Monday, June 22, 2020

Erγastirio: Conversations on Greek America_Meeting One_Report


A Report

A) Black Americans and Greek Americans 


B) Whiteness Studies and Greek American Studies

• A (partial) outline of threads in the conversation • Major issues • Questions

The hosts and participants thank Lamprini Thoma for her participation.

Lamprini’s perspective: The purpose of the documentary is to contribute to antiracism in Greece. The documentary represents political activism and its primary intended audience is the Greek public. (This is a project that came up on the side of another major project at the time [i.e. a documentary on Greek dinners and restaurants in the United States, forthcoming].)

Lamprini noted the scarcity of sociological and ethnographic data regarding Greek American views toward African Americans. What is the percentage of early 20th century Greek immigrants in the South who supported Jim Crow? How many opposed it?

Lamprini has collected a vast volume of interviews on this topic, and is willing to make this material available to researchers.

Importance of featuring voices of individuals who eye-witnessed Greek American – Black American interactions; offer immediacy and the authority of eye-witnessing.
The title is tentative.

Discussion_Some major points 

The hosts and the participants recognize that this is work in progress. The intensity of the conversation underlined the high stakes involved in this act of representation.

Question of audience: The audience is global. Stressing positive examples of interracial solidarity may be offer a usable past to inspire similar alliances today, but in foregrounding mostly positive cases the documentary participates in the self-congratulatory Greek American narrative that neglects to recognize immigrant complicity to whiteness in the past and present. There is a tension that requires further reflection: What is intended as an anti-racist project in one national context (Greece), works against the anti-racist movement in another (United States).

Question of representation within the documentary:
• What are the criterial for selecting the voices that are called to represent this topic? Who speaks for and about the past?

• Certain perspectives need elaboration: What does it mean to feel “non-white” (George Pelecanos)? This position can easily slip or be appropriated into the (essentialist) statement, “Greek are non-white,” which is used regularly to disavow Greek American privileges within the U.S. racialized order.

• George Pelecanos’ often cited distinction between white middle-class professionals on the one hand, and Greek immigrants and African Americans on the other hand in his family restaurant: This is a powerful image evoking an us/them dichotomy, differentiating “whites” from Greek immigrants and Black Americans, who are seen within the same symbolic order. This certainly operates as a class boundary. But it creates the false impression that immigrants and black Americans belonged to an identical economic class and they enjoyed similar economic opportunities.

• Participants noted conflicts between narratives. How can the film bring out the tension in these stories? Participants asked that the documentary nuances the racialized betweenness that organizes the narrative. Issues of regional specificity (ethnic demographics for instance); class, gender, and racial intersections; and attention to local categories must be taken into account when we speak about race in the United States.

• The need for a voice over that contextualizes the subjective voices and adds nuance was proposed as a narrative strategy to tackle these issues.

Question of Responsibility: Documentary, historical representation, political activism, scholarship

“Responsibility” was a moral and political notion that came up repeatedly throughout the discussion:

• Responsibility of Greek American citizens towards Black people based on our historical knowledge

• Responsibility of scholars: produce more research

• Responsibility of “cultural workers” (documentary makers) vis-à-vis scholarship; responsibility of institutions (museums). Responsibility of political activists

Responsibility was evoked in relation to knowledge. What new knowledge do we produce? What do we do with available knowledge? What are the responsibilities of producing politically vested knowledge audiences in today’s globalized world?

Issues/questions


How to represent history for political advocacy in one national context, while taking into account different interpretive frameworks and different modes of political advocacy around the same issue in another national context?

What is the role of researchers in the making of an activist documentary? What is their responsibility as voices in the documentary?

What is the place of scholarship in the making of documentaries? What is the responsibility of documentary makers vis-à-vis available scholarship? Scholars are rightly encouraged to produce more data. Do documentary makers find value in engaging with the available scholarship, including theory?

The collective body of Greek American scholars is relatively small. There is no critical mass of scholars to cover Greek America extensively. If cultural production (museum exhibits, documentaries) lacks historical and cultural contextualization it imposes an additional critical obligation on scholars. In requiring extensive scholarly work, directing valuable energies and resources away from other projects.

What is the role of theory in thinking about strategies of activism and historical representation? (what grounds the assumption, for instance, that stressing the discrimination of Greeks in the United States can generate empathy towards immigrants in Greece? [this strategy was used in the recent past in Greece [“we were ‘Albanian’ once”] and was seen by many scholars and intellectuals as politically ineffective; sectors of the public resisted their being hailed to identify with the immigrants on the ideological position that Greek immigrants were “different” [i.e. “better,” that today’s immigrants].

How to enhance the communication between documentary makers/activists and scholars?

