Before I begin as a disclaimer: it is not my intention to cause any controversy but simply provide insight, based on my own experiences, affairs through my life as well as current affairs and other people’s experiences and how they understand the world around them. I want to say I have a well-balanced perspective on subject, without coming off a pretentious or condescending. I’d like to think with the educational background I have, it’s affected the way I critically analyse subjects.
For me, the issue of race has always been weird and convoluted one and I’m lucky to be at a position, intellectually and emotionally, where I am at the capacity to understand it. Race has always been a subject that I’ve been somewhat confused about and to this day, struggle to understand it in terms of the controversy, feelings and harm it causes. I want to emphasise this is not out of ignorance or the sense of privilege or being ‘better than anyone else’ (whatever that means). Throughout my life, it seems to have always stood out in some way or another. Growing up as a Greek Cypriot in a diverse area, it would always provide a unique perspective on matters that seemed to deviate, and mediate, between different perspectives and that’s a lot to do with cultural, historical understandings and simply how I was treated.
An important aspect to emphasise as well is, importantly, I grew up in London which I guess was an education in itself as much as a geographical location. It’s not simply a matter of being in a diverse area. Growing up, terms like ‘black’ and ‘white’ were never emphasised and were always seen as something predominant in America. People from different ethnic backgrounds rarely ever referred to themselves as ‘Black’, ‘Brown’, ‘Asian’ or ‘White’ and these only became relevant as I entered adulthood from my teenage years. In Britain, communities have always taken pride in their ethnic backgrounds without generalising, and always been contextual; people would always refer to themselves by their country of origin rather than skin colour or ethnicity. Nigerian, Ghanaian, Caribbean, Pakistani, Indian, Turkish, Irish, English, Scottish, Kenyan, Congolese, Tartar, Egyptian were what people would say (and many other locations). It never occurred to me that generalisations like these existed the way they did, for example, in the USA. In fact, within Britain the opposite effect has occurred today whereby people are beginning to stubbornly say “I’m British” or “originally my parents were from x but I’m from London”. For me, that always had a way of deconstructing things and meant it was easier to create dialogue and access people’s testimonies and cultural experiences. The main point is things would always be looked at, and emphasised, contextually. I mean the only time it was ever referenced was in jokes and banter but even then, it never serious or consequential. That’s always provided an advantage because it stops any attempt to force generalise on a base level.
Most importantly (and on a single note) within Britain compared to the USA, divisions emphasised have always been class rather than race and that forms a better idea of how prejudices are mounted in the UK. People have always been discriminated more for their working class background and even then, things are ambiguous to say the least. In many situations, ethnicity often intermixes with class however as more people from ethnic backgrounds diversify out of areas like East London (where people are predominantly African and Caribbean), that link will start to degrade and eventually weaken. It’s already been witnessed now with better opportunities. On that note, there are prejudicial cases such as institutional racism in the police still, and ‘random’ stop and searches however my hope is eventually these will die out as London’s police begins to represent its population.
Being Greek Cypriot I guess also provided a unique perspective on things. There’s always been a stereotype that Greeks consider themselves unique players in the world and there’s some validity to that historically. Perspective wise, Greeks culturally consider themselves a continent unto themselves when I was growing up; the border between East and West. We were never ‘White’ but at the same time never ‘dark’; we were always considered ‘olive skinned’. Historically, with Ancient Greece, the Hellenistic Empires, the Eastern Roman Empire and being under the Ottomans (which really depends, being Greek ethnically is still a very recent concept), made us stand out as was the case with many Eastern European countries, especially in the Balkans. Being part of the Ottoman Empire, during the slave trade and colonialism (apart from the ‘Magna Greca’ idea which lasted until 1923 with genocide on both sides and even then it was within a small geographical area, as well as the Second World War) meant we were never really part of that history and, in a way, were isolated. In that context, we were never considered part of the ‘West’ as countries such as the UK, France, Germany and Italy are; though we were somehow venerated in them. Even my parent’s backgrounds emphasised that point further. My mum grew up in the north of the Congo where her father owned a series of supermarkets (before the civil war broke out in the 1960’s). Even that, the fact there were Greeks in the Congo (as in many different areas of the world such as Australia) was a product of colonialism and being what would be considered an ‘ethnic group’; a middle party that was neither for or against in the European empires. The Greek community in that sense was always an economic and mercantile group (similarly to Jewish communities in history).
