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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 14 January 2017
COMMENT 24 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 14 JANUARY 2017 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Hellenes should not aspire to racist white privilege GERRY GEORGATOS As an Australian born and bred Greek, with Jewish, Palestinian, northern African heritage, I grew up in the inner western suburbs of Sydney during the 1960s and 1970s. The colour of my skin galvanised white privilege in often alienating me, regularly ridiculing. The consistency of low blows echoed hauntingly. Even to a young child's mind, racism was something that I understood as cruel and wrong. My mind's eye lamented; much intertwined with the Greek community, and other migrant communities, the racism wrought sadness, and anger, especially when experiencing the infliction of racism on my parents and others overseas born, of them discriminated. What was most upsetting was to see the oppressor, racism, win. The majority of Greeks and other migrants of my youth who were not white gave up on a polycultural society, and fell into the mantra of assimilate or perish. No nation that peddles a dominant culture is free from the ugliest forms of racism. Privilege in its rawest self is about exploitation, but even in its greatest calm it is about selfishness. In all its forms privilege is an intended means of control. Those who scoff that there is no oppressor and oppressed dichotomy deny grim realities. Australia's first Greeks came as convicts on the first fleets, but the majority of Australia's first waves of Greeks were no more to Australia than needed migrant labour. Those who drafted the White Australia Policy would have loved to deport Greeks after their labour was no longer needed, just like 'Kanaks' were 'assisted' 'home'. Greeks were not considered 'white'. The White Australia Policy intended to exclude them. It was only Australia's need for labour that allowed for the majority of the first waves of Greek migrants. So Greeks, like so many other culturally diverse non-English speaking migrants, in finding they could not get ahead in the ways they dreamed of, chose to act out 'whiteness', to seek it. Greeks, who had never been part of the wickedness of white privilege, sought the cover of its darkness. But in so doing they let racism remain unchallenged, run rampant, continue to keep this nation hostage – and today we continue on in some of the worst forms of xenophobia and misoxeny, to the point that the makeup, the demography of our parliaments reflect a certain authority to the xenophobia and misoxeny. Black, brown and white need to come together as one, but none of us should have a bar of white privilege – its racism and classicism, its moral abominations. Migrants are not alone in leaving behind many of their brothers and sisters to rot in racism, to deny the miseryloaded lot of their brothers and sisters. Our black brothers and sisters, many of them in order to benefit from assimilation, also left behind their brothers and sisters to rot on the missions and reserves. One in three of Australia's homeless are migrants and one in four of Australia's homeless are of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent. Let us not mince words when it comes to calling out racism, to calling out white privilege. The white-skinned Australian population is diminishing in proportion to total population, but this is not reflected in the makeup of our parliaments, government instruments and in the nation's boardrooms. The nation's apothegms deny the polycultural prevalence and essence of this continent's residents. When the Greek identity was dropped by domination. Today, America lives in the demons of its past – of its original sins – and there is penance today for the sins of slavery and indenture of peoples. The majority of the victims continue to be black and brown. Hundreds of millions of peoples in India and tens of millions in South Africa languish in abject poverty because of the sins of the colonialist and post-colonialists. In Australia, nearly one in two Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders live below the poverty line. Colonial empires gave rise to racial divides the world over, to the making of poverty of the likes never before known on this planet, to mass deprivations and suffering that no religious-based scripture ever imagined, not even in the cobbling together of the various apocalypses. On March 26, 1965, Life magazine featured an iconic photo on its cover of Greek Orthodox Archbishop Iakovos marching with Dr Martin Luther King. Greeks and they performed as if white, privileges would come their way. I could not do this because it would be a denial of my parents and of me. The betrayal of identity is to deny the humanity of others and possibly to reduce others to what lampooning portrays. The Diogenic view of the world is one where we are all citizens of the world, with diversity loved. If someone is uncomfortable with someone, that's racism. White privilege is not only uncomfortable with difference, it is ruthlessly vicious, describing difference at best as otherness or at worst as incompatible. The problem today is that people are scared of the continuous force of white privilege instead of having a relentless focus on doing in racism. Therefore racism remains ferocious, and its ferocity has been institutionalised. If the Latino is brown, then the Greek is brown, not white, but how then the betrayal by so many Greeks to whiteness? Archbishop Iakovos, born in 1911 and who passed away in 2005, was from 1959 to 1996 the Primate Head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America. He railed against America's white privilege. Archbishop Iakovos stood solid with American blacks in the civil rights movement. The archbishop was the only national church leader with the conviction to walk in the courageous march for voting rights in Selma, Alabama in 1965. He walked alongside Dr Martin Luther King – they held hands. This image was captured on the cover of Life magazine. There was no Greek here kowtowing to white privilege, but instead challenging racism. White privilege needs to be done away with, because if it remains unchallenged its normative of assimilate or perish will divide others too, as the battle for privileges becomes pernicious. White privilege was synonymous with colonialism. The monocultural invader dispossessed, pillaged, disenfranchised but maddeningly worse, this monocultural invader divided peoples. Silences and cheap debates cannot hide what the Australian consciousness knows happened. We know what the colonialists and post-colonialists did. Only the selfish – the small-minded – choose to flout a different tale. The Australian nation could have been so different today if the colonialist and the first few generations of the post-colonialists had chosen to live on this continent with black brothers and sisters. However, they associated the protection of their privileges with white skin. They chose to deny equality, and to believe in Colonialism was about accumulating dominion and resources for white privilege. Relentlessly, many white historians have tried to glorify and justify white privilege, to spin their worldviews as if fact. It angers many who are white, particularly the most endowed beneficiaries of the ‘unearned assets’, when white privilege is called out for its abominable sins. They degenerate to the hysterical. Why would a Hellene degenerate their identity to associations with white privilege? We can carry on about whiteness studies, examine the oppressor and the oppressed, discuss critical race theory, but in the end, in leaving unchallenged, and worse, in 're'-identifying to whiteness, racism remains dominant and we have racialised societies. The construct of Australian and American societies are of such structures and instruments that on a daily basis, there is advantage to the white-skinned individual. It is a sickening society that has allowed for this permeation, where the colour of skin defines success and failure. There is a burdensome sickness earned when someone who is not white acts white to earn advantage. When black and brown go white it is as if whiteness if commodified, or, as Cheryl Harris describes, "whiteness is property" and therefore the presumption of white supremacy. It is not with whiteness that we should stand, and a Greek should not all of a sudden become white in order to slick into advantage. It is with Black Lives Matter, with an end to racism, that we should stand as Archbishop Iakovos stood lifelong with civil rights warriors and marched in the face of great peril through Selma, Alabama. Greeks should not forget the race riots against Greeks in Perth (1915) and Kalgoorlie (1916). Greeks should not forget when they were wogs, dagoes, greaseballs, black and brown bastards, and the impact of this, and the lives lost, on our migrant forebears. If we do betray others for the sake of various personal benefits, then we leave others behind to be discriminated against, vilified and haunted. White guilt refers to 'privilege' and laments what racism did, but white guilt does not do enough to end white privilege and replace this with equality. If we continue to fail to establish the long overdue conversations, led by black and brown, with whites for once listening, on racism, on the ways forward then we will continue to soak up Cronulla riots, Islamophobia, and every imaginable xenophobia and misoxeny. * Gerry Georgatos is a suicide prevention and prison reform researcher and advocate with the Institute of Social Justice and Human Rights. He is a member of national projects further developing suicide prevention and prison to hope to well-being to education programs. He is also a prolific writer on the ways forward from racism.
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