Revisiting Blackness in the European South: A transnational view on Lisbon

Elena Taviani,

Gran Sasso Science Institute, Aquila, Italy

Race and the city are of increasing concern for European scholars and policymakers. Only a few years ago “race” would not be an acceptable analytical term and even today there are political and academic contexts that seem not compatible with this notion. However, race emerges in our cities as a powerful social construct and shapes the everyday urban experience of an increasing number of people. Blackness rises as a political variable often interlaced with the process in which race operates, that of racialization. Across Europe, Black people are overwhelmingly located in urban areas, including mainly capital cities, but how the urban structures form and perform within the process of Black people racialization is still to be explored. Indeed, looking at the urban dimension of race and Blackness may be harder than expected in a context, like the European one, in which race seems to be “absent”, or at least “un-measurable” and “un-placeable”. The principal objective of this study is to provide an overview of the interconnections between a critical understanding of race and Blackness and their working within the urban space to – briefly and albeit partially – introduce this literature to a European Urban Studies audience in order to address one of the more significant gaps in our discipline. Moreover, situating the debate in a metropolitan city of the European South and choosing Lisbon as a case study brings along with it a number of preliminary issues that need to be addressed. Thus, moving from a theoretical perspective to a more analytical one, I first mention the key concepts emerged in the international debate about race and the city dominated by the US conceptualization, the second section is dedicated to understanding how the European debate developed and its specificity in the European South, while the rest of the study explores the urban dimension of race and Blackness in Lisbon. Through a (fluid) comparative approach that aims to highlight the influences and exchanges between main cities in Europe, the ways in which urban race-based processes are addressed by public policies and the main official approaches adopted in Europe will be mentioned in order to locate Lisbon in its wider panorama. Indeed, the third section is devoted to a transnational view on Lisbon about three main aspects: problems of measurability of race (I), urban policies and planning strategies involving race (II), and urban representations of race and Blackness (III). Eventually, a few conclusive remarks acknowledge limitations and opportunities of “a reading of race and Blackness” within urban contexts of the European South in order to draw implications and hints for future researches.