“Tunuka, we’ve left, we’ve returned
and we’ve stayed here”
Tunuka by Orlando Pantera
Hearing the phrase ‘Go back to (insert name of region or country)!” is enough to make any POC cringe. However, it is not uncommon.
“Go back to Africa!”; “Go back to your land” or all other variations of this hateful sentence are used as a way to ostracise a group of its own population that has foreign origins. The phrase can be used to silence foreigners and ethnic minorities in a country. It translates the sentiment “Either agree with the way we do things here or go back to your land”. As if dissonant voices were not an essential part of western democracy. However, the phrase is also said as “Go back to Africa/ Go back to your land” as if that said land of real or imagined provenience is inherently inferior than western land. Almost as if going back to Africa is some sort of punishment for dissonance. But is it? And what do the people that “went back to Africa” actually have to say about it? Humane Reflections has spoken to three young people with African ancestry who decided to return to Africa in order to collect their thoughts on the experience.
Modern migration between the PALOPS and Portugal is only natural.
During the last stretches of western colonisation of Africa, Portugal justified its colonial attitude by arguing that it was a multicontinental and multiracial country with legs in Europe and Africa. Under this optic PALOP (Portuguese speaking African Countries)- Portugal emigration and immigration was merely justified as migration between
Portuguese provinces (whether that was the province of Guinea-Bissau, Angola, Cape-Verde, etc…). Interracial marriages were also allowed, which led to the general belief that Portuguese colonialism in Africa was far more benevolent that the English, Spanish or Dutch. Nowadays, Portugal has some of the best immigration policies in Europe and extensive anti-discrimination laws. Discriminatory practices based on ethnicity, race and gender are all illegal. And, it is even unconstitutional to collect data with regards to ethnicity or race.
All of these facts, without proper interpretation could lead to the assumption there is virtually no racism in Portugal, which is wrong.
Racism in Portugal seems be of the “most subtle variety”. There are not as many mediates cases of institutional racism has in the US or France, however the UN has reported that Portugal’s people of African origins are underrepresented in politics and decision-making processes, Furthermore, they do not have equality of access to education, public services and employment.
Moreover, in 2017 the European Data Service has conducted a survey that demonstrated that amongst 20 EU countries Portugal ranks the highest in biological racism (the belief that there are races/ethnicities that are biologically less intelligent or hardworking) and the fifth highest in cultural racism (the belief that there are better cultures than others).
In Portugal the expression “Go back to your land” is more common than the expression “go back to Africa”, this, likely due to the country’s colonial history. Also, worth mention hearing the expression “go back to your land” is frankly common. As most people of African ancestry in Portugal hail from the PALOPs, it is understood that “go back to your land” when directed at them is referring to either Angola, Cape Verde, Guine Bissau, Guine Conacri Mozambique or St. Tomas and Prince.
But, how is to ‘go back to the land’? Humane Reflections asked five questions to three young people of PALOP ancestry who have recently moved to Africa to understand their experiences.
Francisco is a Cape Verdean PHD student who immigrated to Portugal, lived there for 11 years and returned to Cape Verde in 2017. Helena is a nurse with Guinean roots, who was born and raised in Portugal and immigrated to Angola in 2015. Edson is a Guinean Project Coordinator in an NGO who has studied in Portugal but has returned to Guine Bissau in 2017. In Part 2 of this article we will take a look at their answers.