46-year-old African-American George Floyd was killed in police custody after being pinned down by three police officers, rendering him unable to breathe. This, along with a string of many other deaths caused by police in America sparked a wave of protests all across the world. Australia is not void of such issues, with over 400 Indigenous Australian deaths in custody since 1991. We put it to some members in the Greek community and asked ‘Why should Black Lives Matter to the Greek diaspora?’
Andrew Ballis is the President Panmacedonian Association Melbourne Victoria
As a 2nd generation Australian of Greek origin I was raised with the victim mentality (and rightfully so) of the persecution of my ancestors by the Ottoman Turks, the genocide committed & 450 year occupation and confiscation of our lands. Growing up in Australia added another dimension to this struggle & that was to get recognition from as many Australians as possible for these crimes perpetrated by the “BARBARIANS”, as my parents & grandparents always referred to them. We have lobbied governments for years to recognise these atrocities in many instances successfully.
As a young person growing up in Australia, I often struggled with the treatment of the Indigenous people. I saw the same victim mentality in them & they seemed defeated. I compared parallels between the “stolen generation” & the “Paedomazoma” of 1949. Often questions were asked of family & friends about this parallel. Answers were generally the same. We had nothing to do with this situation so it’s not our business. They were actually uncivilised anyway. I understood their reasoning but could never fully accept it.
Since having children & grandchildren, I have totally reconsidered my opinion. These 3rd & 4th generation Australians, some no longer only of Greek origins may have to at some stage struggle with this same question.
We as an immigrant society in the new world have never taught our children or grandchildren about this very pressing issue. I can’t recall embracing the indigenous people in any of our societies, associations and schools. Maybe if we understood how our ancestors overcame these struggles, we could assist them in some small way with theirs.
I have watched in amazement last couple of weeks many from our diaspora on various social media outlets regarding this matter & am astounded as to the lack of compassion shown. I think we are better than this as people. As our governments struggle to show leadership, I think we have a long way to go as a society.
George Zangalis is the Honorary President of the Public Transport Union, Vice President of the Fair Go For Pensioners Coalition, founding member of FECCA, ECCV, and Ethnic Community Broadcasting
The massive historic demonstrations in the USA, Australia and throughout the world against racism and police violence, sparked by the lynching of African-American George Floyd, unleashed the pent up anger at the systemic injustice, inhumane treatment and brutal death of black people and indeed of minorities, migrants and refugees.The demonstrators, which included many Greek Australians, some with Aboriginal blood relationship, naturally identified with the cause and the demands of the American BLM movement, not only as an admirable act of solidarity, but reflecting their own sufferings at the hands of Australia’s colonial bred racism, significant elements of which survive to this day in attitudes, the law and the Constitution.
Greek Australians and all other ethnic minorities have their share of victimisation and a vested interest to make common cause with Indigenous Australians for recognition as equals with a voice of their own. How could one remain apathetic to the horrible fact that 432 Aboriginal people have died in police hands in the last 25 years, with the perpetrators walking free? Nor should any Greek Australian be made to think that injustices like the ones quoted here are but accidents rather than outcomes of racist policies.
A 1925 Queensland Royal Commission, reported the “Greek migrant is a menace to the community and would be best if his entrance were all together prohibited”. In 1934 in the Western Australian goldmine town of Kalgoorlie,Greeks, Italians and Yugoslavs had been brutally assaulted and their homes and shops burned and looted by an angry and intoxicated white Australia mob, with the catch cry get the foreigners out whilst the police looked on. In 2020 prime minister Morrison told migrants asking for help to pack-up and go home. In 1978 the Federal Police raided in the middle of the night the homes and arrested 500 Greek-Australians in Sydney (and another 180 in Greece), declaring that they had uncovered a scheme by Greek-Australian pensioners to defraud the Commonwealth, through unlawful social security payments. They were charged, with conspiracy, had their pensions terminated and bank accounts confiscated, only to be found innocent and compensated for many years later. The description of striking Greek GMH and FORD workers in the 60’s and 70’s as trouble makers no only by their bosses but sections of the media and of the ACTU leadership.
