Cross Section of Addis & Georgia 52 Comments

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The smell of yerga chaffe fills my nose and I am taken by the rich seductiveness of its scent. It takes me to Lake Tana, to the buna farmers, and back again to where I am now. Where am I? I am sitting in my boyfriend’s family’s house after dinner and witnessing the famous coffee ceremony. I am amazed as the incense swirls into the air, as the roasted coffee smell wafts into the apartment’s atmosphere, and the beauty of it all.

If only life was as simple as sipping a small porcelain cup of coffee…

I am a woman. I am a feminist. I am an American and more specifically…Black American. My mother has Southern roots in South Carolina and Georgia and my father is a racial “mut” (as he likes to call himself). Being Black American and entering the habesha world has been interesting and sometimes frustrating.

Since a young girl, I was introduced to many of the different cultures within Ethiopia and Eritrea through my father who had a love affair with the continent of Africa before my conception. He, being a man of philosophy and theology, was interested in Ethiopia as one of the birthplaces of ancient Christianity. I learned about the different peoples of Africa and fell in love with a handful of countries. Ethiopia and Eritrea have always been in my top five. My father explained how the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea were compassionate and good people. And they are.

However, I was not prepared for the tightly knit nature of the habesha culture. When I met and fell in love with a habesha man, I was not ready for the frustration that would ensue. I was not ready for the remarks from habesha women that were along the lines “why did I take a good one?” because my boyfriend had a great paying job. I was not ready for the disgusted stares that would come from the habesha community as we walked down the U street corridor.

I would come home at night and ponder how some members of the habesha community could be so against one brown person loving another brown person. I wasn’t angry, but frustrated. I knew about the pride of the people. I knew they were never colonized and I knew they thought they were the most beautiful people in the world. I wasn’t against their views, matter of fact, I was attracted to my boyfriend because he was beautiful inside and out. The attitudes persisted…

However, the stares and the comments did not prepare me for what was brewing at home between us. Culture is our very own eyeglasses – our lens – that we don’t take off. We use them to see the world and it is always the right prescription because it is ours. It is what we know – it is our tape that replays every second in our lives. As me and my boyfriend looked at each other with our own lens, we discovered our own shortcomings and our cultural definitions which were hard to exchange or challenge.

I was a feminist and I had problems accepting the perceptions and roles of some women in Ethiopia and Eritrea. He had concerns with the American woman and the individualistic nature of most Americans. Although he didn’t believe the stereotypes of Black Americans, I am sure it was in his subconscious mind. I would call him African – he would say “I am habesha.”

I would tell him that those countries were in Africa and he would say “we were told that we were different, but I know that we are in Africa.” I told him that racism abounds although Obama was elected. He didn’t believe me. He thought that Washington DC was a mirror for the rest of this great land called the United States. These minor cultural misunderstandings would continue into our relationship and force us to go deeper and challenge us to think broader and in a more real sense. However, it came to a head one chilly day in 2009.

My boyfriend walked outside of a grocery store and it happened. What Black Americans know and never forget….that it lives…and it rears its head in the nastiest of ways sometimes. My habesha boyfriend walked out of the grocery store and mistakenly walked behind a car that was trying to pull out of a parking spot. The enraged driver said “Nigger!!!!” He came home and told me the story and said “but I wanted to tell her that I wasn’t a nigger, I’m habesha.” I shook my head and let it drop into my hands in pure frustration.

What he didn’t understand at the time was the complexity of color, class, and race. He didn’t understand that in the eyes of the “other,” he was now one of us. He had become Black American and he didn’t understand. He didn’t understand how he could be confused with Black American.

He didn’t understand that in America, it wasn’t if you were Amhara, Gurage, or Tigre – it was if you were black, white, brown, or yellow.  He couldn’t understand that in Washington DC where the habesha community was strong, people would know he was from Ethiopia or Eritrea, but the farther south he would go; the more he would morph into a Black person and what that would mean.

He no longer was habesha, he was a Black person that would be stared at in expensive restaurants, pondered over because of his expensive clothes, and would be discriminated against like us (Black Americans, that is). He had no idea that his skin color that could do so much good in his own country would challenge him in another.

