Racial Insensitivity…in Georgia?!……Again?!?!

The last time I touched on the issue of race in Georgia, I didn’t say anything of substance. So I’m going to try to do that now. In particular, I’d like to discuss the Georgian word zangi (ზანგი).

My Georgian-English dictionary (compiled by Tamar and Isidore Gvarjaladze) translates it as “Negro.” However, I recently talked to a black American in Tbilisi (a fellow itinerant English teacher) who told me that the word means “nigger.” I asked him how he knew that it was the latter and not the former, and he told me that he heard it from a Nigerian (who had come to Georgia, as many have in the past few years, to find work).

zangi graffiti

I found “ZANgi” carved in an empty room at my school. The kids told me that there was a dark-skinned student whose nickname was “Zangi.” Since carving their names is popular pastime among the students, he carved it.

But how could the Nigerian know? How could anyone not well-integrated into the Georgian language community really be certain about such a subtlety? Unlike English or Russian, to which people all over the world have easy access, Georgian is fairly esoteric, and so I am somewhat skeptical of any outsider’s opinion about even mundane subtleties, much less such a sensitive case of cross-cultural interpretation.

This is not to say that the Nigerian is wrong. He could be right, since there certainly is racism against blacks in Georgia. Most obviously, there is quite a bit of what we can call “zoo racism.” Black people are rare in Georgia (historically especially, but today too), and so Georgians are often surprised and excited when they see any. A few months ago I visited the ancient rock city of Uplistsikhe with a black friend on the same day that a Georgian class was there on a field trip. The children saw my friend and starting pointing and saying “Zangi! Zangi!” One by one, every student in the class asked to have their picture taken with my friend. From what I’ve heard, this sort of thing is not uncommon.


Apparently black people don’t go to Uplistsikhe very often.

We can write this off as mere innocent curiosity: Georgians are not usually used to foreigners at all, much less black ones, and their backwater country was behind the Iron Curtain for decades, blah blah blah. And while their isolation and ignorance does exonerate to some extent (compared to, say, white Americans asking to touch black strangers’ hair), it’s still fair to call this behavior racist, since it’s treating black people like zoo exhibits.

[UPDATE 6/14/13 I recently spent a good deal of time travelling around various parts of Georgia with some black Americans. Many Georgians came up and wanted to have their pictures taken with my black friends, as expected, but I have changed my mind and no longer think that this behavior is racist. For consider: what if a seven-foot-tall (2.13 m) white person walked around Georgia (or anywhere else)? People would be curious, and they would definitely want to have their picture taken with them. This was the extent of the Georgians’ interest in my black friends. Nobody tried touching their hair, or pulling any other funny business. It rarely struck me even as impolite, much less nefarious. So I will let them off the hook (though this does not extend to white Americans or other people who ought to know better).]

And, of course, there is good old-fashioned racial disdain. I have had several Georgian tell me, without prompting, that they don’t like black people, that they’re ugly, dumb, and so on. And these were among the relatively cosmopolitan Georgians who know English! I can only imagine what the average Georgian thinks. Again, these feelings can likely be chalked up to sheer ignorance: there is no black intellectual or artistic tradition in Georgia for obvious reasons, and so their only idea of black people comes from the guy who sells flowers outside of the metro station.

It’s easy to imagine why someone might think zangi means “nigger.” If I am black, I might notice that while I am being mistreated, subtly or otherwise, I constantly hear “zangi” said, more or less sneeringly. From that sneer and the fact that the word often accompanies mistreatment, I conclude that it is a slur like “nigger.”

But I don’t think that this is sufficient evidence. To explain why will require a bit of philosophical jargon. Philosophers aften distinguish thick concepts from thin ones. Thin concepts are ideas which are strictly descriptive or strictly evaluative. For example, “table” and “good” and “dog” and “ugly” are all thin concepts. “Table” and “dog” are not evaluative (tables and dogs can be good, bad, ugly, or whatever), while “good” and “ugly” are not descriptive (since if I say “It is ugly,” you have no idea what “it” is, except that I disapprove of its appearance). Thick concepts are ideas which are both descriptive and evaluative at once. The standard example is “courage.” If I describe someone as courageous, I’m teling you that the person faced something dangerous or frightening, but you also know that I approve of them for that. It would make no sense to say “That guy is courageous. What a piece of shit!”, since the very concept of courage entails approval. Slurs are thick concepts too, since their denoting a group is accompanied by disapproval of some sort. It would make no sense to say “That guy is a nigger, and I really admire him.” “Nigger” already entails disapproval, disdain, or whatever. “Negro” is thin, since you can say “That guy is a Negro, and I really admire him,” or at least that’s what someone might have said in the 1940s. Aside from the dated sound it has acquired by now, it is not an offensive word. So while “Negro” and “nigger” denote the same group of people (black people), one is always accompanied by disapproval and the other is not.

You might think at this point that it’s just an issue of figuring out whether zangi is thick or not, but it’s not so simple. This is because it is possible to “thicken” any thin word by altering the tone of one’s voice. I can say “He’s from Florida,” or I can say “He’s from Florida,” as in, “He’s one of those people, from Florida.” Although there’s nothing inherently wrong with being from Florida, I can add disapproval to the word without explicitly indicating it. So we have to consider the possibility that zangi is a thin, non-judgmental word which is always or often thickened. That is, it could be that while zangi has a perfectly acceptable place in non-racist talk, but it is not often used this way because most Georgians are racist.

