
Géraldine: Black people do not need to be saved. We have our own history, we can do things by ourselves just fine, if other continents would stop bothering us and taking our riches from us, like cobalt and diamonds. (White) people are not ready to admit that a lot of the money comes from Africa and argue with “yes, but they need us there, it’s why we are there”. While young people in African countries are saying “no, we don’t need you, leave us be, stop controlling us and taking our riches.
Thank you. You said a lot of interesting things to reflect on.