Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Voice of Young Ethiopian Americans

A site that I enjoy reading is It is a blog that presents young Ethiopians living in America and abroad in their own voices. There are good articles and I particularly like the personal profiles of individual young men and women. It really shows how they see themselves as Ethiopians living abroad and how their upbring has been influenced by the traditions of Ethiopia and the pull of their new homes. As our children will grow into teens and young adults, I've found this site gives me great insight. Check the archives.

Here is an article that I think deserves a look: The Politics of Identity. Below is an excerpt.

The Politics of Identity

My prayers consisted of a vision of a utopian society, whereby people would hold hands and lift them in an upwards direction towards the sky and stand in a line. Okay not exactly, but they would have the option to play under the sun, frolic in the rain, sing songs, and trade colouring books. In short, I was asking for a crayola paradise. This desire for a world that doesn’t take into account which part you come from echoes the dreams of many, but reflects the reality of few. For example, racism abounds in many industrialized countries, discriminating which jobs are available for which sectors of the population. Likewise in many underdeveloped nations, the struggle for access to scarce resources is often drawn along ethnic lines.

Growing up, I don’t remember being told once exactly what my specific ethnic group was. ...we stayed in Addis and spoke Amharic, and my mom had grown up in Jimma and understood Oromiffa.

It is perhaps lucky that I came to ask this question at a time when I was dealing with identity politics on a very personal, day to day level in the small, southern Virginia town where I resided. Having moved there at the age of 13, my identity inevitably changed from that of an individual coming from a relatively economically privileged background in Ethiopia to being a black, hence, African American student in a majority white high school institution. And, as any one who’s experienced it may tell you, living in a practically all white Southern town doesn’t usually turn out to be the most pleasant experience for any up and coming black individual, unbeknownst to their white counterparts.

W.E.B. Dubois conceivably put it best in his book The Souls of Black Folk where he posited that the average African American cannot have the same things to say about living in the United States as a white person, as a result of his or her ‘double consciousness’. By this, Dubois meant that black people, by virtue of their skin color, are forced to carry a double identity in the United States: that of an American, and that of an American with dark skin. These two experiences are not interchangeable. For example, what experiences black skin affords one in the United States are such things as being pulled over for the most common felony among African American circles—driving—and, turning a simple trip to the mall turn into a peek a boo game played with overly suspicious salespeople. This is a privilege that most White Americans take for granted—that they never usually have to think twice about their cultural identity in relation to their economic well-being.

Likewise for those of us who may find ourselves perplexed at the various manifestations of different ethnic groups freely expressing themselves and their culture in ways that may not seem inclusive towards the average, Amharic speaking, Addis residing Ethiopian, perhaps the aforementioned paradigm might be helpful. Although one always hears of Ethiopia being a diverse place (over 80 some languages spoken), I find that most people never actually sit down to fathom what all that means. Neither did I actually. I approached it more like a figure to brag about to foreigners when asked. But never did I actually sit to think there are potentially 79 other groups of Ethiopians I had little means of communicating with—or perhaps even shared a dissimilar view as to where we fit in the country/history of Ethiopia.

We must understand that any group crying out against humanitarian injustices dealt to them does not deserve our mockery because of it’s particularity, but rather, our active support that these injustices, regardless of who it’s affecting, must be stopped, period.

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Original Court Date: April 18, 2009
Final Court Date: May 18, 2009
[607 total days & 165 days w/IAN]