I read a lot of books but not a lot about Europe. Yet I have to admit: Johny Pitts has got me hooked. I knew about him from a number of references over the years. I just never read his book. I thought I was not that interested in reading a travelogue about traveling around Europe. Oh, how wrong I was.
I have been to Europe, spent weeks in England and Germany, visited France a number of times. However, after devouring Pitts’ book, I realize that I had not spent much time in the black communities or with Black citizens of various European countries.
My two brothers have frequented there, as have my nieces and nephews, good friends and even my three daughters. I don’t have antipathy for traveling through Europe but neither did I have any deep affinity for those foreign spaces and places. I should have known better.
Indeed, when I go back through my own travels, it’s really clear: I’ve learned a lot and spent a good bit of time there, especially England and Germany.
Reading Afropean pulled my coat. Made me look anew in the mirror of my interactions. Where I previously saw only isolated visitations, I now see a pattern. And beyond that, I also see how much I missed, how much more I could have learned and, yes, even enjoyed–not only learned about others, but indeed, learned about myself.
Don’t sleep on Afropean. What we don’t know diminishes us. The first part of Pitts travelogue describes encounters with Black Americans in France. We ugly Americans who think we are so Black and beautiful.
I caught a glimpse of myself in that mirror. Although Pitts wasn’t writing about me, he caused me to reappraise a part of my own identity.
Moreover, Pitts is an excellent writer, excelling at what I call the (Langston) Hughes tradition of Black travel; seeing the world without losing a sense of self. His vocabulary is expansive but always in touch with his individual and simultaneously our collective identity.
This book is no public relations puffery shouting out big ups to Europe. Expertly and sensitively written, in giving us an honest view of himself and his European environment, Johny Pitts not only shows us the depth and breadth of his world, he also shows us deep truths about our own existence while expanding and reframing what it means to be Black–literally surviving in a racial, gendered, and class-structured “White man’s” world.