Black Pete, Zwarte Piet: The Documentary

According to folklore, Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands via steamship every November, rides into town on his horse, and is assisted by his helper Zwarte Piet, which literally translates to “Black Peter.”

Black Pete, Zwarte Piet: The Documentary is a film about the blackface tradition of Zwarte Piet, a Dutch folklore character associated with the celebration of Sinterklaas. According to folklore, Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands via steamship every November, rides into town on his horse, and is assisted by his helper Zwarte Piet, which literally translates to “Black Peter.”

Documentary project by


Shantrelle P. Lewis

A 2012-13 Andy Warhol Curatorial Fellow, Shantrelle P. Lewis is Brooklyn-based curator and a New Orleans native who returned home to assist in the city’s post-Katrina revitalization efforts after a 12-year stint on the east coast. Having received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in African American Studies from Howard and Temple Universities, respectively, her extensive travels throughout Africa, Europe, the United States, South America, and the Caribbean has allowed Shantrelle to experience and witness the manifestation of the African Diasporan aesthetic firsthand. As a curator, Ms. Lewis uses exhibition to respond critically to socio-political and cosmological phenomena through an African-centered lens. Since 2011, Shantrelle has been engaged in research in the Netherlands and the Dutch Caribbean for a 2015 exhibition at Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI).

Support fundraising for documentary on Kickstarter.

Chika Unigwe: Bridging Europe and Nigeria, Tradition and Modernity

Writers are often a mixture of their past and their present. They write about interests and experiences, which are not always the same thing. Or perhaps take ideas from the world around them and stories they have been told. Chika Unigwe has followed a similar trajectory with her first three novels, the third of which she is preparing to publish next month in both Dutch and English.

Entitled, Night Dancer (Nachtdanser), it follows Mma, who is forced to deal with her hidden past when her mother, Ezi, passes away.  As well as inheriting everything Ezi had to own, she also inherits her mother’s bad name. Mma now has to answer questions about her mother’s life such as why her mother fled to a new town and who or what was she escaping from? Alone, she becomes desperate to learn more about her father, of whom, she knows next to nothing.

The book explores the relationship between a mother and her daughter, but also how the modern world contrasts with the traditional in contemporary Nigeria. On returning to her hometown of Enugu, Ezi built up a life for herself as a prostitute while simultaneously raising the young Mma. As Mma seeks to unravel the reasons for Ezi’s flight home, her grandfather and father cling to tradition and place all the blame on the young Ezi. Are they right?

The book and Unigwe’s writings across all spectrums is more multi-dimensional than that. The backdrop to this fairly typical family storyline (one that could be written in almost any country) is the 2002 Miss Universe riots in northern Nigeria. The riots, started by Muslim youths in Kaduna, left 100 people dead and over 500 injured. It also led to the relocation of the Miss Universe contest to London. For Unigwe, the incident is a perfect example of the clashes between modernity and tradition, how sometimes they can work, but often the contrast between the two leads to violence and oppression. For Mma, the problem is more personal as are all the stories we do not hear about in Europe.

Born in 1970s Enugu, Unigwe moved to the University of Leiden in Belgium to complete her thesis and PhD. She has published stories in journals and magazines such as Wasafiri, Moving Worlds and Per Contra. She has been shortlisted for the Vrouw en Kultuur debuutprijs (Culture Debut for Women) prize for first time female novelists and the Caine Prize for African Writing as well as winning the 2004 BBC Short Story Competition.

The Belgium-based author, is best known for her novels On Black Sisters (known as Forta Morgana in Dutch) and The Phoenix (De Feniks)The Phoenix, her debut novel, was the first ever written by a Belgian author of African descent, meaning Unigwe has become an  model for aspiring black women across Europe.  It deals with a young Nigerian lady married to a Belgian national in Turnhout.  The story follows her as she deals with the death of her son and the news she has terminal cancer.

On Black Sisters, meanwhile,  takes another aspect of Unigwe’s life, that of the emigration/migration of a young person from Africa to Europe. In her case, it was as a student to Belgium, but in the case of the protagonists; Sisi, Ama, Joyce and Efe, it is as part of a prostitution and human trafficking racket to Antwerp’s red light district. Typical for the intellectual and social way Unigwe deals with subjects on multiple levels, the book is not just about young women being trafficked and forced into prostitution, but is about gender politics, corruption and the nature of immigration itself.

Chika Unigwe’s multiple works that include poetry (two collections), articles and short stories have helped to promote awareness of the lives of African women in Europe. These can be seen as hyper-local issues such as life in Belgium for black women or for immigrants as a whole, or for the clashing cultures and ideas of modern Nigeria, but can also be applied to those same culture clashes across Africa and indeed, across Europe too. As Unigwe continues to develop her writings and her themes, she will continue to ask questions and prompt discussions across the continent. She will also, through her works, promote more black women authors in Europe, and that can only be a good thing.

