Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Hon. G.K. Butterfield
Commissioner - Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe


Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this very important hearing. As the son of an immigrant from a former British colony, I have been touched by both the colonial and migrant experience. Both issues are of great relevance for this hearing, as they are related to some of the often overlooked roles blacks have played in Europe’s development.

My father was from Bermuda, now the oldest self-governing overseas territory in the British Commonwealth. A British colony formed in the 1600s, Bermuda’s economy was based on the islands' cedar trees for shipbuilding and the salt trade and sustained by African slave labor. With the slave trade outlawed in Bermuda in 1807, and slaves freed in 1834, today over 60% of Bermudians are of African descent.

A number of Bermudians have migrated to the British mainland. However long before their migration, they and their forbearers assisted in the building of Europe’s economy and made countless other contributions to Europe’s social fabric.

History is not so different for those in the Caribbean countries of Suriname and Curacao who migrated from their former colonies to the Netherlands; Haiti and Senegal who migrated to France; and the numerous other examples that could be cited with a number of these migration patterns from the Caribbean and Africa continuing until today.

Despite these truths, the ills of slavery and its repercussions have often been a distinction solely reserved for the U.S. and its black population. Recent efforts in the UN and Europe commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade have assisted in raising the visibility of and recalling these histories.

The UK constructed a replica of the Amistad, the 19th century ship to retrace a 14,000-mile slave route, including stops in the US, Africa, Caribbean and UK. A BBC website noting the impact colonialism and slavery has had on how Blacks are viewed and perceived in the world has also been erected. Athletic prowess, exoticism and low intelligence were all stereotypes used to justify slavery and colonialism, and still exist today. These stereotypes impact how we are portrayed in the global media, our education and employment opportunities, and why many of our contributions have remained invisible to the world.

To recognize us means challenging European notions of being mono-racial and mono-cultural nations. To recognize us means that far-right parties calling to keep Europe “European” have no grounds, for we are also part of Europe.

Today, we are being recognized. Mr. Chairman, I thank you for this and look forward to hearing from our witnesses on how best we can all work together to promote diverse societies that extend and protect fundamental rights to everyone.

Thank you.