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