Promoting the emancipatory potential of cultural expression

Promoting the emancipatory potential of cultural expression

The African Voices Festival, held on June 6 at Panteion University, was a vibrant celebration of the African diaspora in Greece and a poignant revelation of the community’s struggles.

Arriving at the campus just off Athens’ central Syngrou Avenue, attendees were greeted by Afrobeat music, creating an inviting atmosphere for community members, university students, and others who gathered to hear from the scheduled speakers.

he lineup of speakers included included ANASA founder Michael Afolayan, Asante co-founder and activist Nikodimos Maina Kinyoua, Panteion University Anthropology Chair Gerasimos Makris, Panteion student Vasiliki Mavridi, and social anthropologist and performer Grace Nwoke. Each speaker shared their unique experiences in Greece, explored the legal and social challenges confronting the African diaspora, and highlighted the critical importance of expanding Africana studies.

The speakers explored what it means to be African in Greece, the cultural shifts of second-generation African migrants and the necessity of promoting Africana studies as a means of greater cross-racial understanding.

Before the adoption of legislation in 2015 giving Greek citizenship to the children of migrants who are born and/or raised in Greece, many second-generation African migrants lacked basic rights. This, according to the speakers, created significant barriers to the economic empowerment of migrant communities, as they could not access Greek universities free of charge or secure lawful employment in upwardly mobile professions. As the speakers explained, these obstacles often perpetuated the cycle of poverty and pushed many individuals into illegal employment.

These shared experiences within the African diaspora community ignited a collective spark, propelling many to rally behind the “No to Racism from the Cradle” movement. This movement played a pivotal role in the inception and eventual enactment of the 2015 migrant law in Greece. This law marked a significant stride forward, granting citizenship to all migrants born or raised within Greece’s borders.

However, the festival underscored that legal recognition alone is inadequate without a broader societal appreciation of Afro-diasporic identity. “There is a pressing need for an educational approach that enlightens the majority about the distinct racial and social identities within this community. We must initiate discussions about the substantive politics of integration,” notes Afolayan, speaking to Kathimerini English Edition.

For the speakers, the introduction of Africana studies emerges as the most effective means to educate Greek society about the global history and culture of Black people. It holds the promise of fostering a cosmopolitan society that comprehends contemporary historical foundations and can discern between truth and misinformation. Moreover, it highlights the power of coalition-building among diverse groups and communities. As aspirational figures, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers were cited for their development of an intersectional analytical framework that instructs present-day audiences on the merits of non-violent protest, collective resistance to oppression, and the interconnectedness of various forms of discrimination.

Integrating Africana studies into higher education can also extend its influence into realms such as mental health support, healthcare practices, and educational dynamics. For example, it can sensitize primary school educators to the challenges faced by Afro-diasporic children, whose parents may struggle with employment security or endure public racial discrimination. Similarly, it can prompt a revision of Greek educational curricula that sometimes perpetuate outdated racist concepts.

The festival’s second half showcased a series of African dance performances, ranging from traditional to contemporary styles, featuring instruments like the djembe. Cultural expression was emphasized as a crucial avenue for the African diaspora to articulate its experiences.

“Art and music allow us to convey our concerns and struggles while educating diverse audiences about our experiences. It represents the best form of politics, engaging community members to become advocates with civic consciousness,” says Afolayan.

Indeed, it is this rationale that drives the African diaspora in Greece to organize events like African Voices. These gatherings serve as platforms for people to engage in dialogue, conduct research, draw inspiration from one another, and cultivate grassroots relationships.

Achilles Frangos is a summer intern at Kathimerini English Edition, and a third-year college student at Columbia University.

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