This possibility is somewhat distressing epistemologically, since it admits of no obvious means of verification or falsification. I’m not saying that’s how it is, but I’m not convinced either way.

Suppose we determined that zangi really is a slur. Why do we suppose that the proper translation is “nigger” rather than some other slur? Why not “coon” or “wog” or something along those lines? Slurs vary considerably in force. Compare:

1) “Look! A colored person!”

2) “Look! A darkie!”

3) “Look! A nigger!”

These exclamations are strictly ordered by increasing offensiveness. The question here is about exactly how offended a black person ought to be at being called zangi. And my feeling is that it is inappropriate to interpret the word as having the force of “nigger.”

Some critical race theorists think that it’s impossible for racial minorities to be racist (in typical contexts). This is not to say that, for instance, black people can’t hate white people. They can, but the difference, so the idea goes, is that their racial prejudice is not accompanied by any kind of institutional power. An average-white-Joe’s dislike of minorities is backed by a whole history of discrimination and violence and the complicity of police, banks, etc. Racism, they say, is prejudice combined with institutional power, and minorities generally lack the latter.

Now there’s not much point in getting into an argument (as many have done) about whether or not this definition is correct. That’s just a matter of terminology. But the important point is that (in America, at least) white prejudice and minority prejudice come from completely different contexts, and should be judged differently. So we need to think about the context of Georgian prejudice. Georgians, as a people, have generally been shit on throughout history. Their country has been ravaged over and over by all kinds of invaders. They are fairly poor, and they have very little effect on anything in the world (the obvious exception here is Joseph Stalin, né Jughashvili, but I’m talking about the people as a whole). Most importantly, they have no history of interacting with black people in a meaningful way.

But the word “nigger” is from America, where things are reversed. “Nigger” comes from a context of slavery, lynchings, and minstrel shows. Georgians (again, as a people) were never involved in these things. They don’t, for instance, have a long and storied tradition of associating black people with watermelons.

watermelon evolution

This is from Georgia…right, this time I am talking about the American state.

If Georgian history has nothing remotely resembling the American situation, how could we fairly impute to them the use of “nigger”? Indeed, it seems to me that the only languages that possibly could have a word like “nigger” (at least as far as anti-black racism goes) are English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese, since those were the primary languages involved in the Atlantic slave trade.

By the way, they showed some of Obama‘s inauguration on the news here, and my host family discussed whether Obama is a zangi or a mulati. So evidently Georgians don’t believe in the one-drop rule.

I conclude that while zangi may be a slur of some sort, it does not mean “nigger” in particular.

Discussion Questions: Read the second chapter of WVO Quine’s book Word and Object. 1) How radical is the context of translating zangi into English? 2) Can you think of a way of determining whether zangi is thick or thin? If not, can you conclude anything about the nature of linguistic knowledge? 3) In his essay, Quine uses the example of a rabbit running by to illustrate the indeterminacy of translation. Could he have used the use of zangi as an example just as well? That is, if there is indeterminacy in this case, is it importantly different from indeterminacy more quotidian cases? 4) A popular slogan during the Vietnam War was “No Vietcong ever called me nigger.” Is this a tautology? Why or why not?

UPDATE (5/18/14): I just now realized that, like a jackass, I misspelled “Insensitivity” as “Insensitivy” in the title and URL. I fixed that title, but I don’t think I can change the URL without screwing up links. Oh well.


40 thoughts on “Racial Insensitivity…in Georgia?!……Again?!?!

  1. Great post!

    My wife (who is Georgian) says Georgians have never used any other word for black people, but that zangi has taken on offensive qualities in the last ten years or so.

    To generalize that sentiment I think it’s important to look at words from a diachronic perspective. Words like idiot and retard constantly have to be reinvented because they take on connotations as an insult (are we on disabled or mentally challenged now, or is there a new one?). Similarly, words for black people have to change, at least in America, as long as the old words keep acquiring the burden of the racism around them. Historically, the n-word wasn’t necessarily a slur, and I think many modern African Americans would take issue with your claim that “Negro” isn’t offensive. Even the move from “black” to “African American” was done because of a perceived offensiveness of “black”, the historical association of “black” with “evil”, i.e. “black magic” or “blackguard”, and the overall desire to coin a new, pristinely neutral term.

    So it makes sense that Georgians might take a (relatively) neutral word for black people and then start heaping racist overtones on it simply by being racist and being exposed to more black people as the country opens up more to the rest of the world. In other words, it’s possible that before Georgians met black people and decided that they didn’t like them very much, the word for a black person didn’t convey racism, but now it does.

    I would gloss zangi as “a word for black people, often considered offensive” and translate it according to context and tone. Either way, it’s clear the word doesn’t have the same level of taboo attached to it as the n-word does in America (even the n-word in Georgia doesn’t have the same level of taboo); but as with most cases of racism there’s a disconnect between the intent of the person who says the racist thing and the experience of the target of that racism, which means that for a black person, alone in Georgia, the word zangi may carry something like the same force, and invoke the same fear and isolation, as when white Americans use the n-word.

