Thursday, September 01, 2016

Your Origin

When I arrived in my hostel at the port of Piraeus in Athens, my host asked me where I was from, 'What is your origin?'. On hearing I was from South Africa living in London, he asked, 'But how is that possible, you are not Black?'. I could have been cheeky and said, 'I am Trevor Black', but instead I said, 'In the same way as there are Black people from Greece (I had no idea how many that meant)'.

Historically, between the Greek colonies and empires, Greek people have wandered far and wide. South Africa has a chunky Greek community and the Globe a widely spread Greek Diaspora. The African Union defines the African Diaspora as "[consisting] of people of African origin living outside the continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality and who are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and the building of the African Union." The two power houses of the Diaspora are Brazil (about 56 million) and America (about 42 million). Africa is a continent, Greece is a country but the edges of continents and countries are both stories we tell ourselves.

Greek territories during the Archaic Period

Alexander's Macedon Empire (334-323 BC)

Countries with large Greek Populations

The truth is that the disproportionate number of South Africans I meet outside of South Africa are white, even though they make up less than 9% of the population. The South African Diaspora were not part of the Brazil and American contingent. Generalising, we are a smaller group of the more privileged recent wanderers. South Africa has similar inequality issues to the rest of the world, but the legacy of Apartheid is that there is a strong correlation to skin colour. When I was in Seattle, I overheard some South Africans next to me. Here in Athens, there are three South African travellers next to me. They were all white. Most of those who have moved elsewhere have chosen English speaking countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, New Zealand and Canada.

The first time I left South Africa was when I was 18. My holidays were split between  family in Johannesburg, and just enjoying home in Durban. All my travels have been funded by having moved to work in London. Overseas trips are a pretty big deal if you are spending in Rands. Without exposure to the way things are elsewhere, we can think the way things are are the way things can or should be. 'White' is a much fuzzier concept once you have visited Europe. Europe is tinier than it looks on the map and empires and people have swept back and forth over the Old World land mass of Afro-Euroasia. From Portugal to South Korea, there is no point where white ends and black starts, and it certainly isn't the same as the relatively tiny but disproportionately noisy white population of South Africa.

There is some (embarrassing) irony that the most likely travellers outside of South Africa are the ones that will break the stereotype of a continent with a population of 1.1 Billion people; Speaking French, Arabic, English, Swahili and 1,250 - 3000 other languages; Christians, Muslims, Traditional Religions and those not practising any religion; a wide variety of skin-tones and a long history of cultural exchange with the rest of the Old World.

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