Sylvia Arthur sets out a few inspirational and enlightening facts to get your minds in gear to explore the big wide world outside your comfort zone

Europeans take great pleasure in reveling in the unfortunate fact that just 6% of Americans own a passport, with only slightly more choosing to venture outside of their immediate environs and explore their own United States. Europeans love to travel and experience the world outside their borders and people of African descent, in particular, have long been a nomadic race. There’s a whole black world out there to explore and for those of you looking for that push to get out there and see it, feel it and taste it for yourselves, here are a few snippets to set you on your way.

1. The black population in Brazil will outnumber the white population this year for the first time.

There are more people of African descent in Brazil than in any country outside of Africa itself, making Brazil second only to Nigeria in terms of its black population. This racial melting pot is a result of the transatlantic slave trade in which more than 40% of Africans forcibly exported to the New World were taken to Brazil. Today, half the country’s 183 million people have African slaves as forefathers. Brazil has been celebrated for its vibrant, integrated “racial democracy” but Black Brazilians still lag behind whites economically and educationally. Most economic indicators show that black Brazilians are the poorest section of society, and the sprawling favelas or shanty towns are just one indication of this. As well as having the poorest jobs and housing, Afro Brazilians also fare badly in terms of health and access to education, while black faces are rarely seen in the corridors of power in either business or politics. Recently, there has been a heated debate about the issue of race, equality and discrimination and the use of quotas as a means to address lack of access by black students to universities has proved particularly controversial.

2. Black women are increasingly taking leadership roles in Europe
A new breed of political star is in the ascendancy. Black women all over Europe are rising up the ladder of political power and are assuming positions of prominence both nationally and internationally.

Rama Yade, a Senegalese-born daughter of a diplomat, is a French politician who has served in the government since 2007 and was the first ever French minister for human rights. She is currently the Secretary of State for Sports.

Rachida Dati, a Moroccan-Algerian, was the first woman from a non-European immigrant background to occupy a key ministerial position in the French Cabinet.

Joyce Sylvester, acting mayor of the Dutch city of Naarden, is the first black woman to serve as mayor in the Netherlands. Sylvester is born in Amsterdam and is of Surinamese descent.

Sandy Cane, a 47-year-old Italian-American, was elected mayor of Viggiu after winning 30% of votes cast by the town’s 5,000 residents. Cane, who has a black American father and an Italian mother, voted for Barack Obama in the US presidential elections but is representing an Italian anti-immigration party.

3. Rwandan women are world leaders
Rwanda, the central African country notorious for civil war and genocide, is the first country in the world where women outnumber men in parliament. At the last parliamentary elections in 2008, women took 45 out of 80 seats or 56.25%.

Rwanda, whose post-genocide constitution ensures a 30% quota for female MPs, already held the record for the most women in parliament.

In the run-up to the election, gender advocates called on parties not only to have equal representation of women and men in their party lists, but also to position women close to the top to ensure the presence of women representatives. The ruling party, the Rwanda Patriotic Front, placed a woman at the head of its list, and of the 42 seats it won, 17 went to women. Of the further 3 seats won by women in the general election, 2 went to the Social Democratic Party, and 1 to the Liberal Party.

An additional 24 women MPs were elected through the indirect electoral process managed by the National Women’s Council (CNF) — an organ attached to the Ministry for Gender and Family Promotion.

4. Black women are international literary giants
French-Senegalese writer Marie NDiaye last month won France’s top literary prize, the Prix Goncourt, for her novel Trois femmes puissantes [Three Strong Women], a novel on family, betrayal and the hellish ordeal of illegal migration from Africa. NDiaye is the black woman, and the first woman in ten years, to be awarded the prize.

NDiaye was born in France, the daughter of a French mother and a Senegalese father. After her father returned to Senegal, she didn’t travel to Africa until she was in her 20s and now lives in Berlin with her three children.

NDiaye is only the most recent woman of African descent to be recognised for her literary flair.

Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi-Adichie is the darling of the international book scene, with her novels Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun scooping multiple accolades. Her newly published collection of short stories The Thing Around Your Neck has also gained international critical acclaim.

5. International black women are doing big things on the big screen
Thandie Newton, Sophie Okonedo, Naomie Harris and Carmen Ejogo – black, British and hugely successful actresses, internationally known and internationally respected. Following in the footsteps of Marianne Jean-Baptiste, the first black British woman to be nominated for an Oscar, these strong black women are taking over Hollywood with award worthy performances, representing for UK talent that is so often gone unrecognised at home. Newton is currently burning up the big screen in the blockbuster 2012 while Okonedo is starring in the biopic Skin. Meanwhile, Harris, famous for her role in Pirates of the Caribbean, is taking over the British small screen in an adaptation of writer Andrea Levy’s award winning novel Small Island.

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