Challenging stereotypes through online video: Black Speaks Back

Flore de Pauw, EUth journalist


“We want to show that we deserve our place and that we won’t be silent” says Emma, a member of Black Speaks Back; a Brussels-based movement that discusses what it is like being black in Belgian society. Can you understand racism if you’ve never experienced it? Black Speaks Back tries to explain what it feels like. In their short movies, they discuss various subjects regarding blackness in a white discourse. Or, alternatively: how racism is deeply rooted in our society.


The online world gives voice to a variety of socially engaged groups to tell their stories. Among these socially engaged groups, there are many postcolonial movements who claim their place in the online world. Black Speaks Back is one of these.

The movie ‘Black’


Founded about a year ago Black Speaks Back is an idea that had been growing a few months previous. The incentive was the Belgian movie Black. Black tells the story of two rival gangs based in Brussels: one of the gangs consists of people with a Maghreb background, the other gang of people with a dark skin. The picture presents the audience a black/white image of how the people in the two gangs behave and live. Once again, the people in the ‘black’ gang are portrayed as violent, criminal and undereducated. Emma, one of the founders of Black Speaks Back, was tired of this representation and decided that she wanted to speak back. And that’s exactly what she did: with like-minded people, she started a movement that tackles different issues of being black in society.


This is because the movie Black isn’t the only medium that portrays black people in a very biased way. The in 2017 released documentary I Am Not Your Negro (by Raoul Peck) shows us the history of profiling black people in a very clear way. The doll experiment initiated by Kenneth and Mamie Clark shows an ugly truth as well. In this experiment, the two scientists showed children an identical black and white doll and asked which doll they preferred and wanted to play with. The majority of the children chose the white doll as the ‘best’ one. Even though this experiment was done in in the late 1930s and 1940, recreations show the same outcome. However, there have been some other interpretations of this experiment.

Building bridges with video                              


Black Speaks Back had a message to tell, but how would they transfer their stories? One of the first ideas was organizing a debate evening. But that idea raised some questions. First of all: there are already a lot of debate evenings and it’s not easy to stand out. Furthermore, the things discussed during an evening aren’t always recorded so can’t be reproduced. The final, and maybe most important issue, was that debate evenings attract a certain kind of audience: mostly white, middle class and educated people. The goal was to spread the message as wide as possible. The solution for all of these problems were short online movies. Short YouTube videos are easy to watch and share so they’re perfect for Black Speaks Back’s message. The movies would look like this: three to four people debating a certain subject for ten minutes or less. These movies are uploaded to Black Speaks Back’s social media channels and this way, the movies are ready to be shared.


Safe space in a white discourse


The intention was that the online movies would be a safe space. A place where the debaters could express their thoughts. Of course, YouTube is not a totally safe space. The comment section of a YouTube video can attract unwanted or unpleasant comments, particularly when issues of race are discussed. The fact that Black Speaks Back identifies itself as a separate group of people that share the same experience isn’t acceptable for everyone. Some people ask themselves why it is necessary to create a separate group if you’re talking about inclusion. Wouldn’t it be better to involve everybody, white people as well?


Emma’s question is the following: “I feel like some of the people who ask those questions don’t understand their role when it comes to segregation. It’s not that white people literally tell me to get out but the historical structures do make me feel like I don’t have a place here.” She continues: “when you are welcome, you’re not expected to show too much of your roots, to ask political questions or to have an opinion on skin colour. Your task is to fit in, to behave like the others.” Emma isn’t convinced that we’ve achieved a diverse society yet. “A white discourse can’t produce real diversity. The first step towards diversity would be for the majority to look history right in the eyes. Both the Netherlands and Belgium have a colonial past that is more often ignored than talked about. You have to understand why there are so many Congolese people in Belgium and you have to understand why there are so many Surinamese or Antillean people in the Netherlands. As long as this past is being ignored, we have to separate ourselves so we can fight this injustice as a collective.”


Afro futuristic musical


Black Speaks Back has its own way of online youth participation. The movement makes online movies to spread their message. One of their next videos will be an afro-futuristic musical video that’s part of a BOZAR-project, called Next Generation, please! The latter is a project in which groups of youngsters re-write the European story and Black Speaks Back is one of those groups. ‘What will Europe look like in the future?’ is what they ask themselves. During the weekend of 30 September and 1 October, a group of Black Speak Back- members from all over Europe tried to answer this question. In the following month, this group of people will create a video that shows what their Europe will look like and this movie will be shown in May in different places in Brussels.


This way, the next generation claims their place in the Europe of tomorrow and claims their right to be. “I have the feeling that we can’t fully exist. We can show our beautiful fabrics, do our dances and present our hairstyles but we can’t completely participate in this society. Tais-toi et sois belle. With this Afro Futuristic Movie, we want to show that we deserve our place and that we won’t be silent. They can’t keep us quiet. “

This article is a result of a cooperation between European Youth Press and the project “EUth - Tools and Tips for Mobile and Digital Youth Participation in and across Europe”. This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 649594. This article reflects only the author's view and the Research Executive Agency or European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.