Two years later, we are still pondering these same issues and thinking about marriage. We wonder what our children will face. What will the children of a black woman and a habesha man face? As they try to learn Amharic and English – hand dancing and Eskista, among it all – we hope they will realize that they are just people. We are all one in the same.

Elle B.

52 Responses to “Cross Section of Addis & Georgia”


  1. 1 Luli

    Elle,

    What an honest note! It’s sad that the habesha community still falls prey to the misconceptions you mentioned above, not excluding myself unfortunately.

  2. 2 Leo

    I’m not excusing the behvior but this happens in every comminity. Most AA women don’t like the AA men to date outside and they get nasty.
    Did he really say he want tell the lady he wasn’t a nigger but habesha? I mean how long is he been in this country? If he just got here i guess i understand. I just have never met any Habesha like that.

  3. 3 zefen

    The fact that we Ethiopians are exposed to cultures different from ours greatly shapes our otherwise simplistic take on the issue of race and identity. Lets not forget that we are all African and by extension African American as we are reaping the benefits of the scrifices paid by our negreo brethern that we narrowly try to overlook.

  4. 4 anonx

    Interestingly I read this after having seen Julian Bond Speak. He said:

    “ALL white people benefited from slavery and from the offer of white privilege; and ALL black people suffer from the disadvantages of slavery.”

  5. 5 Dinich

    I think the differences between a habesha and an AA are as vast as a habesha and a white man.

    Yes, we have that skin color in common, and yes, we might have some common battles we have to unite for, yes someone might call us both niggas….but the fact remains we have a vast cultural difference.

    The fact that the guy said that he is not a nigger is a difference in and of itself. That shows the guy is completely different from your average AA, who would never say that. I dont think he is trying to say we are better. He genuinely does not feel the belongingness.

    What am trying to say is that I really think a white American and a Black American have a lot more in common that an abesha and and a black American. Even though the skin color unifies us, there are a million other things that separate us.

    This is in no way to be interpreted as a hate for my nigga brothers. I am fully aware that we have some level of bonding that we share and should cherish.

  6. 6 anonx

    Dinich, although suprised to see this from you, I’ll put the blame on the US/Canadian cultural gap….

    “The fact that the guy said that he is not a nigger is a difference in and of itself. That shows the guy is completely different from your average AA, who would never say that. I dont think he is trying to say we are better. He genuinely does not feel the belongingness.”

    Do you know what you are saying Dinich? You are implying, oh no, you are stating that an African American….what?

    At the very least in situation like this, regardless what yu idenfity yourself as, when racial slurs come your way, you dont try to escape from it, if you do, YES YOU ARE SAYING I AM BETTER THAN THEM.

  7. 7 Dinich

    Annonx,

    lol @ the US/Canadian cultural gap….but it is perfectly possible.

    But, u r taking the discussion in a different direction.

    “I am not a nigger” is how the average abesha feels unless he has been in America or other western country for a while. And for the most part it is not born out of contempt for African Americans. And I think the author seems to understand that. Am talking about the average naive unsophisticated, uncivilized habesha who doesn’t give a damn about race relations, black history, segregation, emancipation and Luther’s speech of I have a dream.

  8. 8 leo

    100% with Dinich

  9. 9 nolawi

    what an interesting article… gin.. dude he may not be a nigg@r… there may be no such thing as a nigg@r

  10. 10 beshou

    wow. powerful story. thanks for sharing.

  11. 11 Q?

    well this going a lil far but before i say something, i want to get answer the difference between Negro and AA ?

  12. 12 Dinich

    Why do I think Nol wrote this article…:)

  13. 13 muchlove

    A very interesting article and thanks for sharing.

    Ditto to Zefen.

    Several points to make on this matter,
    1. Where do we get off separating ourselves from other Africans, last time I checked we are in the continent of Africa and if we try to bring the same bogus argument as the Arabs in N Africa, we’re doomed to failure.

    2. Why do we continue using this ill-faded word called ‘habesha/abesha/habesh’? Is that the standard set in describing Ethiopians/Eritreans?