Note

The chapter by Dan Georgakas requires further discussion

There was little time left to discuss in depth the question about the place of whiteness studies in Greek American studies

Yiorgos Anagnostou

June 20, 2020



Erγastirio: Conversations on Greek America_Meeting One_Introduction (June 18, 2020)


Meeting One: Greek Americans and African Americans

Introduction

The aim of Conversations on Greek America is to foster an intellectual community which reflects about the representation of Greek America in our work, the research questions we ask and their significance, and generally ways to empower the field. We also reflect about the ways in which Greek America is represented in various venues such as community narratives, journalism, documentaries, films, museum exhibits, etc.

The aim is to create a community that sustains a critical conversation, both in this forum, and hopefully in our work. This is to say that rigorous exchange of ideas and debate is expected. We agree to disagree.

Conversations on Greek America brings together scholars, writers, poets, and other interested citizens. We hope we will be bringing people from outside our field––this kind of direction is necessary for our conversation.

Our sessions will be practicing a flexible format of hosting. We will be extending invitations to guest hosts in the future, and I hope you will be responding positively to our invitation.

Part I: Q&A with Lamprini Thoma about the mini documentary, “Between Black and White: Greek-Americans in the 20th century”

Lamprini and her team took the initiative to release work in progress, which carries risks––it makes it vulnerable to premature criticism; but also offers opportunities like this forum to offer feedback. We have perhaps a rare situation in which we discuss a work in its making. (and if further editing is possible we stand to actually contribute to this making.)

The mini-documentary has acquired added poignancy in the context of the national conversation and activism followed the killing of George Floyd. And I believe it underlines the importance of Greek American studies to sustain conversation with theoretical scholarship, and other fields of study.

The documentary represents the relationship between Greek Americans and African Americans. I note that its title creates a racialized position for Greek Americans, a position of betweenness. I also note that the reference for this positioning is the 20th century (as opposed say to early 20th century).

We invite the participants to reflect on the documentary’s mode of representation. Cultural representation matters a great deal, as we know. It produces knowledge that can serve various purposes. Documentaries, autobiographies, community narratives, scholarship participate in broader conversations, and may validate dominant points of views, or may challenge them instead.

What kind of knowledge/meanings does the documentary produce? Does this knowledge serve the current anti-racist movement? Is knowledge produced in the documentary vulnerable to be coopted against this movement. If so how do we propose to address this issue?

In what way does the chapter by Dan Georgakas affect our reading of the documentary?

Part II: Whiteness Studies and Greek American Studies

The relationship between African American and Greek Americans cannot possibly be discussed outside the framework of whiteness studies.

Whiteness studies has a complex geneaology and is not a uniform theoretical framework. It has produced work of incredible sophistication addressing the vast complexity of whiteness narratives (Racial Situations: Class Predicaments of Whiteness in Detroit. By John Hartigan, Jr. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999); but is also associated with reductive scholarship.

For the purposes of this discussion whiteness studies brings to the fore the idea that in a racialized society such as the United States we cannot possibly discuss cultural difference, acculturation, assimilation, ethnicity and its cultural expressivity outside structures of racial inequality and racialization.

Whiteness cannot be reduced to the color of one’s skin, although whiteness reproduces racial hierarchies also via representation of racialized bodies (the stereotypes of the “threatening male black body” for example).

One major contribution of whiteness studies that has shaped my own work is the notion that whiteness can reproduce racial hierarchies without even mentioning race (the post-1980s construction of European Americans as model ethnics for instance).

Whiteness studies would ask, for example, why Rush Limbaugh was chosen to write the forward in the family biography of a Greek American billionaire. Did reviews of this book in the Greek American media ever take notice? Did Greek American scholarship take notice?

Is whiteness studies relevant to our work? In what ways? Have we done enough as a collective (Greek American authors and scholars) in the last thirty years to engage with questions of racial hierarchies and whiteness? If not, why? If yes, how can we continue this work, and expand?

What are the challenges and prospects associated with writing about Greek America in this historic moment, which calls for engagement with anti-racist practices?

Yiorgos Anagnostou
June 17, 2020



Erγastirio: Conversations on Greek America_Meeting One_Public Announcement (June 18, 2020)


Session One: Greek Americans and African Americans

Language: English
Date and Time: June 18 (10:00–12:00 a.m. Pacific Time)

Materials and topics for discussion

We will commence the series with a conversation about the encounters between African Americans and Greek Americans. This under-researched topic is directing us toward a fascinating prospect in Greek American studies, the exploration of Greek America in connection with other ethnic and racial groups.

Our departure point for the conversation will be two sources:

a) The recent documentary, “Between Black and White: Greek-Americans in the 20th century” (Available at Youtube: shorturl.at/af Y06);

b) The book chapter, “Black Metropolis” by Dan Georgakas (available upon request).

Lamprini Thoma, the researcher for this documentary, and Dan Georgakas will be joining us in the discussion.

