In the last several years, there has been increased attention paid to the study of racial minorities in Europe. Indeed, a quick survey of the publishing landscape reveals a wealth of recent texts—essay collections, single-author books, and anthologies—that demonstrate a renewed interest in the experiences of “European others.” Yet much of the critical work has tended to examine the groups’ cultural productions (literature, music, art) and their relationship to notions of racial identity and diaspora in these national sites. Further, the texts frequently situate the topics of study in the context of globalization and migration, thus leaving unexamined the idea of a cohesive, read: white, European identity. Scant attention has been paid to the ways in which “others” engage in creative practices that serve to critique the constructs of national and European identities, even as these groups fight for visibility, voice, and recognition of their right of belonging on their own terms.
Fatima El-Tayeb’s European Others: Queering Ethnicity in Postnational Europe clears a space for such discourse by examining the ways in which ethnic and racialized minorities, citizens and migrants, trouble the very notion of cohesive European identities through activism and creative practices. By using the public sphere to make visible the “dialectic of amnesia and memory,” the complicity of public intellectuals, the farce of European colorblindness, as well as the overt acts of the state that would serve to silence them (18), European minorities, El-Tayeb argues, “circumvent the complicated question of national belonging by producing a localized, multicentered, horizontal community, in which a strong identification with cities or neighborhoods, perceived as spaces both created by and transcending national and ethnic limits, combines with a larger diasporic perspective” (xxxvii). Minority groups engage hip hop, black feminist and queer collective organizing, performance art, and multimedia and graffiti, and focus on the “racing of religion” to challenge their marginalization in a purportedly colorblind Europe that sees their presence not as an affirmation of diversity but rather as a threat to the nation’s perceived homogeneity—if not to its very existence.
Following Saskia Sassen, Étienne Balibar, and Achille Mbembe, El-Tayeb’s project centers the “translocal” rather than the national. Further, she argues that a singular framework is insufficient to critically and rigorously examine the “fusionist” approach to the activism in which minority groups in Europe engage. As such, El-Tayeb, too, takes a fusionist approach [End Page 485] in European Others, engaging a variety of theories: queer of color, women of color, and African diaspora, among others. El-Tayeb offers up a compelling argument for what she calls a “creolization of theory” in which no one theoretical framework provides a singular narrative that encapsulate the experiences of the activists whose work she examines: minority youth in Paris who engage hip hop to articulate their relationship to the nation; generations of Afro-German writers and activists; queer activists of color; and Muslim women in Denmark and the Netherlands who engage in public discourse on religion and race/racism. In her introduction, El-Tayeb makes a strong case for this fusionist approach, noting the ways in which such a treatment is essential to understanding how minorities in Europe engage in transgressive acts to forge their identities against national narratives that presume whiteness as a “raceless” default.
Chapter 1, “Stranger in My Own Country,” continues a trope long articulated among European citizen-others, that of feeling like a foreigner in one’s own country. In this chapter, El-Tayeb examines the 2005 riots in France’s Clichy-sous-Bois suburbs, looking at the ways in which the French government located the source of youth disenfranchisement, and indeed, the youth themselves, as outside of the nation construct. El-Tayeb argues that hip hop culture thus provided French youth with a vernacular language and culture that was a catalyst in the formation of a translocal community, one based not on race or ethnic origin but on the “common effects of racialized economic exclusion” across Europe (29). Thus, “stranger in my own country,” an idea articulated most notably in 1992...