Howard University history professor Ana Lucia Araujo and Carnegie Mellon French professor Mame-Fatou Niang discussed recent debates regarding the removal of statues that depict slave traders and owners in Europe at an event Wednesday afternoon.
Roughly 180 participants tuned into the seminar hosted by The Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies and moderated by Harvard French history professor Mary D. Lewis. The conversation was contextualized by the demonstrations against police violence and racist legacies, which erupted across Europe following the death of George Floyd in May of this year.
Lewis said that she was not surprised that George Floyd’s murder and other incidences of U.S. police brutality resonated so strongly with citizens of France — a country with a complicated color-blind outlook on race, typically a taboo topic.
“After George Floyd was murdered, France had perhaps the largest Black Lives Matter demonstration anywhere in the world,” she said. “People weren’t just condemning the racism in the United States, which would have been one way of interpreting it, but rather associating what happened to George Floyd with another death in police custody by a similar means." Adama Traoré unexplainably died in police custody in France in 2016.
Araujo and Lewis began by talking about monuments as memorialization of colonialism in Europe. Araujo, author of “Slavery in the Age of Memory: Engaging the Past,” emphasized that removing monuments that pay homage to those who defended and participated in the Atlantic slave trade is not an unprecedented trend. She pointed to crowds that tore down monuments during the American Revolutionary War, the French Revolution, and the fall of Eastern Europe’s communist regimes to highlight that this is not an isolated phenomenon.