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Upon the Reception of Race in Romania: Pre-, Communist, and Post Communist Reactions

Emil Sirbulescu

19th century In 1853, only one year after its publication in the United States, and six years before the union of the Romanian principalities, two different translations of Uncle Tom’s Cabin were published in Iaşi, the capital of Moldavia, by two different publishers. The translators had used French versions of the text.

20th century One of the first books I read as a child was, of course, Uncle Tom’ Cabin; I was deeply impressed by the suffering of the African slaves in an America that, according to the official ideology, was the bastion of capitalism and exploitation of the poor. When television was still a new thing, a Russian film showed a black child being passed around in the audience of a circus in order to prevent his being captured by the bad guys. The message was an overt manifest against racism and racial discrimination, with a great impact on the Romanian audience, already familiar with Paul Robeson and his successful performances in the Communist world.

I was a teen-ager when, one evening, walking up and down the main street of the city, I had my first glimpse of a black person. He was the sensation of the evening, and the passers-by were just curious but also sympathetic to the presence of the young African student. In 1972, after my graduation, I tried to publish the translation of the Prologue to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man in a literary periodical; the translation was denied publication due to what the editor described as the ‘ambiguity’ of the concept of invisibility so overtly stated by the author…

Decades later, a Nigerian student of Medicine decided to marry a Romanian woman, and devote his energies to this country and his patients. He did try to return to his homeland but, due to the political situation, he was denied access. He returned to Romania with his wife and two daughters, and as a pediatrician (and a Baptist preacher as well), he attracted a large number of patients who just loved the patience and loving care of the African doc. He was my son’s personal doctor, and, when he passed away, he was followed to his final resting place by a lot of former patients, disregarding his religious orientation.

21st century The football team in my city (UNIVERSITATEA CRAIOVA) used to be one of the best in the country. For some time it has followed a falling course, and will now fall down into the second league. Two African players were very active members of the team. One of them is still there. Mad at the bad results of his favorite team, the Mayor of Craiova publicly mentioned that such people (the African players) should go to the Zoo where they belong. Later on he offered his excuses to the African player, plus a bonus of 1000.00 Euro to the African player, who accepted his apologies, mentioning that it was not for the money…

My paper will deal with such aspects regarding the reception of the Other in Romania, a country so frequently blamed for the racial behavior of its citizens.

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