27.5.07

TUNNEL 14/ BY JENNIFER

I know I've missed a lot of the introductory work to the project so
please let me know where I am misguided in my observations.

I need to explain a little bit where I come from, and about my
motivations for wanting to work on the project- and I would be
interested also to hear about your motivations as well. I'll explain
why shortly.

Thinking about community and what it means in real social terms, as
well as psychological terms, to feel that one is inside or outside a
community is a project I am passionately engaged with at the moment.
I am, after all, an immigrant- albeit a "privileged" one. And I have
felt the difficulties of beginning to interface with the seemingly
homogenous cultural community of greekness. A community tied very
passionately- as Harris pointed out (I think!, my greek...)- to blood
rather than geographical circumstance.

I have another, equally personal, connection to the topic. My little
brother is black.

I have studied in some detail issues of race and the civil rights
movement in the United States and have followed more distantly the
writings of those engaged in thinking about identity and race. From
this perspective I wish to say several things.

There is almost no connection between African immigrants who have come
to Greece through (traumatic) economic and political necessity, and
the extremely traumatic circumstances that define the ground
African-Americans have grown up on. Slavery in the States was an
institution. The historical effects of that trauma have infiltrated
american consciousness in an entirely different way. I agree strongly
with Christina (? sorry, I don't have everyone's names yet) on that
point. I think it is almost dangerous to conflate the one with the
other and that we need to look specifically at this experience here.
Obviously one could have a passing association with a black person on
a bus and think of Rosa Parks- but to dwell on this might be another
form of racism. Are all black people on a bus in a primarily white
community linked forever to the history of segregation in the United
States? What does that association say about us?

I want to think carefully about this. About our own relations to the
black people/minorities/outsiders around us- about our own motivations
for wanting to work on this. It is so easy to project our own
sympathies and fears onto an entire people and it is important to
become aware of our own "inner racist"- however well-meaning it might
be. So I would ask everyone to examine what we think when we see the
black people around us in transit- and what our thoughts about them
say about us.

Speaking for my little brother (which I should not do): my observation
of him is that he wanted as a teenager to completely ignore any
mention of his difference. He wanted the whole issue of race to
disappear. He wanted to fit in. And his own family felt compelled to
bring it to his attention- but why? We were afraid for him. We were
worried. We had memories of injustice. We wanted him to be
prepared..... And we let these fears guide us. Would it have been
better for him if we had instead let ourselves be guided by the simple
interactions of the day?
I am concerned that we might make a similar mistake(?) with the kids
in the project.

That being said, I think there is an amazing level of completely
unconscious racism in Greece. Please excuse my generalizations right
now- of course this is not true of everyone! My observation is that
many people believe they are tolerant and not racist, and yet they
carelessly, unknowingly, marginalize outsiders with small comments and
gestures constantly. The pervasiveness of this marginalization is
shocking. Perhaps due to a lack of experience with it, Greeks seem
not to have brought the heart of racism to consciousness. I think
that bringing our own racism to consciousness is a critical step.
While "politically correct" actions and language have many problems in
the way they have been carried out and even exploited (in the States),
it does have a very important function. The careful use of language
brings awareness and consideration of a minority- on their own terms.

In thinking of this idea- coming to someone else's terms- we can begin
to think about the children in the project. What do they want? How do
they want to be seen and addressed? We might frame structures that
make it easier for them to express this- but after that we can only
listen.

I don't understand yet what the children's roles are in the project
and I think it should be clarified. Are we working WITH them? Are
they collaborators? Unfortunately it seems very difficult to do that
in a meaningful way- given how little time we have- but maybe not
impossible (or could the project be extended?). Or are they being
directed by us? Are they participating in an art work by adults? Is
this a community / art therapy-based initiative- if so, what are the
goals?

I would appreciate if anyone could fill me in on where this stands at
the moment, or just share your thoughts about what you think it should
be.