    It’s an interesting question – whether a translation is more accurate if it conveys the message that is sent or the message that is received – and I don’t think there’s a good universal answer to that.

    • That’s an excellent point, and I hadn’t considered that possibility at all. Whether a word’s meaning has changed from thin to thick over time is even harder to tell than whether it was thin or thick in the first place. Unfortunately, since a good diachronic analysis of the word can’t be given in the form of anecdotes, philosophical riffing, and amusingly-captioned pictures, it is well outside the scope of this blog.

    • Yes, I imagine you’re right about Dutch / Afrikaans. Arabs were involved in the slave trade too, but as far as I know black people aren’t as important in Arabic culture as they are in English or French culture, so my guess is that Arabic does not have just the right equivalent. Some slur or other, certainly, but not “nigger” in particular. But I don’t know for sure, so if you have anything specific in mind I would love to hear it.

      • The question of translating “nigger” into other languages is really the question of translating American (or British?) racism into other cultures, and this usually cannot be done. A similar situation is often seen with translating official titles. To use a Georgian example, consider the word eristavi. This can be translated as “duke”, “governor”, “military governor”, and in many other ways. But these are all only rough equivalents, and sometimes the word is left untranslated. This indicates that the offices of medieval Georgia simply do not correspond to offices of the contemporary anglophone world. I’m saying that the same difficulty exists with slurs.

      • This is obviously replying to a really old post, but I know you’re still monitoring the blog, so whatever. What he’s getting at is the word “kaffir,” which was the South African Afrikaans equivalent of “the n-word,” and which is actually an Arabic loanword. In Arabic, it means “disbeliever” or “one who has heard and rejected the message of the Qur’an.” It is now regarded as highly offensive by pretty much anybody in South Africa, but obviously the connotations can never be exactly the same as what a white American would mean saying their own rough equivalent. I don’t know whether it has racial overtones in Arabic, but I am pretty sure that Arabian culture does indeed have racist strands and that black Africans were often associated with slaves in Islamic countries, despite many being fellow Muslims.

        Anyway, thanks for this interesting discussion. The word “zangi” recently came up in conversation in a Svan village and I was wondering about it.

          • No worries whatsoever. I stayed in Svaneti for about 3 months this past winter, though I’ve visited several times in the past for a week or a month at a time. Ethnomusicology stuff–learning songs and instruments, trying to be around for religious festivals or other community celebrations, etc.

            The topic was discussed very minimally; during my first visit with a particular villager, he just asked me if there were any “zangebi” in Canada, which is where I’m from. There didn’t seem to be any malice attached and I think he asked an entirely unrelated question after I responded affirmatively.

  2. Interesting post and comments. You might have already seen/read about this, but in case someone hasn’t I wanted to share a link to this story about President Saakashvili’s gaffe with the word “zangi” some three years ago. Notice that this English-language article translates the word as negro, even if he uttered “zangi” in his Georgian speech.

    Link to the article:

    Link to the video:

  3. First, I absolutely agree with you that Zangi does not mean a nigger. In Georgian language it may sound more racist to say შავი კაცი (shavi katsi – black man) than – Zangi. Everything is defined how you pronounce it. You can freely say მაგარი ზანგი (magari zangi – cool negro) or ნიჭიერი ზანგი (nichieri zangi – talented negro) while saying მაგარი შავი კაცი (magari shavi katsi – cool black man) and ნიჭიერი შავი კაცი (nichieri shavi katsi – talented black man) may sound more awkward and/or a bit racist. რა ლამაზი ზანგია (რუსია)! – what a beautiful negro (Russian)! – sounds natural. რა მახინჯი ზანგია (რუსია)! – what an ugly negro (Russian) is racist. So, in Georgian language Zangi is the only word for Negro or a man of African origin. It is absolutely neutral as such, like Russian, etc.

    Second, you have mentioned that Georgia had no contacts with African people. That’s right. Georgia never had direct contacts with African people. But there were some very important indirect contacts. In the old Georgian literature and translations there are many cases of these. For example, შავი მოსე (Black Mose – Ethiopian negro by ethnicity) who is a Christian saint from Egypt and lived in the 4th century was described as Zangi by Georgian writers and monks and as I see you have a good understanding of Georgian culture, I am sure you get that if the word Zangi is the same as English Nigger, a saint can not be Zangi. Here you can see an icon of him: http://www.orthodoxy.ge/tveni/agvisto/icons/mose-shavi.jpg

    On the other hand, one more example is in ვეფხისტყაოსანი (the knight in the panther’s skin – XII century epic poem by Shota Rustaveli) where there is a person Mona Zangi (Slave Negro) who is described to be a very crafty man with lots of talents and supernatural skills. He is referred as შავი მონა (black slave) as well. The poem is entirely a fiction and seems to be a big metaphor itself. There are slaves from India, Arabia, etc. So, even in this context the word Zangi is not racist. The black slave is the only man who manages to get to the castle anonymously where the lost girl Nestan-Daredjan is captured. To tell the truth, the black slave is the most notable one among other slaves mentioned there.