    3. We continue to describe ourselves as ‘different’ from African Americans only when it suits us? Mind you, if the prespective comes on a negative verbose, we’re quick to disassociate ourselves.

    4. As masses, we’re just as black as the African American walking down the street; let’s not fool ourselves in trying to pick apart our strength rather build on it.

    5. I can list a million differences amongst Ethiopians/Eritreans (tribes/ethnicity, etc), but we hash it out easily?

    Our togetherness is the concrete strength which will help us find an even surface towards the struggle of equality with the caucasians.

  14. 14 biskut

    http://www.ethioplanet.com/medrek/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=62527&p=451162&hilit=poetry#p451162

    please read the poem “basha ashebr be america ” by the great ethiopian poet Mengistu lemma .It is a funny ,honest and excellent poem which gets to the heart of this issue .Most of us need to admit that we are “in the closet “racists .scroll down all the way to the end and read the poem .
    dinish
    I do believe nolawi wrote this :)

  15. 15 biskut

    http://www.ethioplanet.com/medrek/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=62527&p=451162&hilit=poetry#p451162

    if it is not a direct link please cut and paste it and READ THE POEM

  16. 16 Selam T

    Nice poem by Mengestu Lemma. Cute and funny at the same time it has a big message for all of us. He made a point that we are all the same; black, regardless of which ethnic group, what part of Africa we come from.
    Mangiest is one of my favorite poets.

    Thanks for sharing beskut

    Nice article. I don’t take Nolawi wrote it

    Q? Are you for real?

  17. 17 Nolawi

    excuse me… what did I write? are you talking about my commment or the article itself!

  18. 18 tsedey

    Great article and thanks for sharing. I can only imagine how frustrating it is to deal with our/habesha pple in regards to race issue.

    Yes, we habeshas are “in closet racists” as biskut put it. We have a very low understanding of race relations and black history. We are closed minded when it comes to learning, understanding and respecting other cultures, we have super-inflated pride about our history.

    Just to share with you my recent encounter over this issue: i was at a party where the majority were Africans and one of them(a Malawian) asked me where i’m from and i said where do you think i’m from and he said at first glance you look like Ethiopian/ Eritrean but when you talk to me/your attitude sounds otherwise. I said why? he said because most eth/eri women are standoffish and they don’t even talk to another African men…

    Another Ugandan at the same party told me how his brother married and Ethipian woman and her family was so upset that she married an African they didnt’ even show up to the wedding and how it affected him in thinking of dating or marrying an Ethiopian.

    Then another Kenyan made fun of me(jokingly) how we habeshas say we’re Eth/Eri not Africans and i said okay great, I’ll take the heat on behalf of my pple.

    so my point here is, we look down on our own African brothers and sisters and we’re so insensitive. Who are we, really?! it’s time to open our eyes and look around us.

    Oh shall we talk about how many of us check the box “other” when we fill out forms where there’s already a box that says black/African American. Hmmmmm

  19. 19 Dinich

    Just because I don’t want to marry from another race doesn’t mean I am racist.

    I am Eritrean. I wanted my wife to be Eritrean. Not only that, I wanted her to be an Eritrean who grew up in Ethiopia so that we have as much in common as possible. Am I a racist? I dont think so. And if I am, so be it. In marriage I am looking for personal satisfaction, not affirmative action. I am all for diversity but sorry not in my marriage. My marriage is not a government office.

    Very few habeshoch have the personal guts and the family support it takes to pull off an interracial marriage. Talk is cheap. When u live it, it just is not easy.

    Most of u guys are drenched in the American racial war. We dont have that where I came from, Addis Ababa.

    Cheers,

  20. 20 Nolawi

    Wow Dinich.. I love what you said.. I assume no one will understand… though they are too drenched in idealism Ideology!

  21. 21 gola

    I don’t know any abesha that has lived with other African-Americans and is as ignorant as your boyfriend. Please, get some counclling he does not sound like the kind of person one should consider as a potetial father. The fact that he said “I am not a nigg@r. I am an abesha.” says to me someone is a nigg@r which is a terrible thing teach to children.
    Unless all this is an attempt to teach a lesson to us.

