“We have never been racist”: Rethinking race and ethnicity in contemporary Greece
The network Greek Studies Now participates in discussions sparked by the bicentennial of the 1821 Greek War of Independence with a series of webinars in which we invite interlocutors to take the contemporary experience of Greece and Greekness as their starting point to reflect on this anniversary. In the third even dedicated to this anniversary, we want to draw attention to the important question of race.
Until quite recently, to talk about race in the context of Greek studies (and of Greece) was treated as awkward, something incommensurate with the narratives of what is commonly viewed as an ethnically homogeneous country that has never been a colonial power.
Yet, in light of recent public debates and with the reverberations of the Black Lives Matter protests reaching Greece as the country was preparing to celebrate its bicentenary, there is now a new urgent call to reconsider topical and longstanding legacies of race, racialization and racism at different levels.
As a growing civil society movement has repeatedly stressed, processes of racialisation run deep in the structure of the Greek everyday. Race and (racial understandings of) ethnicity play a crucial role in defining Greek citizenship; they frame official and lay understandings of Greek history and have inadvertently influenced the very formation of the Greek state; they are painfully experienced by those who find themselves “outside” the matrix of recognition of who (and which bodies) could count as Greek; they are spectacularly (and officially) rehearsed in the biopolitics and necropolitics of “managing” the refugee crisis; but they are also part and parcel of longstanding class, educational, geographical and symbolic taxonomies with a long history in the Greek state. In this context, the phrase “we have never been racist”, often repeated in Greece to this day, ceases to sound like an innocuous observation and denotes the opening of a difficult debate.
In this roundtable we want, among others, to broach questions such as:
What categories of (racial) exclusion and inclusion has the notion of Greekness been premised on in the Greek national imaginary?
What has been Greece’s (historical, financial, ethical) relationship to the European colonial project? How did it impact the formation of the Greek nation?
How useful is the category of race for understanding today’s political, cultural and social landscape of Greece?
What are the particular histories of whiteness with which Greeks have been identified? What is their role today?
How has “whiteness” shaped Greece’s Europeaness and European hellenisms?”
Sadia Abbas (Rutgers University)
Johanna Hanink (Brown University)
Omaira Gill (journalist)
Nikos Deji Odubitan (Generation 2.0 for Rights, Equality & Diversity, Greece)
In the first part of this event, we will have brief presentations by the four main speakers. In the second part, we will open the floor for a live conversation with invited interlocutors from academic and activist communities as well as with the audience.
The event will be livestreamed via Youtube. Register here in order to receive the link for the livestream.
About the network: “Greek Studies Now” is a Cultural Analysis network that emerged from a partnership between the departments of Modern Greek at Oxford and Amsterdam. It brings together scholars in several universities around the world and aims to progressively widen its reach to include more partners and countries. Our inaugural conference in Oxford (January 31- February 1, 2020) was the first meeting place for the formation of a dynamic network of scholars that has been growing ever since. Given the current restrictions that do not allow us to host face-to-face events, we continue the network’s activities with an online roundtable series and – if the situation allows it – a 2-day conference in Amsterdam in the spring of 2022.
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Image credits: Black Lives Matter solidarity protest at Plateia Amerikis, Athens, June 2020. Photograph by Julia Tulke, aestheticsofcrisis