Jessica Hathaway is a freelance writer from England.

Editor’s note: Chika Unigwe was recognized as an outstanding writer on the 2010 Black Women in Europe Power List.

2nd Annual Transatlantic Minority Political Leadership Conference

European Parliament – Brussels, Belgium

Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe


The Transatlantic Minority Political Leadership Conference has taken place annually at the headquarters of the European Parliament in Brussels since the seminal Black European Summit (BES): Transatlantic Dialogue on Political Inclusion, held in 2009. The events focus on Black and ethnic minority political participation in Europe and North America. This year’s Conference focused on the social and political inclusion of ethnic and racial minority populations in Europe and the United States. Participants considered the adoption of an EU-U.S. Joint Strategy on Racial and Ethnic Equality, similar to current United States’ initiatives with Brazil and Colombia that address issues of inequality and discrimination.

1:00 – 2:15 pm

Welcome Lunch


The Honorable Hannes Swoboda MEP, Socialist & Democrats Group
The Honorable Alcee L. Hastings, Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
The Honorable Claude Moraes, MEP, Socialist &Democrats Group

2:30 – 4:15 pm

Parliamentary Forum:

Including Diversity on the Transatlantic Agenda: The case for a EU-U.S. Joint Strategy on Racial and Ethnic Equality and Inclusion

Forum Chairs:

The Honorable Alcee L. Hastings, Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
The Honorable Peter Skinner, Member of the European Parliament

Special Remarks:

Maciej Popowski, Deputy Secretary General, European External Action Service


Ioannis Dimitrakopoulos, Head of Equality and Citizens’ Rights Department, European Union Fundamental Rights Agency
Zakiya Carr Johnson, Sr. Advisor, Race, Ethnicity, and Social Inclusion Unit, U.S. Department of State
Anders B. Johnsson, Secretary General, Inter-Parliamentary Union

4:30 – 6:30 pm

Are We Being Served? Minorities at the Decision-making Table

Session Chairs:

The Honorable Barbara Lee, Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
The Honorable Glyn Ford, former Member of the European Parliament


Cornell Belcher, President, Brilliant Corners Research and Strategies, U.S.
The Honorable Nura Ismailovski, Zagreb City Council, Croatia
The Honorable Said el Khadraoui, Member of the European Parliament
The Honorable David Lammy, Member of Parliament, United Kingdom
The Honorable Vivienne Poy, Member of the Senate of Canada

Moderator: Rokhaya Diallo, Journalist, France

6:30 – 7:30 pm

Awards Ceremony

Honoring the 2011 International Year for People of African Descent


The Honorable Alcee L. Hastings, Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
The Honorable Gregory Meeks, Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
The Honorable George Pau-Langevin, Member of Parliament, France



Parliamentary Forum

Including Diversity on the Transatlantic Agenda:

The case for a EU-U.S. Joint Strategy on Racial and Ethnic Equality and Inclusion

The Parliamentary Forum focused on an EU-U.S. equality and inclusion strategy, potentially modeled after existing bilateral ‘Joint Action Plans’ the U.S. maintains with Brazil and Colombia focused on eliminating racial discrimination and inequality. The Forum was prompted by a 2010 EU-U.S. Summit affiliated European Parliament Resolution calling for a dialogue between governments on greater tolerance and respect for diversity. Panelists reviewed the situation of racial and ethnic minorities in Europe, including
political participation and provided an overview of existing U.S. Action Plans. Inter-Parliamentary Union Secretary General Johnsson maintained that any EU-U.S. plan must include a focus on minority political participation, especially in national Parliaments, while External Action Deputy Secretary General Popowski
noted a plan would assist in complying with international human rights norms.

EU Fundamental Rights Agency Head, Mr. Dimitrakopoulos relayed disturbing statistics on the situation of ethnic minorities and migrants and raised the importance of active citizenship for these populations. U.S. State Department Sr. Advisor Carr-Johnson highlighted current successes between the U.S. and Latin America plans and their applicability to Europe. Conference participants supported incorporating any new strategy with Roma inclusion efforts that were being discussed in the European Union and the need for minorities to be involved in the development and implementation of strategies, noting the need for the creation of minority thinktanks. U.S. Representative Hastings commented,

“Too often have governments done things to us rather than with us.”

At the conclusion of the Conference, Conference participants called for the U.S. State Department and the European Commission to adopt a Joint Action Plan.