    Third, you mentioned that your friend has told you about Zangi = nigger. And that some Nigerians have told him about it. Well, I completely understand this. Let’s look at this word: Грузин (Gruzin). It is a Russian word for Georgian. Грузия (Gruzia) – Georgia. I will cut it short: Georgia Asks Friends To Stop Calling It ‘Gruzia’. Here is the link: http://www.rferl.org/content/georgia_asks_friends_to_stop_calling_it_gruzia/24264848.html
    At the level of friends, friends of friends, etc. calling someone Gruzin may be considered to be extremely racist in modern Georgia. Not to say anything if someone lives in Russia and gets mistreated. And yet, Zangi is nothing compared to this case. I agree with your conclusion absolutely. When someone hears some kind of word repetitively when mistreated, he thinks that it is a part of an insult. And it is, simply to say, false. Both in case of ‘Gruzin’ and ‘Zangi’, it’s wrong to say that these words are racist but it’s reasonable to say that they can be used as such.

    Fourth, I could not resist not to write anything about cosmopolitan Georgians. Well, I agree that such thing exists in every country: patriots vs. cosmopolitans. The only thing I want to mention is that the idea of ethnic identity as the main part of self-identity is as old-fashioned in Georgia already as the people who called themselves ‘inteligentsia’ (a special group of intellectuals in the USSR). So, again, the more ‘intellectual’ persons or persons from ‘inteligentsia’ families you choose the more racists you may get. Surprisingly, this is the case in Georgia and general people without higher education are less or absolutely no racist as they have no intellectual background to be such. I remember one case when some ‘intellectual’ women (as they declared later) made an African girl leave a public bus just because she was a foreigner (not because she was a black person) and the motive was that their relatives got deported from Netherlands and we should kick strangers out of Georgia as well. Well, we tried to calm them but well, they started to quarrel right in the bus and that African girl found out to be not less aggressive than those women. In the end we did not know to laugh or to cry looking at them. Imagine a moving bus and women fighting. African girl left the bus and I came down at the next stop as well. As to Nigerians, I know lots of them and to be frank I had an impression that they are predisposed to be offended when no one is going to offend them. Well, I had a feeling whatever I say they may get offended. Very awkward experience 😀

    Well, as a conclusion, if a person is over 40, preferably woman and from academic or so called ‘intellectual’ circles (which is a real phenomenon to be researched), I can harshly say the probability that they are racist is over 50%. The causes? Soviet indoctrination, 1960-70-s when Georgia fought for the status of Georgian language, intellectual nationalism (communism), fear of strangers, iron curtain, etc. As to me, I do not know even one person from my friends or friends of friends of my age who are racist. But I know lots of older people who are racist or extremely racist in some cases. And yet, Zangi is just a beautiful word for the people of African origin. If racists use it as a curse word, it’s just their attitude and not a meaning of the word.

    P.S. I remember one teacher who warned their students not to use Zangi and I often got remarks when I used this word that it was racist (they did not know why though). Well, all I can say is that even some Georgians consciously or unconsciously try to make a Georgian ‘nigger’ word for African people but it is really stupid to use Zangi fro that purpose 😀

    • Thank you for these remarks, especially the parts about the intelligentsia. I read once about a roughly three-way partition of Georgian intellectuals: the “red intelligentsia” who were in power in Communist times, the “white intelligentsia” who were in power during the first part of independence, and the “new intelligentsia”, who are intellectuals associated with Europe / America and Saakashvili. To which group would you say the people you’re talking about belong?

      [By the way, you referred to the African on the bus as a “stranger” (which means someone you don’t know), but I think what you meant to say was “foreigner” (someone from another country). I’m assuming you had in mind უცხო or something like that. I corrected it, but let me know if that’s not right and I’ll change it back.]

