Mapping Blackness in Yugoslavia and Post-Yugoslav Space

By Sunnie Rucker-Chang | Black Perspectives

96-year-old Fatmire is one of the few remaining members of a small and relatively unknown Afro-Albanian “Black” community in Montenegro, a small former Yugoslav Mediterranean country.1 Fatmire’s ancestry lies in the Ottoman African slave trade that began in the 18th century. This community is often “forgotten” and rediscovered from time to time. That this community is referred to as “Black” provides a context to understand the regional relationship with Blackness and its various uses and meanings in former Yugoslav space. Afro-Albanian community members are embodied reminders of the multifaceted constellation of European Blackness that is integral to the establishment and construction of local identities. A global color line based on the epidermalization of Blackness defines them and exemplifies the mobility of the “racial contract” that maintains Blackness as inflected and distant from the normative whiteness of the majority. Framing these identities by way of Blackness is a novel approach, particularly in former Yugoslav spaces where identities are typically in reference to ethnic or religious categories. However, temporal and spatial shifts in the signifiers of difference in Yugoslavia and Post-Yugoslav space reveal the forces of Blackness, whiteness, and therefore race and racialization as “floating signifiers” dependent on the context in which they are situated.

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