Minority legislators compared and contrasted the social and political situation of racial and ethnic minorities and migrants in North America and Europe based upon their experiences. All speakers noted the underrepresentation of minorities in government at national and other levels in their countries, which impacted access to quality education, employment, and other resources. Existing government programs to improve the situation of minorities were found to be largely ineffective, in part due to poor implementation and underfunding. An absence of minority legislators who could support such measures and
waning political will were cited as additional reasons for these efforts being unsuccessful. Canada’s first Asian Senator, Vivienne Poy extolled Canada’s social integration methods for migrants allowing them to excel in some areas, while noting the lack of diversity in the Canadian Parliament and the need for reforms in the electoral process. Belgian MEP El Khadraoui of Moroccan descent noted that only 4% of candidates were of a foreign background in a recent election in the Flanders region, despite 30% of the population being foreign born and having high unemployment rates that warranted political action. U.K. parliamentarian, David Lammy of Black Caribbean origin noted the need for strategies from minorities to increase pressure on traditional political parties to adopt beneficial policies for their communities, including strengthening education. Both Lammy and El Khadraoui highlighted Europe’s growing class of inter-racial youth and its impact on European identities. Zagreb City Councilwoman of Croatia, Ms. Ismailovski reflected on her journey as the first Romani woman to graduate from University and be elected. She lamented the lack of clear and measurable actions for the Roma community compared to five years ago in the face of the recession. African-American pollster, Cornell Belcher detailed the power of minority voters in winning U.S. elections, but noted the current failure of U.S. political parties to reach out to them and support policies benefiting their communities.

Panel Chair, U.S. Representative Barbara Lee offered closing remarks where she spoke of challenges in her work leading the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus to address racial disparities in the United States. She also noted her entry into politics via a Congressional fellowship and the need for similar professional development opportunities for minorities throughout the transatlantic space. Former U.K.M EP Glyn Ford raised concerns with growing racist and xenophobic political parties in Europe that were rolling back gains for minorities.

Panel Discussion:

Are We Being Served?: Minorities at the Decision-making Table

For the third year, prior to the Conference, U.S. Congressional minority staffers and interns participated in an exchange with the European Parliament’s Socialists & Democrats Group. In addition to meetings with European counterparts and party leaders, this year’s program included attendance at a Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, where EU High Representative Catherine Ashton spoke about the EU’s Libya strategy, an S&D Group meeting focused on plans to create a code of conduct to fight corruption in Parliament, and a book launch entitled, Roma: A European Minority, the Challenge of Diversity Inclusion.

The 2011 International Year for People of African Descent aims at strengthening national actions and regional and international cooperation for the benefit of people of African descent in relation to their full enjoyment of economic, cultural, social, civil and political rights, their participation and integration in all political, economic, social and cultural aspects of society, and the promotion of a greater knowledge of and respect for their diverse heritage and culture.

Edouard Glissant

In honor of the 2011 International Year for People of African Descent, Dorothy Height of the United States and Edouard Glissant of France received Posthumous recognition for their work to advance minority political participation presented by U.S. Representative Gregory Meeks and French Parliamentarian George Pau-Langevin.

Dorothy Height

“I believe we hold in our hands the power once again to shape not only our own but the nation’s future — a future that is based on developing an agenda that radically challenges limitations in our economic development, educational achievement and political empowerment.” – Dorothy Height

Awards Ceremony

Honoring the 2011 International Year for People of African Descent

Minority Staff Exchange

For the first time, affiliated Conference events took place over the weekend during the German Marshall Fund of the United States’ Brussels Forum—an annual high-level meeting of North American and European political, corporate, and intellectual leaders focused on transatlantic cooperation on global challenges. In an off-the-record discussion, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings, former Dutch Parliamentarian Fadime Orgu and pollster Mr. Cornell Belcher discussed changing demographics and the role of minority politicians and electorates in current policy debates amidst growing tensions surrounding national identity, immigration, and national security in the United States and Europe. Questions explored included: How race and ethnicity impact politics? If demographic changes fuel far-right and conservative policies? How can increased mi-
nority political participation strengthen our democracies?

