Wednesday, November 6, 2013

"Not Greek, Hellene"

«Η πολιτική ορθότητα δεν θέλει να καταλάβει ότι ο σεβασμός για μια εθνική ή εθνοτική κοινότητα ή για μια οποιαδήποτε μειονότητα δεν είναι ζήτημα ευπρεπούς ονόματος και άλλων συμβολικών καλλωπισμών, αλλά εξαρτάται από τις εμπράγματες σχέσεις αυτής της ομάδας με τον περίγυρό της. Και οι σχέσεις αυτές δημιουργούν μια ορισμένη εικόνα. Αν η εικόνα είναι ανακριβής ή αν έχει γίνει ένα ισοπεδωτικό και κακόβουλο στερεότυπο, δεν θα τη διορθώσει καμία αλλαγή ονόματος και καμία έκκληση στην ανεκτικότητα. Θα τη διορθώσει μια σχεδιασμένη αλλαγή αυτών των σχέσεων, που θα λαμβάνει υπόψη τι έφταιξε και από τις δύο πλευρές για την ανακρίβεια και την προκατάληψη. Εκείνη η έξαλλη ελληνοαμερικανίδα τραγουδίστρια που ούρλιαζε πρόπερσι στο βιντεοκλίπ της ότι δεν είναι Greek αλλά Hellene δεν έγινε γι’ αυτό περισσότερο σεβαστή στο αμερικανικό κοινό ούτε έπεισε κανέναν ότι ένας αγλαώνυμος Hellene θα αποκαθιστούσε την υπόληψη του συκοφαντημένου Greek.»
Δ. Κούρτοβικ


  1. Thank you very much for sharing. We must ask of course what can we conclude about Greek-Americans and how they choose to relate to their ethnicity in the United States? If the speaker indeed relates solely to Hellenism should she have used "my heritage" instead of "my country"?

  2. Great question and insight Paris. You are asking, how does this instance of self-definition help us understand Greek America.

    A historical example will help us better grasp this question. This person's dilemma "Greek" vs "Hellene" revisits – under different conditions of course – the tensions surrounding the emergence of a "new" Greek American identity in the 1920s. In an era where the host society pressured immigrants to shed their nationalities and renationalize as Americans, a "Hellenic" identity was convenient to mark a cultural/biological (but not national) Greek identity. This was the solution embraced by AHEPA. In this instance the identity label did political work, disavowing (at least rhetorically) identification with Greece, but continuing to claim the prestige associate with the classical past. A sector of the community at the time resisted Greek de-nationalization, however, hence GAPA.

    How does this help us understand ethnicity in the United States?

    • Identity "choice" is a function of processes taking place outside the ethnic community, in this case cultural and political imperatives in the host society. In other words, identity markers (Greek, Hellene) are relational constructs, activated in relation to outside forces. There is the issue of the power of the host society to shape the expression of ethnicity.

    • Ethnic identities are not neutral labels, they perform important cultural and political work (they convey loyalties and affiliations as they announce rejections and denials). They are cultural and political constructs, always products of history, not naturally "chosen," and in the context, as I mentioned, of power relations.

    • Ethnic groups consciously reflect on the dominant society's expectations about ethnicity, though they may not respond uniformly, as the AHEPA vs GAPA situation indicates. They may accept or contest the expectations of the host society, and, as a consequence, may reap rewards or pay a price respectively.

    • Claims to an identity must correlate with practices that legitimize that identity (i do not have time to develop here how this played out in the AHEPA/GAPA case, though relevant scholarship is available). In other words symbols alone cannot establish the reputation of an ethnicity.

    To return to the case of the speaker in the video: She operates along the lines I outlined above: she responds to the negative valuation of "Greek" internationally (the outside pressure), and adopts an alternative version (positively valued because of its association with Classical heritage). This re-labeling strategy is entirely unconvincing, however, as Kourtovik points out, because it remains at the symbolic level. (The rhetoric of her narrative is weak: The extrapolation of her personal/family's positive qualities to the entire nation is questionable.)

    (Apropos, one more contemporary example: the positive valuation of "Greek" yoghurt in the United States is established because of the positive assessment of its quality, it has nothing to do with the identity label in itself; and it is connected historically with the overall positive valuation of Greek [not "Hellenic"] food in the United States – established substantively through festivals and quality restaurants).

    But I have been carried away, your question transported me to our classroom discussions.

  3. Thank you so much for your insightful response and taking the time to incorporate a historical example into the context of the analysis. This may well be the quintessential Greek-American identity issue, as you point out its' omnipresence in the history of Greek-America. The crisis has provided a similar context to that of the AHEPA/GAPA era with similar stigmatization that is worth noting.

    Thanks again for your insight