As the world deals with the ever present reality of injustice and racial tensions, young Africans and biracial “Afro-Czechs’ living in both Czech Republic and Slovakia alike have created their community. This community, affectionately named “Africa Kids”, has the purpose of connecting with one another, celebrating their ethnic heritage and creating a place where they belong.
“I think the main thing is just for them to know that they are not alone,” said Samira, the founder. “One of the things things that I hear the most is that they, um, finally feel like they can be themselves.” On a semi regular basis, this community holds various events such as dinners and parties for the sole purpose of bonding with a mutual understanding.
The experience of blacks in the Czech Republic is different than in other countries. It is not typical for the Czech Republic to see racially motivated violence and cases such as the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery or Breonna Taylor. While racially motivated violence does occur to minorities living in the Czech Republic (the attack on the first black MP, Dominik Feri, a year ago, and a mall attack last December 2) the experience of many is more of a passive/latent racism, a category in which the Czech Republic surpasses all other European countries, according to Harvard University’s “Project Implicit” survey 3. This essentially boils down to associating people of color with negative, rather than positive traits. Rather than a realized hatred, it appears as much more of a disdain for said people based on prejudice. One that is often internalized and detrimental to biracial, or “Afro-Czech”, people.
“So [I started] thinking, how can we change this?” Samira said. “What can we do to make things better? And that’s one of the reasons why I do the Africa Kids [group]… Cause there was no point for me to just like be angry, like shouting at people, trying to make them understand. [Instead], let me think of what I can actually do to make my people’s lives better and cheerful and more fun.”
It all started with an Instagram page that promotes and highlights the young Africans living in the Czech Republic. When the group first met, things were a little awkward. Initially, the feedback was mixed. Samira said that, for some, “the first meetings were not really anything like valuable or anything like that anyway.” Eventually, the group was able to get past this and bond on a deeper level.
“It’s unique for me because it is the only place in Czech where there are black people around my age that aren’t my family,” said Ester, a member of the group. “We share our problems that others don’t understand and share our experiences.” The need to have such a community is shown in the struggles of living between two different worlds. For many Afro-Czechs, having both African and Czech blood and growing up in the Czech Republic can be a little disorienting.
“Sometimes I didn’t feel welcome here. People literally told me ‘you’re not welcome here’ I had to let it all sit in my head and think about it,” Phyl Ndiaye, who goes by “Phly G”, said. “Then I realized I’m the best of both worlds.” From a young age he always struggled with understanding where exactly he belongs. Having a Senegalese father and a Czech mother, finding a sense of home had been difficult.
Others share that growing up in Central Europe did not affect their self-perception negatively and owe this largely to their family. Cassidy, a member of the group, said: “Growing up, from first to seventh grade I was regularly bullied. But it kind of stopped after that. Having my dad (a Nigerian) around meant I didn’t feel too insecure about my identity, but rather I felt kind of special.”
Ester, another member of the group, shares that she never felt the need to suppress her heritage. “I don’t even know what that means,” said Ester. “My mom always made sure I knew my value.”
Both Ester and Cassidy said that they felt that they became used to being different (with support from their African parents), while Samira and Phyl said that their parents are divorced, with both of their fathers (the African parent) being less involved in their lives. For Phyl and Samira they had to learn to embrace who they are individually, but for all of them, the group has helped create a space for sharing their lives and being supported.
Looking forward, the community hopes for a greater understanding and therefore respect for those of an African background in the Czech Republic. Samira, for instance, ties the issue to a lack of proper education about racial issues and understanding of their history among Czechs. “A lot of these teachers really are the problem, you know?” Samira said, “In history [class] I don’t remember anybody ever saying anything about like the civil rights or slavery or anything like that.”
The greatest value in having such a community is belonging. In times such as these, with social distancing and lockdowns, having a place to call your own and people you can rely on has never been more attractive. Before the virus allows us to return to our busy regularly scheduled program, it is important to remember that family and an authentic community is often what shapes us into people we are.
Afrika Kids gives us an example of the importance of a support system, of people who understand each other and want individuals to share their experiences with. Maybe, just maybe, it is important that we remember this as things slowly return to “normal”.