GMF Brussels Forum Night Owl Session:

Demographic Shifts and Minority Political Representation

We would like to thank all participants for their contribution in helping to make the event a success: Mr. Cornell Belcher-Brilliant Corners Research & Strategies; Ms. Lora Berg-Department of State; Dr. Allison Blakely-Boston University; Ms. Zakiya Carr Johnson-Sr. Advisor, Department of State; Ms. Dimitria Clayton-State Chancellery, State of North Rhine-Westphalia; Ms. Anna Colombo-Secretary General, Socialists & Democrats Group Secretariat; Mr. Peter J. Croll-Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC); Mr. Harlem Desir- MEP, S & D Group; Ms. Rokhaya Diallo-Journalist; Ms. Seynabou Dia; Mr. Reda Didi-Graines de France; Mr. Alain Dolium-French Democratic Movement; Mr. Ioannis Dimitrakopoulos-European Union Fundamental Rights Agency; Mr. Said El Khadraoui- MEP, S&D Group; Mr. Ioan Enciu, MEP, S&D Group; Mr. Glyn Ford -Political Intelligence; Ms. Aurelie Ganga-The European Diversity Caucus; Ms. Adrianne George-Black Women in Europe Blog and Social Network; Ms. Domenica Ghidei-The Netherlands Equal Treatment Commissioner; Dr. Terri Givens-University of Texas at Austin; Mr. Alcee L. Hastings-Member of the U.S. Congress, Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe; Ms. Nura-Ismailovski-Councilwoman, Zagreb City Council; Mr. Anders Johnsson-Secretary General, Inter-Parliamentary Union; Ms. Brenda King-European Commission; Mr. David Lammy-MP, United Kingdom; Ms. Barbara Lee-Member of the U.S. Congress; Mr. Gregory Meeks-Member of the U.S. Congress; Mr. Claude Moraes-MEP, S&D Group; Dr. Lorenzo Morris-Howard University; Ms. Joyce Naar-ACP Civil Society Forum; Ms. George Pau-Langevin-Member of the French National Assembly; Ms. Randianina Peccoud-U.S. Embassy Paris; Senator Vivienne Poy-Member of the Canadian Senate; Peter Skinner- MEP, S&D Group; Mr. Paul Stafford-The German Marshall Fund of the U.S.; Mr. Hannes Swoboda- MEP, S&D Group; Mr. Wouter Van Bellingen-Stadhuis Sint-Niklaas. We would also like to thank the following people for their assistance in the work of the Conference and Report: Dr. Emmanuelle Le Texier of the staff of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, Mr. Alex Johnson and Dr. Mischa Thompson of the staff of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and Ms. Naakoshie Mills of Howard University, intern, Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats.

For additional information, please contact:

Dr. Mischa Thompson
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
234 Ford House Office Building
3rd and D St. NW
Washington DC 20515
Tel: 202-225-190|Fax: 202-226-4199

Dr. Emmanuelle Le Texier
Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats in the European Parliament
European Parliament
Rue Wiertz 60
B-1047 Bruxelles
T +32 2 284 2111/F +32 2 230 6664

Black Women Bloggers in Europe Series – Belgium – American Black Chick in Europe

Well, I’m American. And a black chick. In Europe. I’m 28 and earned my MA in International Relations in London a few months ago. Now I’m temporarily back in the US spending time with my family before heading to Belgium for an internship. After that? I haven’t a clue. I think that’s part of the fun. Join me as I contemplate whatever’s on my mind: interracial relationships/dating, the state of the black community, politics, my (pseudo) expat life, those crazy Europeans, whatever.

Vel Verrept is a Belgian artists residing in the States

Vel Verrept is a Belgian artists residing in the States. In her own words:

Vel Verrep

The goal of my work is to reflect how living in various parts of the world has influenced my work. I have always been fascinated with the richness, variety, and beauty that our world has to offer. For me, cities, countries, etc. have their own energies. These “energies” inevitably, and involuntarily, manifest in my work.

The original pigment paintings are what I call “Living Paintings”. These are multilayered, raw earth pigment, pieces which are designed to shed color in certain areas to reveal some of the layers of rich colors beneath the top layer. The more the painting is moved, the more color is revealed. However, the original “feel”, structure, and design of the piece stays the same. In other words, the goal is to create pieces that are as complex and alive as we are.

You can see and purchase Vel’s work as well as join Vel’s page on Facebook.

Taking Care of Business in Belgium – Khosi Mnyakeni’s Anise Lifestyle

Anise Lifestyle

Anise Lifestyle is a complementary therapy practice which offers aromatherapy massage and treatments. Serenity, space and undivided attention are essential to us. That is why we have one client booked at a time. Our full therapeutic commitment is given to our clients in a relaxing and peaceful environment.

All aromatherapy treatments at Anise Lifestyle start with a short confidential consultation in which your health, lifestyle, medical conditions and aims of the treatment are discussed. Based on this consultation the therapist blends 2-3 essential oils. Each of these oils has therapeutic properties. The oils are blended into cold-pressed vegetable oil to create a tailor-made aromatic oil that is suitable for you and your needs.

Visit Khosi’s site for more information.