Greek Australians were denied citizenship and threatened with deportation for their legitimate political and union activism, and thousands had their applications then and now delayed. Six million Australians, and certainly most Greek Australians cannot be elected to the Federal Parliament and have their pensions reduced if they stay in Greece longer than 6 weeks. The positive achievements of multiculturalism have been won in struggles more often in opposition to the established order than wit its support. A lesson in history we cannot afford to underestimate or ignore.
George Karmokolias is a Greek-American currently cycling around Greece
My sentiments about the US aren’t really a secret. It’s a country that was founded on genocide and built by slavery. I suppose now is a good time to mention Jefferson, the beloved President who lied and said that “all men are created equal.” That’s a strange thing for a man who raped his slave girls and left his own children to grow up in slavery to say. In March I flew to Greece on a one way ticket and as much as I tried to avoid it, the happenings in the US were inescapable more recently with yet another murder of yet another innocent black human being.
A few days ago I was out on a long ride through the steep mountains in Naxos, Greece. I had stopped at a natural mountain spring to take in the beauty and enjoy the escape that these remarkable places provided. As I was about to keep riding, a herd of goats came down the path that led to the area I was in. Behind them were two shepherds, a husband and wife. Naturally, they were curious about what I was doing up there and where I was from. I wasn’t a local but I spoke the language fluently. The first thing they asked me when I told them I was born and raised in the US was, “What is wrong with Donald Trump?” And then they asked me why the police in America were always killing black people. I was almost in shock. The compassion that they felt for America’s black people was heart warming to me. Their inability to comprehend the evil that follows and plagues those people shows me that in their simplicity, they have a very basic understanding of right and wrong.
A message to Greeks who boast about their ‘Greekness’ while having no sense of history; learn something. A great place to start is this article by Gregory Pappas on the forgotten history of the Klan vs Americans of Greek heritage. It tells of the bigotry that Greek people, the grandparents of my generation, faced in America. Greek people on the right side of history were united with blacks in America against hatred and bigotry and racism not just because (to a much lesser degree) Greeks faced similar brutalities, but also because it was wrong.
It took me a long time to get to this point in my thinking, with multiple missteps along the way. Looking back at those missteps I can say that bigotry is lazy. It’s easier to dismiss an entire group of people as animals or as subhuman than it is to take a moment and learn about them. I found the same experiences when I was in Lesvos a few years ago helping with the refugee crisis. It’s easier from the comfort of your living room to dismiss an entire group of people as invaders than it is to think about the complexities of war and cross cultural psychology, and to take a moment to get to know someone and understand a thing about them and their humanity.
Gerry Georgatos is the national coordinator of the National Suicide Prevention & Trauma Recovery Project has a Masters in Human Rights Education and Masters in Social Justice Advocacy & Civil Rights Arbitration
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 harrow haunting Even to a young child’s mind, racism was something I understood as cruel. My mind’s eye lamented; much entwined with the Greek community, and other migrant communities, where 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 oppressed without agency.
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 and dominion. Archbishop Iakovos stood solid with Black rights 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 is no equality while anyone is denied. As Hellenes, as human beings, in terms of our very mattering we stand with Black Lives first.
Jorge Menidis is the Director of the Greek Centre
Part of the story of the Greek diaspora is the experience of otherness. The sense that you are not accepted because of the way you talk, dress or look. That’s not to say that our own experience of racism is anything akin to that of or indigenous or brown skinned brethren.
The Black Lives Matter movement is the ultimate rally against that sense of otherness. It decries the inequalities that despite assurances, appear institutional. It highlights the discrepancies that burden our brethren and at the same time hold back the whole of society.
The Greek Community of Melbourne stands against anything that perpetuates otherness. We pride ourselves on the work we undertake with all peoples of all backgrounds. We encourage understanding and empathy of all people and in particular affirm our respect for the first peoples of this land.