Type in ‘Ethiopia’ and ‘racism’ in your favourite search engine and the results will show Ethiopians as perpetrators rather than victims of the crime. This accusation is very popular around the world and especially amongst our fellow Africans.
The remark most often heard is that we deny we are ‘blacks’ or hate being called ‘Africans’. Then there is the one that goes about how we ‘look down’ at other Africans and African-Americans. Also some mention how Ethiopian girls or women refuse to date non-Ethiopian men.
Now, if one were to put these accusations to any Ethiopian, the answer would be a big denial or that they didn’t know what one was talking about. Because that’s just it, it’s not true. Let’s see why
It all starts at home, from birth. Ethiopians are a very traditional people. Children are still smacked if they make mistakes, parents are respected; and in some parts they are worshipped. It is unthinkable to go against the wish of a parent, especially the father. This tight family structure shapes individuals who draw a line between family and the rest of society. It holds us back at times because we grow up with the thought that our wants or needs come secondary to those of our parents. When this life structure is taken out of the home, the parents are replaced by other parents or the elders of the society around or far from us. It is called ‘yilugnta,’ Amharic for self-consciousness. It can be said that an Ethiopian would rather die than be caught doing something that the society frowns on. This creates an introvert and when the time comes to fly the nest that person has a rather cool, reserved, sometimes shy outlook towards other people and life in general.
This makes Ethiopians are a very gentle, reserved and polite people. Most of the things that appear to be normal in other cultures are ‘n’ewr’ or shameful to us. Talking loudly, starting conversations with strangers (unless it’s the opposite sex which of course is a totally different matter – [and even then a woman would never take the first step]); simple things like eating or spitting in public are considered vulgar and rude.
Anyone can imagine the culture shock an Ethiopian must face when thrown right in the middle of one of these cultures. This shock in turn makes an Ethiopian want to seek and find the norms he or she was used to. That is why many major cities, especially in the United States, have large communities of Ethiopians. They are mostly for support and the members of the communities draw strength, courage and to some extent find an anchor where they feel like home. This image, just the thought of it, could make an outsider think that it’s an exclusive, or in other words “racist”, when the outsiders feel the invisible yet impassable barrier.
The images of African Americans that most Ethiopians have are those of gangstas and/or rappers from video clips and movies. While the youth here copy the low-slung jeans, straight brimmed caps and cool dance steps in the clubs around Addis, they feel uncomfortable with actually being in a gang and identifying with African Americans and their ideologies of sex and violence when they actually come to America. This is the opposite of what was mentioned above. An Ethiopian would feel ill at ease in the African American community because of the images he or she has of them as gangstas.
Finally, African Americans, for the most part, do not know which part of Africa, let alone the exact country they came from. While it can be safely assumed that their ancestors came from the West, Central and South Western parts of Africa, no exact country can be named or known. When asked their roots their answer would be that they are “African”. But any recent migrant from Africa would say he is from Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa or Morocco first and then if needed add that he was from Africa second. But since Ethiopians have this intense passionate love for our country, 100% of the time they will say they are from “Ethiopia.” Only an Ethiopian knows the love he or she has for Ethiopia. Our not saying “Africa” unless asked where Ethiopia is, since we assume that everyone knows Ethiopia is in Africa, can sometimes be taken as denial by omission. This is compounds the problem, but if any Ethiopian is asked he or she could not deny the fact that we are Africans. After all, Pan-Africanism came to life in Ethiopia.
One point that can be added is the ‘reverse-racism’ that whites experience when they come to Ethiopia. Ethiopia has the proud history of not being colonized. Before that Ethiopia existed for thousands of years with barely any contact with the outside world. These two, among many other reasons, added together have made Ethiopians indifferent to foreigners of any colour. There is no white-reverence in Ethiopia, and when foreigners especially whites come here, it shocks them that they are treated almost like any other Ethiopian. The shock is double if they have been to other African countries.
So, are Ethiopians really racist? … No! We are just a misunderstood, cultural and traditional people.