An open letter to my fellow Albanians

(Especially those in the Diaspora)

I’ve written and rewritten this post a few times. And then debated on whether I should post it for a few days. As always, I don’t know if it is my place to say what I want to say. With everything that is going on in the US right now following the death of George Floyd, and here in Canada following the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet (and more recently in Albania regarding the repeated rape and blackmail of a 15-year-old schoolgirl, but I will focus on racism for today – One evil at a time I guess)… I have felt a lot of things – but this isn’t a diary entry about how I feel. The point is, I want to do something, to be an ally to my fellow humans, and to further their cause because it is all of our cause. Like you and everyone else, I’ve been bombarded with nonstop media coverage, articles, posts. People are protesting and police brutality is rising. It is horrifying that “things like this” are still happening now in the 21st C. But what is more horrifying however is the deafening silence of those who are not protesting, sharing, talking, and worse still, those who speak up against it.

I feel like it is not my place to write an article on how racism in America (and the rest of the world) is systemic, there are many people of color, authors, scholars, activists, who have done so, both in the past and present. Read their work, listen to them speak, hear their stories, and narratives. Support their work.

But what I can do is reach out to my community – my fellow Albanians, specifically, my Millenials. Because what I have seen these past few days is honestly disheartening. While many of my friends, colleagues, and family members have shown support for the BlackLivesMatter movement, I’ve seen posts circulating in the Albanian community at large around that state otherwise. And this is the biggest disappointment, to say the least.

I know what I’m going to say is not going to sit well with some of you – and I hope it makes you uncomfortable. I am not here to be liked. I’m here trying to get you to reflect a little.

Of all people, we know what it is like to be oppressed (500 years of Ottoman subjugation). We know what it’s like to be told you should not exist (creation of modern Albania – 1912). We know what it is like to be systematically oppressed. To be KILLED for the simple fact that we are who we are – Albanian (Cham Massacer 1945, Kosova genocide 1998-1999). We know what it is like to have our own government ignore us and profit off of our labor.

We know what it is like to struggle to make ends meet, to grow up without fathers because they are in some far off country working some terrible job to send money back home to our mothers – who raise us alone. Or to be raised by our grandmothers because our mothers are raising someone else’s children in a more prosperous country. We know what it is like to move somewhere new, where you are not wanted. To live without documents, in fear you will be deported. To have to change how you speak and how you dress to be accepted – to fit in.

We know what it’s like to be stereotyped –All Albanians are drug dealers – All Albanians are sex traffickers – Oh, you speak fluid Italian, I didn’t know that, you know someone told me once that Albanians are barbarians and have tails – Oh we like you Albanians here, you work hard –

I say this not to say that our history is the same or can be compared to that of people of color in America and Canada. Nor to make this about us. But to provide a background to say that we understand oppression because we have lived through our own.

But how easily we forget. Some of us leave our country, some as refugees, some illegally, some legally. We speak our new language fluently now, we have nice new passports. The kind that lets you cross borders easily. Decades of our parent’s hard work and sacrifice have paid off. We have university educations from the best institutions, we have English sounding names. We are living the dream.

“But we worked for this.”

Yes, you did, your parents worked hard. You worked hard. I am not saying you didn’t. But you also didn’t face the same systematic oppression that people of color do, to this day – because the system that you find yourself in now, be it Canada, the UK, Australia, Europe or the US, favors your skin tone. You can’t help this, you never thought of this, and this is what can be called white privilege, and you have it. @Janayathefuture explains this so much better than I ever could in a video titled “What white people must know” on Instagram, go take a listen.

This is where I usually lose the person I am talking to. They get upset. They think that by saying that they, a hard-working immigrant, have privilege, I am taking away or discounting their hardships. I am not. I am asking you to consider the other hardships that you have not endured. This concept is not my own, but that of many Black scholars, authors, and activists. As Janaya (linked above) states in their video, having privilege does not mean you have not suffered, it means you have not suffered some things. We all have our own personal struggles. But what many of us don’t have is the added struggle of trying to live in a system that is created to fail you – and then blame you for this “failure.” (For a brief crash course on systemic racism, check out this Youtube video).

The BlackLivesMatter movement is our fight too because it is a fight for human rights. But if that does not convince, then let me be very blunt with you. This is our fight because we too, are minorities – but have the benefit of passing for the majority in our new country, and have left that unacknowledged for far too long. If we remain divided, the majority will always win. But united, we stand at actually making a difference. Do not idolize your suppressors, they will just as easily turn on you. You might be the right kind of minority now – but it was not always be the case. When poor European immigrants started moving to the US they were not welcomed with open arms (search “Boas’s immigrant study”). They lived in slums, their children referred to as dirty vermin, and as a whole looked down upon by American society. Do not sympathize for the looted Targets, these are multimillion (if not billion) corporations that will be just fine. Plastic can be replaced, human lives cannot. Do not go around saying things like BlueLivesMatter, the police are protected by a racist system, they don’t need your protection. You can also choose to be a police officer. you can take off that uniform. You cannot chose to be Black, Indigenous, or Albanian. Also there is no such thing as a blue life #justsaying. Do not go around saying AllLivesMatters, no one said they didn’t, but right now we have a pressing issue to address (plug in burning house example here).