I have some theater-game suggestions for work-shopping with the kids
based on some of Augusto Boal's community-based theater. And I think
it might be interesting if we participate in the performance, or at
least the workshop, together with the kids- bringing our own naked
thoughts to light.

I think its a very challenging and critical topic!
I look forward to hearing from you.

best,
Jennifer

3 comments:

Rec-memberX said...

Hi Jen

All I can tell you is that most of us enjoy critical thought, but some would also suggest that we have to be constructive and come up with specific suggestions and assume responsibilites instead of expressing fears and being negative. Personally, I find that you do both in your letter.

Personally, I like your letter, but maybe I could point out that the kind of racism you see in greeks is inherent in all groups that feel defensive in the face of changing realities. It's provincial mistrust of the stranger. They would equally mistrust anyone that seemed different, like they would in all provincial towns all over the world. They would accept you as a passing visitor with money to spend or something to offer them, but not as one to share life with.
It's totally different from institutionalized slavery. Different from racially conscious discrimination. Different from what you have in nations with colonial past. It's pure provincialism not conscious political apartheid, but, it can become quite dangerous under the actual circumstances. In the case of greeks, it has recently acquired the characteristics of "pimping" -can't find a better word, as they have slowly come to understand that foreign workers are profitable, a bargain in our affairs as long as they stay inferior socially. We are probably getting used to the comfort of a social caste that works for less and asks for nothing but the basic. This is the economics and the basis on which to build a racist ideology, institutionalize racism, at least on a practical, an unsaid level, like an agreement under the table. Then, the greeks will probably look for a party to vote that will favor such interested schemes of social cooking. National Front /Lepenist, Berlusconian and other populist versions of politics are a combination of fear, mistrust and self-interest that seem to infiltrate nowadays into the adjacent conservative and neoliberal political parties, be it only to exploit people's insecurity and draw their vote.

We can't get the kids in tunnel 14 messed up with too much analysis on politics etc, we need to be very specific. I think that the specificity they demanded themselves (or rather, their parents), was to draw attention to their problematic status as far as civil rights are concerned. Their problem is that they have been born here and they go to greek school, but their status is that of a foreigner. Eventually, they will be asked to justify their staying here and provide certain data that shows they can sustain themselves etc
This is bound to change. And we want to help. All this concerns the second generation of immigrants, born in this country. Naturally, the kids would like the whole problem of difference to go away and live their lives like all kids. This is what one of the guys said. I told him that I'm sure he can make all problems go away and live his life as he wants because he is intelligent and motivated, but, he should also think of people who can't help their kids and of other kids who may be less confident and who might suffer if we don't do something to improve things for all of us etc

Maybe you could expand on the subject of a workshop with us to start with, before having one together with the kids! :)

Jennifer said...

Hi memberx?
thanks for your comments and yes I would like to be involved in specific suggestions and responsibilities. I'm sorry if my letter came across as negative. I guess this also represents my incomplete understanding of all the facts of the project so far, and for that I apologize. I wanted to begin to articulate some thoughts and put them out there for debate as a way to begin to be more involved in the substance of the project.

I agree with your points about provincialism and it being totally different from institutionalized slavery and I also agree that this kind of provincialism can become dangerous. Obviously I would like very much to join in activities that dismantle that possibility and that create understanding.

My comments about motivations and about examining ourselves was actually not meant to be negative. I would like to correct that impression. I think, actually, that it is important work for each person to do and a very challenging and positive work to be involved in. Yvonne Rainer made the suggestion that we are all "recovering racists", meaning, I believe, that the process of understanding yourself and belief system in the face of difference is an on-going work. And I believe that to examine the stereotype that has constituted ourselves is an important political act in the project of coexistence with others. It was in this spirit that I made my comments.
I would love to share some workshop ideas with everyone. Also, as I will (try!) to discuss on Friday, Despoina is interested to become involved with the Tunnel 14 project. We spoke about the possibility of making a movement workshop with the kids when she arrives.

I'm looking forward to more...

Marcie said...

Good for people to know.