It struck a paradox that enabled me to mediate between different groups of people culturally and ethnically. It also struck me growing up as a teenager. In secondary school, I was often mocked for being Greek from English, Irish, African and Caribbean backgrounds (with examples such as being the basis for homosexuality in history). In situations such as those, it’s easy for people to fall back on their backgrounds as a clear form of identity in situations of uncertainty and that’s what I did. In many ways it meant I wasn’t the centre of a large group and that enabled me to go between groups and get to know different people; empathising with them. I think that’s ultimately important; it was a way of making me a middle party, a social nomad who could travel and associate himself with all different kinds of people; who could humour, charm, debate, argue, mimic and create dialogue. To be in such a position meant getting such an insight into how other people feel and their perspectives, and gave a vast amount of social freedom to pursue and interact. Even today it is still relevant, though with over-sensitivity to ethnicity it is more difficult to open those dialogues (but still possible).
With what’s occurred or happened in the United States, it is easy for any person to turn to the matter and say “well, why don’t they just sort out the matter?” or “why don’t blacks get the independence they deserve?” and I say it’s not that easy. In the United States, it’s not a simple matter of people getting on their own feet, in many cases it’s physically denied by state institutions, the police (due to institutional racism, macho culture and competition with targets) and on a local level. In the UK, racism has always been confined within a class issue and, through 19th and 20th century history, was more imposed by the wealthy and higher strata’s of society; support for ethnic minorities often came from working and lower middle class backgrounds. Indeed, lower class racism stemmed from the United States during the Second World War and was imported along with American products. In that sense, in the United States, race is a literal issue and not just academic contemplating, political correctness or a matter of over-sensitivity. The division between ‘black’ and ‘white’ is felt on very serious terms and constantly pushed onto people (who may not want those definitions pushed onto them). There are constant questions as to how to solve the crisis with a lack of perspective or insight; with a lack of innovation or creativity. People seem to treat the issue of race like a puzzle whereby all the pieces are available and it’s simply a matter of moving the pieces in correct places. However, I would say there is no puzzle; this is a problem that requires new solutions.
Put it this way, on a very personal note, with everything I have learnt about ‘Black’ people in history it both frustrates and infuriates me that people could be treated harshly for such a long period of time, even after slavery. The nerve to have this injustice and be treated this way still is something to get angry about. Of course, with context, the situation is a lot more complicated. However the general and continual theme of treatment and inequality is not a promising one. Throughout history, people who have been oppressed have risen up, formed their own countries on the basis of freeing themselves. For example, Greece constantly emphasises “Freedom or death” and many countries follow this theme in Asia, the Balkans and the Middle East. With everything I have learnt about the treatment of Africans and Caribbeans, if I were in their situation I would have either risen up (which isn’t surprising since for example 9 out of 10 slave ships revolted and there were constant uprisings in mainland America), founded my own country or moved if I had the opportunity. In many cases these were hampered by strong forces and lack of education (due to segregation). Given the violence towards these ethnicities, it is understandable that sentiments are strong and, given the USA, it seems the idea of founding an equal society and the American dream has failed. Even the term ‘black’ was made by ‘the white man’ (just like the term ‘Indians’). For people who consider themselves ‘black’ it is a game that was lost the moment it started. It was a fixed game.
I could continue but I don’t feel the need to and, to an extent, it’s not going to solve anything. My aim is to constructively come up with a solution to this problem. The issue is that both terms ‘black’ and ‘white’ have a problem whereby they over-generalise large groups of people. In that way, these terms are social-constructions, they are inventions, they are illusions, they have no application to reality unless they are enforced so. My solution would be to disintegrate that. However, this isn’t a matter of simply being politically correct or ‘not talking about it’; both issues don’t address race directly or constructively.
The solution would be to bring ethnicities into tangible terms and the answer comes through science. DNA tests have enabled people to come to terms with what areas of the world they originate from. This would give the opportunity to do that for 10 million people. If people reconciled the identities taken from them historically, it would provide a means for contextual dialogue. Put simply, it would no longer be a case of saying ‘black’ or ‘African American’. It’s now a matter of well, which part of Africa specifically? Africa is a continent with a diverse range of cultures and to categorise it as one identity is quite frankly insulting. I’m surprise this definition has existed for so long. If this works, it would no longer be the case for people to say otherwise; instead they will say “well actually I’m Ghanaian-American”, or “Mozambique American”. For those with different origins, it would be an opportunity to say “well, I’m from a mix of different backgrounds; Egyptian, Congolese and American”. By doing this, you are denying fuel for the fire and not abiding by this language game; a language game built upon forcing huge groups of people under one term in the name of segregation and oppression. That doesn’t make sense.