      • Well, that’s right, it’s really a very rough partition. Some of the red intelligentsia stayed red (some of Georgian writers, poets and movie makers), some of them transformed into a nationalist one (most of the pseudo-intellectuals) and others transformed into new inteliigentsia (Saakashvili’s mother, Giuli Alasania is a good example). And the main problem of intelligentsia is the existence of intelligentsia itself – a special “breed of intellectuals.” So, whether the intelligentsia is white, red or new, it’s a pure soviet phenomenon. The main feature of intelligentsia is hypocrisy and lack of liberty. We have seen communist atheist politicians and intellectuals turned into Orthodox Christians in just a year, standing in the front rows of the church and preaching about Christian values. New intelligentsia associated mostly with Saakashvili often behaves the same way, though often comes out against church apparently. Hypocrisy is evident. As to racism, all of the intelligentsia is more or less racist. Why? It’s one of the ways to justify their existence, to show themselves to be the best part of the society and thus, to place themselves in charge of taking responsibility for the whole nation. This is anti-democratic simply to say, though. How can the existence of intelligentsia be justified in a free society? It’s simply impossible. For example, to put a capitalist, socialist, atheist, pantheist, baptist, Jehova’s witness, islamist and free thinkers into one category and call them a weird name ‘Intelligentsia’ is simply stupid. Inteligentsia = thought control. That’s what they do and they are intended for. Now let’s look at most part of Georgian ‘intelligentsia’ – red one is extremely anti-euro-american and new one is extremely anti-russian and anti-red, they both form special groups and place ‘intelect’ on their base, which is already discriminative. Both red and new one have an element of nationalism in it, though not necessarily. In most cases, they are both racist in their expressions and there are lots of evidence of this in everyday news, trying to prove that Americans and Europeans are sodomites and on the way towards degradation and destruction and on the other hand there is propaganda to make Russians, Turks, Armenians, Azerbaijanians, Iranians, etc. leave our country as they destroy our culture, etc. Surprisingly, all this comes from the prominent members of so called ‘intelligentsia’, their families, active politicians, professors, etc. Intelligentsia is what interferes foreigners to integrate freely in Georgian society by creating all these wrong prejudices. Georgia is not a free society and is extremely politicized – that’s why there is still this ‘inteligentsia’ and the only cure for this is diversification. Under diversification and putting every human as an intellectual being, as everybody else is, the risks of ‘intellectual’ racism, which is the main part of racism in Georgia can be reduced to the minimum level. And again, all what any intelligentsia does in any country is thought control. We saw this in Germany and in the USSR apparently and we see it everywhere. If we give these pseudo-intellectuals enough power, which they are longing for actually in the name of the defense of Georgian culture or spreading democracy in their racist way, they can turn any country into nazism and racism. Complete removal of this system will reduce the risks of racism and may even annihilate the intellectual part of it at all. There is no need for a new intelligentsia. There is no need for intelligentsia at all. This would really be a big leap towards a free democratic society.

        P.S. Thanks for the correction. I meant foreigner actually. In most cases I have red intelligentsia in mind, they are really extremely racist in general.

  4. whatever you guys say or whatever the statistics say that georgia and georgians are famous for their hospitality only the people living knows what the real situation is and georgia is definitely a racist country, that any foreigner with a darker skin at least once in a day undergoes racial discrimination either verbally or sometimes physically when they walk on the streets or travel in a public transport which indeed is a great shame to you people and the word which you people use matters less first of all think him/her with a different skin colour also as a human being fist register this in you’re minds after which you could think about the words used. And im pretty sure this is the thoughts of most foreign people living in georgia like nigerians,americans,indians etc.

  5. I was researching a topic and accidentally stumbled upon this discussion.I am very glad I did. Excellent analysis by the author and the responders, particularly ორუცნობიანი განტოლება whose comments about the intelligentsia are quite accurate. I am brown skinned and I walk everyday hours on on the streets of Tbilisi. I do travel occasionally in the local transport. Mercifully, I am yet to experience any overtly racist behaviour. That is not to say that it does not exist. It certainly does. For whatever reason Blacks/Africans seem to attract most of these insults. Curiosity needs to be distinguished from animosity as the author of this blog clearly said. Many unfortunately fail to understand that and also too ready to see racism where there is none meant.
    I wonder about the role of the so called nationalists and the Orthodox Church. Any comments on that?

  6. you georgians who are abusing us on the roads and streets are the real motherfuckers happy fucking your mamas bastards!

  7. Thank you for this post. I am researching for a book, and am trying to find out if it’s feasible for a Georgian and a Nigerian to grow up as best friends.

  8. So glad I read this. I have a choice to undertake a seminar in Georgia, or another country, and as a black woman I will be staying well away from Georgia. I don’t have the time nor energy to have to deal with insensitive remarks or being stared at as though I’m a zoo exhibit.

    • No! I know plenty of black people who have been to Georgia, and almost all of them loved it. It’s true that you have to have a thick skin at times, and if you’re a sensitive type then maybe you should avoid it. But if you can handle a little attention, then you should really consider going. I actually recommend that my black friends visit Georgia if for no other reason than to feel like a celebrity for a few days! If you can find someone who can take you to a village and show you around, the people there will treat you like royalty.

      Have you traveled outside of Western Europe / America before? Because the fact is that Black people will get extra attention in most of the world (not including Africa obviously). Even in Eastern Europe and Turkey. I don’t know where your other choice is, but you very well might get just as much attention there.

      The bottom line to me is this: many people in this world have hate in their hearts for black people, but Georgians are not among them. There is much more hatred towards black people in the United States than there is in Georgia. I don’t think you’ll regret visiting Georgia, at least not for this reason (there certainly are other things you might not like).

      Let me know if you decide to go!

  9. Hey black don’t go to Georgia, they present government and border police don’t want to see you.

    To all black people, be adviced, don’t go to Georgia, the present government and border police don’t want to see blacks anymore. I don’t know why but that’s the fact.