Call me a radical, call me extreme. Call me anti-patriotic. Call me what you like. But if what I say upsets you or makes you uneasy, I think I’ve made my point.

I by no means think I am perfect or that “I have done my part” because I wrote this post and shared some resources. I have a lot of work I need to do on myself and with my inner circle. I need to acknowledge the privilege I’ve had, with my education as an Anthropologist and my personal life history.

Now it’s your turn. Do YOUR part. Acknowledge your privilege and be an ally, better yet, an accomplice.

Being an ally doesn’t mean you have to go out and protest – some of us can’t. Maybe you are the primary provider for your family, maybe you have elderly or sick family members living with you and can’t risk going out in large gatherings. That is fine – there are other things you can do.

Sign petitions:

Justice for George, Justice for BreonnaJustice for Ahmaud for example.

Share content – knowledge is power. There is so much information out there by Black activits and scholars. So many BIPOC are sharing their stories. Share information that you found helpful, that your peers might also benefit from – but mindfully. Don’t repost graphic deaths of POC. Don’t post videos of protestors that can be identified.

Donate to bail funds if you are financially able – Here is a list of bail funds in the US; https://bailfunds.github.io/.

If you cannot donate yourself, watch this Youtube video created by Zoe Amira, and YouTube will donate to BLM organizations for you.

For change to be lasting however, our commitment has to be longterm. Start supporting Black-owned businesses or donating to NGOs that help and empower Black people. Think critically about where you spend your money. We all have to buy things, clothes, cosmetics, home goods, hygiene/cleaning products, etc. Why not buy from local, sustainable, conscious, and minority-owned businesses?

I know some of you will say – what about Albanian businesses, Albanian people, helping OUR people. I never said to not support Albanian businesses and organizations, but simply that we could support other groups too. We are complex beings, we can care for more than one cause. Just because I am a feminist does not mean that I don’t care about the environment. Just because I am Albanian does mean I don’t care about the civic and human rights of other groups of people.

But most importantly, START EDUCATING YOURSELF and those around you. It is our job to educate our community about race and racism. News flash, we are not immune to racism – if you want some inward reflection, look at how Roma people are treated in our own country (but I digress..again, so another post for another time). If we want any lasting social change, we need to change the way people think – and this is through education. Again, I find myself saying education is the answer. The sources available online are limitless, books, articles, podcasts, documentaries. Follow BIPOC activists, authors, artists, creators, and scholars on social media. Take this time to learn about race, racism, and slavery. Spoiler alert, race is a social construct and there is no biological basis for it, but I won’t ruin it all for you.

Pick a book on racism and start a reading group with your friends or family; start a dialogue. Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad is a great start. The book is painfully eye opening (to say the least) and builds in personal relfection. Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins is equally so. I wish I had read them sooner. The list of books is never-ending. It does have to be these two books, you just have to start.

As an anthropologist I can tell you that society is not some stable, monolithic entity out existing in the material world – it is what we make it. A society functions the way it does because we as a people agree upon a set of rules, constructs, contracts, whatever you want to call them. And for so long we have accepted a model of society which is racist, sexist, capitalist (and I can go on and on) thinking that things are the characteristics of society and we can only accept them. But we do ourselves a disservice when we accept things as they are uncritically “because they have always been this way.”

The fight of the minority is OUR fight. It is a fight for human rights. I am not trying to attack you, but if you are not doing anything in the wake of the events that have gone down in the past few days, you are helping the oppressors. It is not enough to not be racist yourself. It is not enough to claim that you are an immigrant and that this doesn’t have anything to do with you. It has everything to do with you. We need to work to be actively antiracist and to change the mentality of our community. Again, not my words but those of many many Black scholars, writers and activists. We have a lot of work ahead of us.

So to quote the great Robyn Rihanna Fenty, Pull up.

Sincerely,

Your friendly, neighbourhood, Albanian Archaeologist

Ps. Peace, love, and EQUALITY.

Pps. I made this post short on purpose – to get to the point. I also tried not to add to many links or post exensive lists of books / articles since I think it is important to find resources that speak to you. But if you want suggestions or are not sure where to start feel free to reach out and I’ll happily make suggestions and point you to resources I am aware of.

Edit: I’ll be able to share a link to a database that I have been working on with a few colleagues soon! Stay posted! 🙂

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