A few weeks ago I was chatting with two of my friends here in Tirana about yet another racial encounter, an event that happened to me that dealt with race (in this case people using pejoratives and calling me names), and I was trying to understand how to make sense of it. I use the phrase, “make sense” because oftentimes, people here will acknowledge that folks might behave a certain way but that it does not have racial implications, even if someone is making fun of me or offending me because I’m Black. After listening to my story, one of my friends said, “You should go on TV and talk about it.” I was a bit perplexed and confused, as the idea had never crossed my mind, particularly since I did not even know how to access television shows in Albania. My friend went on to explain that her good friend and colleague was friends with people from one of the local television networks, and that they are always looking for new conversation topics about social phenomena. My friend made a few phone calls a couple of days later and BAM, we set up a preliminary discussion with the host, producer, and network folks, and scheduled a live interview for that following Thursday.
I have been traveling back and forth to Albania now for seven years, and from my very first moment in the country, I have thought about the manifestations of race and racism. When my professor first told me in 2006 that people in the village that we were going to (big shout out to Thethi, Albania) had probably never encountered a Black woman before, I heard him but I was not sure how my interactions with locals would play out. Since that first fieldwork experience, I have written about and reflected on the subjects of race, racism, prejudice, belonging, difference, etc., and even presented my experiences of conducting anthropology here as a Black American woman. These subjects, however, have not been my main research focus as much as I have looked at things like Albanian identity, nationalism, everyday life, postsocialism, and so on. My current dissertation topic deals with urban postsocialist transformation, temporality, and space in Tirana. However, these interactions, both between me and Albanians, as well as between Albanians and Roma, Albanians and Egyptians, Albanians and Greeks, and Albanians amongst themselves, reveal quite a bit about the social fabric that underlies everyday life and every exchanges here. It is important to understand these encounters as they are indicative of the ways in which people are living out the present moment in this particular space, and point to the ways that people understand difference and belonging.
All this being said, I did go on the show and I shared my personal experiences, as well as my thoughts on the subject of racism, as it is extremely complex. As a Mississippian as well, I also have a particular history with and relationship to the word, and as I noted during the interview, one crucial element of racial analysis, and any social analysis for that matter, is context. Furthermore, and this will emerge in later conversations I hope, it is important to underscore intersectionality, and by that, I mean the ways in which my encounters with people are not just shaped by race, but by gender dynamics, class, nationality, etc.
I am in the process of obtaining the transcript from the show, which we’ll then translate to English. So I apologize for the non-Albanian speakers, please hold out for that. I will say though that overall I think this discussion, plus the excerpts from street individuals here in Tirana, opens the door for many future conversations, particularly how people define and understand what it means to be racist, prejudice, ignorant, xenophobic, joking, etc. I think this will make for fruitful research topics and I welcome your thoughts on the subjects. As a result of this interview, I am now working on a paper about the ways in which people understand race and difference here in Albania, specifically in Tirana for now. We’ll see where it leads me.
Link to interview: http://top-channel.tv/video.php?id=32923