The relevance of the words “I Can’t Breathe” that were uttered by the dying George Floyd in the US strikes a chord with the nine AfroGreeks who gathered for a discussion released on YouTube by the Onassis Foundation on Saturday.
The panel discussion in Greek with English sub-titles, is led by political scientist Jackie Abhulimen and economist Eirini Niamouaia Ontoul reflects the experiences of the group of young AfroGreek professionals in Greece and their relevance in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests around the world and in Greece in particular.
The panellists draw distinctions between the systemic racism within the US and a Greek society that is progressing slowly towards a better acceptance of its black citizens.
They are poignant stories of confronting racism such as the doctor who qualified with her friends but was held back because she would not be issued with a Greek ID, or of the young track athlete who broke the national record but was not allowed to represent Greece at an international event.
Difficulties in getting jobs or renting an apartment because of skin colour are some of the experiences that the panellists relate as examples of a racism in society that while not as blatant as in the US and other countries, can still take one’s breath away – hence the relevance of George Floyd’s last words: “I can’t breathe.”
The panellists also acknowledge that there has also been a strong support and much advocacy within Greek society to support the rights of AfroGreeks as contributing members to society and to fight against the perception that they are second-class citizens. They noted changes in laws regarding their citizenship in 2010 as an important development.
The struggle for real equality is ongoing and the need to alter perceptions remains still remains a goal to be achieved before everyone can breathe freely.