  10. I am a woman who has been on this earth for 60 years. I live in Chicago, Illinois and I have met people of all races and cultures in my adult life 18 years old to now. I have met a young man from Georgia (I think he is about 27 to 30 years old) who is in my city for 2 months for a exchange program at UIC. His first night here was a culture shock that I had never seen in my life time and I am sure it was because of when he arrived to my middle class neighborhood he saw mostly black americans (even though the neighborhood is multi colored and multi cultural) because of the schools and the people who live here. The neighborhood is Bronzeville. I could see the honest fear in him for the unknown. I instantly became motherly and knew that I needed to take him under my wing. At the time I had know knowledge of the history of Georgia’s people conceived notions about Negroes/Blacks. I am a House Manager of a Bed and Breakfast Hotel he is staying at during his stay in Chicago. I informed him that the neighborhood was relatively safe and that we also had quite a few guest who were from other countries (men and women) who come and go at all hours of the night with no trouble. I could see he was not convinced. So the next day he was to report to the UIC campus. This was the beginning of a trust and a friendship I didn’t expect (believe me it was not easy). I got up that morning and I told him how to travel to his destination, but I could see he was still fearful, so I decided then that I would go beyond my duties as a House Manager is required. I walked him to the nearest computer store because he needed a charger for his computer. The one from his country did not fix our outlets. I then took him to the Currency Exchange about a block and a half from the house to purchase a card to travel on the bus and trains in Chicago, I could still see the uncertainty in his face regarding his surroundings. So then I took the bus with him to show him how to get to the UIC campus that he was attending. He was having lunch with the people sponsoring the exchange program. I directed him on what bus to take in order to return back to the house. I had to go work, so I was a nervous wreck hoping he would be OK. (His fear has translated over to me for him) He got back to the house with no problem. He was very unhappy with the room he had in the lower level of the house, he felt it was to closed in. So I had his room upgraded to the first floor in a more costly room but did not charge him additional money (I just wanted him to be comfortable, I would have done this for anyone). The second day I took him to near by grocery store where he had another shock, the prices (smile). On his second day I received a call from his Boss one of his sponsors for the exchange program telling me that he was fearful of the neighborhood. I in return said why is he nervous nothing has happened. The sponsor in return told me one of his black friends said that the neighborhood was a little bad. I in return said that I was the only black person in the house and I am sure he is not scared of me. I informed his sponsor that I was not sure about the policy of cancelling on rooms he had already paid for. When my guest came home that night I did not mention that his boss/sponsor has called me, but he mentioned it, he wanted me to know that he thinks I am a very nice person and he does not want to change houses. I said “Yes your boss/sponsor did call”. I was very calm, my guest was extremely sincere in his tone of voice that he used with me and I have always considered myself a good judge of character. He arrived on the 22nd of March. It is now April 14, 2016. The first 3 days were hard for him, but after that he became more relaxed more excepting of me the other people in the house. But I learned that preconceived notions about people can sometimes be your downfall. But this gentleman came to a country and a city he had never been in and was confronted first by that preconceived notion and he learned that this 60 year old black woman didn’t care where he came from, didn’t know where he came from and the people in the neighborhood were just plain old good people. He walks to the bus stop every day except weekends, he goes to the stores where there are mostly black americans who live and work in this neighborhood and mean him no harm. I truly believe he is not fearful anymore. He laughs and talks like a person who is comfortable in his surrounding, in and out of the house. He comes into contact on a regular bases with blacks, whites, mexicans, chinese, italians, pakatanians, canadians, french. This is a united nation House and neighborhood. But black americans are the majority for now. The owner of the this Bed and Breakfast Hotel is a Black Male. So my Georgian Friend has a lot to talk about when he get home.

  11. I have a writing project, and one of the characters is Georgian. Her best friend is black American, so I’m following this blog as research.

  12. Hey ,

    Thank you for writing this article and expressing some of the experiences you have had. I am a 27 year old black male who just graduated with my Masters in Nonprofit Management. I have been thinking about joining the PeaceCorps and I have been debating if going to Central Asia / The Caucasus is something that would be right for me. I was hoping you (or anyone) might have some advice for me about going to Georgia and becoming an Advisor for the Let Girls Learn (LGL) -NGO program the PeaceCorps offers. I am very interested in the program, very curious about the culture, but I want to make sure that the people would actually respect by ability to help create social change. What do you think? Would it be hard for a young black male to go to Georgia, or even Kosovo, Armenia, or Modolva ?

  13. sorry for my english whole these stories about “zangi” that is bad word “nigga” is bullshit this word comes from 11 th century poem in that time was not america or word as nigga and even english speaking people where not in africa and never seen a black man. because its english word from nigga. when georgian trevellers travelled to africa india they saw skin color that was dark and the term is that person with dark skin just it not slave not black and some bullshit. in modern days liberals and media is just transporting all circumstances like black enslavment by americans and western europeans to georgia like. we should not call them zangi its bad word like we enlslaved blacks. even blacks that are coming sometimes are trying to play racist victim cards. georgia never enslaved any black man or used it. we dont own anything to black man as black man dont owns anything to us because i feel always good when hanging out with my black friends in tbilisi we dont fear each other. fear must have who enslaved black people in america and western europe and till to day are helping the self destruction of black people in america by supplaying them buy drugs and weapons.

