As we wrap up Black History Month I feel compelled to write about my own experiences living as a Black woman in Greece. I’ve been here for a little over a month serving with Perichoresis NGO and the Evangelical Church in Katerini which has given me plenty of time to see the various ways that Greek people understand blackness.
While I love serving with our partner and I know they love having me around, they behave differently from the vast majority of the Greek community in Katerini. I’ve been here for a little over a month serving with Perichoresis, an NGO established by the Evangelical Church in Katerini which has given me plenty of time to see the various ways that Greek people understand blackness. Perichoresis and the Evangelical Church of Greece are partners of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ through Global Ministries.
Spending Black History Month in another country really forces you to come to terms with your own personal understanding of blackness and how that translates to the rest of the world. I have never shied away from my identity, but here in Katerini, it is always on display, whether I want it to be to or not. When I am in a situation where my blackness is on display, it is usually with a positive intention behind it. People feel compelled to tell me how much they love my hair and my skin and they want to discuss how beautiful African people are. While the intention is kind, the impact misses the mark. All of this attention on my physical features ends up alienating me from others. I begin to feel less like a person and more like a statue that’s being stared at and analyzed. Luckily and unfortunately, I am used to these kinds of interactions. Living in the suburbs outside of Indianapolis, I was surrounded by people who looked different than me and learned how to navigate that world. I also felt prepared for this because I did my research.
I may or may not have google searched “Are there black people in Greece?” before I got on my plane to Katerini. In my research, I came across a documentary and a series of articles that focused on the Black populations in Greece. During the Ottoman Empire, there were thousands of Sudanese people who were enslaved by the Greek people. Africans have been living in this country for well over 200 years and no one is really talking about it. So while people seem surprised to see a person with my color walking around the city, I know more of the full story.
I am in a very unique position here in Katerini, because I am an American citizen, but I am also African. Currently, there are no Eritrean refugees in Katerini but there are many in Athens and on the islands. So, when I first meet someone, more often than not they assume I am a refugee and I am treated as such until I speak with my clear-cut midwestern accent. To the majority of the Greek people interact within public spaces, I am an enigma. I look like a refugee but speak like an American. I see people struggle to understand how they should interact with me. I see them struggle to view me as an equal. In many cases, I can tell that the respect and dignity I am given is coming from my voice, and not my face. It’s a paradoxical experience that I haven’t been able to fully understand yet, I’m not sure if I ever will, but I am challenging myself to try.
The African Greeks of Avato (Documentary): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WCOTDpIj0c
Fiyori Kidane serves with the Perichoresis of the Evangelical Church of Greece. Her appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, WOC, and your special gifts.