Participants are asked to watch the documentary and do the reading prior to joining.

The session will consist of two parts:

Part One (50 minutes): Discussion of the documentary “Between Black and White: Greek- Americans in the 20th century.” Participants are encouraged to reflect on the documentary’s representation of the topic (i.e. its representational strategies, and the meanings it produces). What kind of political work does the documentary’s narrative angle perform? Does the narrative contribute to the anti-racist movement? How? Is it vulnerable to be co-opted against that movement? How so?

We will start with a Q&A with Lamprini Thoma and invite a comparison: what do we gain once we read Georgakas’ chapter in relation to the documentary? In what ways does the former nuance the latter? Also, reflect about the ways that “whiteness” and critical race scholarship could contribute to this discussion.

Part Two (50 minutes): Two researchers who work on Greek American topics in relation to “whiteness” will briefly introduce their respective projects and their significance.

Participants are encouraged to reflect on the following questions: what are the challenges and prospects associated with writing about Greek America in this historic moment, which calls for engagement with anti-racist practices?

Have we done enough as a collective (Greek American authors and scholars) in the last twenty years to engage with questions of racial hierarchies and whiteness? If not, why? If yes, how can we continue this work, and expand?

Discussion format & moderation

Thirty seven individuals have registered to join this inaugural event. This interest speaks to the innovative work done in the field as well as to the strong interest for frameworks that facilitate the sharing of research and broader discussion.

The large number of participants, especially in Zoom sessions, poses the risk that the event may be unproductive if it prioritizes simply the statement of positions and perspectives. In the interest of fostering an in-depth exchange, the moderators have no choice but privilege those researchers who have published extensively in Greek American topics. We will be accepting, of course, questions and insights from everyone through chat. But priority in response will be given to those who are particularly active in Greek American studies or U.S. ethnic studies. We appreciate your understanding.

Sincerely,

Yiorgos Anagnostou (Professor, Director of the Modern Greek Program at The Ohio State University)

Simos Zenios (Associate Director, UCLA Stavros Niarchos Foundation Center for the Study of Hellenic Culture)



Erγastirio: Conversations on Greek America A Collaborative Public Forum


This online forum initiates a series of conversations among academics, authors and cultural producers with the aim of promoting the practice of writing and teaching Greek America in the context of U.S. multiculturalism, the Greek diaspora, and European Americans. 

We envision a discussion contributing toward a greater understanding of what it means to produce and disseminate knowledge about this subject. We will be reflecting on a variety of topics, including: fostering a critical community; exploring new research directions, including collaborations; placing our research within the academy as well as community publications; understanding ethnic communities from their own perspectives and ways to engage with these points of view in the classroom and public fora. We will be incorporating the interests and questions that the participants will be bringing in the forum.

The initiative is the product of institutional collaboration between the UCLA Stavros Niarchos Foundation Center for the Study of Hellenic Culture, and the Modern Greek Program at The Ohio State University. It will be co-hosted by Yiorgos Anagnostou and Simos Zenios. The meetings will be biannual.

This is a broadly inclusive initiative though the online platform imposes limitations regarding the number of participants. In order to facilitate discussion via Zoom, the number of participants is capped at 30.


Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Our Responsibility in Representing Greek American History _ And Why it Matters


At least two iconic images capture legendary moments of solidarity between Greek Americans and African Americans. One, of course, is that of the late Archbishop Iakovos marching next to Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in support for Civil Rights. The other one is a photograph taken at a Greek immigrant diner in Pittsburgh’s Hill District circa 1930s, where the owners are seen serving African American patrons.



This is an important part of the history of Greek American–African American encounters that needs to be told, discussed, amplified, and developed.

But to have these photographs alone posted in the aftermath of George Floyd's killing does disservice to the anti-racist movement. It hides other instances when Greek Americans vocally opposed Iakovos's advocacy of Civil Rights. It silences other instances where Greek Americans opposed Greek immigrant/African American solidarities. And much more...

The publication of these iconic photographs without the acknowledgment of the multiple facets of the Greek American/African American story is absolutely misplaced, disrespectful, and dangerous in today's context. It produces ethnic amnesia and encourages ethnic celebrationism. In doing so it contributes to missing a historical opportunity for genuine self-reflection.

Ethnic self-patting on the back is disingenuous and hypocritical. What we urgently need in this heartbreaking moment is to find the courage for an open discussion about the ways in which sectors of European Americans, including Greek Americans, have contributed (and are contributing in direct and indirect ways) to the making of racial hierarchies in the United States. To transform the ways we understand ourselves in our aim to make our country a better Union.

Jewish Americans are leading the way. We cannot afford to be passive observers or merely issue general statements of support. We must indeed decide on which side we are on and identify concrete ways to act to better our country.

June 3, 2020