  14. So it’s true, what my Georgian relatives and friends have been telling me; you insidious bastards have really landed in Georgia. For the love of God, please don’t poison this ancient culture with your leftist,- ‘PC’-‘micro-aggression’- ‘implicit bias’- spouting, hyper-sensitive, I have to psycho-analyze and correct everyone, because I am obviously the smartest person in the room, and everyone everywhere (everyone that is, that is not ‘of color’) is a racist by default. Georgians aren’t on your list of aggrieved people of course because they aren’t Muslim, or fit somewhere else on your pecking order of ‘victims’ and don’t want to play your bullshit social justice warrior games. Let Georgians interact directly with our ‘zangebi’ friends without the interference of your poison cocktail of crap and I think everything will go just fine. You’ve completely f(&/@ the West, now you want to spread your hate and intolerance there too. Georgia doesn’t need your ‘social change’ or your type of ‘Nation-building’, they have tolerated other cultures for centuries and survived numerous oppressors, I fear an invasion of your sort is something they have never experienced before though, and thus have no idea about what is about to hit them at every level of society. Wow. Just wow. The only hope I hold out is that this post dates from 2013 and maybe mercifully you’ve departed Georgia for some ivy covered campus whence you came from. Whatever happened to the West that it can no longer produce reasoned liberal intellectuals like John Kenneth Galbraith?

    • Be honest: did you actually read this article? Or did you just see the word “race” and launch into a generic “PC” rant? I’ll give a free piece of advice: your intellectual life will be much more fulfilling if you try to stay calm while reading something you disagree with. Trust me, I know how tempting rage-reading can be, but it really isn’t productive.

      I don’t want to dismiss you, because I think there’s a kernel of a worthwhile perspective in your angry comment. So let’s try this exercise: calmly and slowly read the entire post from beginning to end, then quote specific passages you disagree with. How does that sound?

      • Honestly , I have been curious for a while now regarding this issue but there are actually many angles of perception to this topic. The ignorant , the full time racist , the wanna be ( show off i.e love hip hop music , dreadlocks or braids and etc ) and the ones that are just having fun with their slurs .
        In my last 2 years of living in Tbilisi I came to conclusion that 70 % of Georgians are hypocrites and ignorant to some extent due to lack of exposure to what is going on outside Georgia which I think it has to do with being too culture inclined , it’s definitely not wrong to love your culture and heritage but it’s just appalling when you don’t practice what you preach ! Georgians portray theirselves to be loving people with a good hospitality to some extent it’s true if your “white skin” , for a black skin person it’s quite hard to admit to that , sometimes you might be lucky to taste the good part of the hospitality depending on The circle of educated and exposed Georgians you are around who admire you for who you are and don’t even pay attention to your skin Color.
        I will try to make this short , having lived in several countries prior to my last 2 years in Tbilisi I had opportunity to visit batumi for the first time , I had high expectations for this tourist area which I intended to stay for a week and explore but I had to cut it short and check out early due to level of racism out there which I find outrageous, my experience about Zangi as a word for black man is quite flexible due to my level of understanding of the word, sometimes you have to pay attention how the word is being used towards you , sometimes it’s a clear situation where by the user don’t have no intention of hate or any negative thoughts which I totally understand and they sincerely apologize and I smile back at them because I understand . While in batumi I was in a restaurant waiting for my meal for 45mins with a friend of mine who understood Georgian language and he was black skin too in a big restaurant on the beach , this restaurant was full crowded with no space for incoming customers , while waiting a group of 4 Georgian guys and a female came in looking for a space and to my surprise they came right in front of us having no idea my friend understood the language 100% , this Set of people kept telling the waiters aggressively why would this zangis be seating down while they are standing looking for a space pointing at us , they all kept laughing and looking at us , I was quite pissed when my friend translated what they said to me but he told me ” kill them with a smile and a wink ” which we did but deep inside of us it was just unpleasant just had to deal with it ! In a quick conclusion not all Georgians ! Most admire secrectly but can’t openly show it due to their cultured inclined mentality! I still love my vino and Georgian wine but definitely not the cha cha 😂😂

  15. I just found this series of posts when I googled “racism in Georgia” and really appreciate the insights. I am an Australian woman of Indian origin, travelling here with my young adult daughter on a 10 day holiday. I have travelled extensively over many years – last count 47 countries, and lived as an expat for the past 2.5 years in Qatar. Last night we walked out of a restaurant in Tbilisi in disgust at the service – it was full of locals being served promptly yet the service to us was very very slow ( by now we are used to that in Georgia) , unfriendly and when after 35 min our order was still not taken we left. Not even a smile – and overall we have seen not much smiling with service. I am not sure where the apparent Georgian hospitality is supposed to be – maybe reserved for white locals. This was not the first time we witnessed discrepancy in service to us so I started wondering why – is it disdain, dislike for dark skinned people or for tourists in general? From the above posts it is clear there is a strong element of racism and my experience here confirms it is very real.Living in the Middle East has sensitised me to racism in a way growing up Australia never did. It is surprising given that historically Tbilisi was on the Silk Road and exposed to so many cultures, as reflected in the food. Maybe the nationalism they developed to fight the Russian invasion has led to such insularity. Anyway I am going to try the top rated restaurants from Tripadvisor, or stick to takeaways, to see if that is any better !!! And maybe someone can explain why people don’t smile much here ….

    • Sorry that you had that experience. There is some racial tension in Georgia against Indian people in particular right now–there was a right-wing rally against foreigners after two Indian men were accused of luring children into their apartment so they could take nude pictures of them, or something like that; I’m not completely sure of the details, or whether the accusations were justified. Many Indian students come to Tbilisi to study medicine, and the nativists/bigots in the population view this as a foreign incursion. Some probably also lump Indians in with Turks, Arabs, and Middle Easterners, who have a reputation for sex tourism and owning brothels.

      I suspect that may have something to do with why you were served so slowly, but the lack of smiles is pretty universal and doesn’t seem race-based. Having enough command of Georgian to banter or chat with workers may help, but in my experience shopkeepers, restaurant workers and low-wage employees do not care about service with a smile; it’s not part of the business culture here except for those who are consciously trying to Westernize. This is probably a holdover from Soviet times where the shopkeeper or service provider held the power and it was up to the customer to make them happy. The state-run store had the goods (which would be provided regardless) and all the power to distribute them, as opposed to today when the customer has the money which the shopowners need to avoid going out of business. But in general Georgians are not very smiley people, especially toward strangers. Some people have told me it feels fake, and distrust toward strangers probably also has some Soviet influence.

      Figuring out where hospitality fits into all of this is a little complicated too. After living in Georgia for a year and a half, my wife and I concluded that Georgians (especially rural dwellers) can be very hospitable and generous, but this isn’t the same thing as warm or friendly. My wife is Chinese and she had a different experience of the country than I did (I’m a white Canadian man with intermediate Georgian language ability). When she was introduced to people through a personal connection, the response was often very warm, but when meeting strangers in isolation some people were less welcoming, though I don’t think she had more than one or two interactions that could be considered truly hostile. I think Tbilisi, Batumi, Svaneti, Kakheti, and other major stopping points are quite used to foreign tourists by now and it’s much less likely that a random person will just stop you on the street and invite you over for a meal, as seems to have happened frequently to every travel writer who visited Georgia in the early 1990s. Though that’s still possible.

      • Thankyou so much fro your detailed reply – understanding people’s history and cultural norms is a good way to appreciate differences in the way we treat each other and not become angry or disillusioned. The influence of the Soviet era is huge isn’t it.

  16. I spent three months in Asia before arriving to Tbilisi, Georgia. Asian (Thailand, Vietnam and Japan) culture was a bit xenophobic, but I was never treated rudely. Of all the countries I have traveled to (as an educated black American female), I have by far had the most unsettling racists experiences in Georgia. I was planning to stay in the country for a few months and now I have booked a flight to leave after only a few weeks, due to the outrageous amount of racism. Everyday that I leave my apartment, I experience blatant racism. Keep in mind, that I grew up in the most segregated and racist southernmost state in America (Louisiana). The amount of violence and hatred that I have experienced in Georgia exceeds anything that I have ever experienced in my own country or any other country.

    Just today, I watched a Georgian lady scream (what I assume to be obscenities) and PHYSICALLY assault the guy and girl who were weighing and labeling my bags of produce because she felt that they should stop serving me and serve her (even though I was there first). She actually HIT THEM WITH HER HANDS.

    I’ve loaded my groceries on the belt in the supermarket to have the lady at the register tinker with objects at her register as if she was trying to figure out a way to not ring up my groceries. I enter stores to shop and the retail assistant will walk one foot behind me the entire time I am in the store. If they had any sense, they would know that the smartphone in my hand was worth more than their entire month’s salary.

    I have been fetishized, mocked and stared at in my global travels, but I have never experienced the level of ignorance and racism that I have encountered in less than two weeks in Tbilisi. I would never advise that any person of color (specifically: black/African) come to Georgia. I did so much research on Georgia prior to my arrival and unfortunately there are not enough black people who have shared their experiences online. If I had known what I know now, I would have never come. The Georgian hospitality does not extend to darker shades of skin.

  17. I am so sorry to hear of your experience but can imagine it to be exactly as you say – there is underlying level of racism I too have not encountered any where else.

    • Thanks Ameeta! My friends encouraged me to handle the situation with grace, but I’ve mainly been in shock the entire time. Many black Americans complain of racism in America, but racism in America is far more subtle. I don’t think many of them have had the displeasure of experiencing unquestionably blatant racism which leaves one feeling more shocked than wounded. I leave for Serbia today (which was concluded to be the least racist country in all of Europe based on a twelve year research study by Harvard).

      • Dear AA , you are right about the blatant racism un Georgia. I have been living in the middle east for 3 years and people here are acutely aware of race as it seems to place you in a hierarchy. However mostly there is reasonable behaviour between people in social or public settings . I am interested in how you find Serrbia – best of luck.

  18. Hello. I can see where you’re coming coming from with your comments, but as a black person who lived on Georgia and speaks Georgian I can explain to you why nigger is the best translation for zangi in both English and Georgian.

    Strangers didn’t want to take pictures with me or touch my hair, instead they threw things at me, spit at me, followed me, accused me of stealing, denied me entry to pools, refused to serve me in restaurants, and chased me home.

    There’s too much to write, but your post is wrong and any Georgian who is not trying to save face will agree with me.

    Email me if you’d like to continue continue this conversation. I hope I can get you to update your post, because misinformation is worse than no information at all…

    FYI shav kaniani in Georgian means that a person has black skin (not tan), aprikeli means that a person is of African decent, other adjectives describe nationality-logic then leaves you with this question since zangi doesn’t refer to color or location, what is the intent/meaning of the word?

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