  22. 22 anonx

    Now this is getting out of hand–for one I have never read Dinich this livid although Nolaw’s accusation has become too common. Its fine to want to get married within your tribe when the cultural distinctions are clearly drawn. You live here, we live there; this is our practice and that’s your practice. What reasons are there for someone to say I will only marry an X when you live in the same culture and socialize in the same social group…other than persuit of tribal purity that’s damned in the face of globalization, the kind that brings people of all background together.Narrowly defined tribalism is dead or almost there specially in America. If ethnicity matters now, my guess is that it won’t to the generation born and raised in the states. Atleast that is the case for European immigrants.

  23. 23 tsedey

    anonx, very good point. tribalism is too narrow, especially at this age. I think marriage should be between two people who love, understand and willing to support eachother, who are compliments to eachother as core values, culture is one component. i don’t deny culture and religion complicate things,but if those two pple are willing to face the challenge, nothing should stop them. Being married to a person of the same culture and ethnic bacground doesn’t guarantee a sucessful and happy marriage. and am not talking empty ideology, it’s from experience. Thank you!!

  24. 24 ALEM

    I work at a maternity clinic in Southern Cali, and every month I come across an abesha girl or two under the age of 22 who happens to be pregnant. More often than not, these girls’ partners happen to be AA men and occasionaly african/caribean. They are usually socially isolated from the abesha community and torn up inside about the pregnancy. They ask me for advice-whether to keep the baby or not.

    I tell them I am all for color-blind love. I also tell them that it takes a village to raise a child and ask’em how they feel about marrying the father. With a few notable exceptions, these girls tell me most of the soon-to-be dads are wannabe hustlers, dope dealers, thugs or plain deabeats with no marketable skills in mainstream America. It is really sad seeing this many beautiful abesha girls taking down the road to nowhere. It is really sad.

    That is not to say I have not met a happy and successful Ethiopian/AA or Ethiopia/African couples, because I have.
    Matter of fact, my home girl I grew up with ever since we were young kids in addis just had a baby by a nigerian man. even though her family is bummed out and really depressed about this, i am happy for them. because he is good successful brother who takes care of business. She is lucky unlike many of these other girls I see at the clinic.

  25. 25 Tigrayo

    I don’t kno how long your habesha boyfriend has lived in America but neither me nor any of my friends think we are different or better than other Africans. I know i am black and i know is does not make a difference in the eyes of white people if you are Cuban,saudi or Ethiopian,you black you black.
    Interestingly since i moved here to the east coast from L.A. I have come across a few African Americans who assume i am Hispanic or Arab but in L.A. we are known . They call us “Yo ETeeeeeeeeeeee”.
    Peace and i am outie 5000.

  26. 26 Entina

    Interesting read, enjoyed it!!

    I married a “non abesha” and my parents were not happy with me to say the least. They wanted me to mary Et man but that was not in the books for me. Regardless how they felt I knew this is my life and I needed to do what is best for me and works for me. almost 14yrs and 2 kids later they don’t want it any other way.

    My husband works around a lot of Abeshoch and when he tells them he is married to an Et no one believes him they always ask my name to see if I have Abesha name and once they realize he is right then they act surprised and tell him I can’t believe she married outside minamin. This article hits home.

    Dinich, I like your out look on this I don’t think you are coming from a racist place at all.

  27. 27 biskut

    dinich
    i totally understand what you are talking about .

    tsedey
    wanting to marry from one’s tribe ,ethnic group or one’s own race does not by default make you a racist or tribalist.it might have a lot to do with having a lot in common ranging from background,upbringing,language minamin….

  28. 28 CovertEri

    Dude check out the link below. It’s off the topic, but my dude is mixing vintage Ethiopian jazz in a fresh way.

    Check it out!

    http://www.stonesthrow.com/news/2009/09/ohno-ethiopium

  29. 29 Tsedey

    pple, please read carefully. I did not label anyone a racist just because they want to marry their own.

    kindly,
    tsedey

  30. 30 anonx

    biskut,
    :) you know you can disagree with me, I dont bite.

    It’s not the ‘wants’ list, but the ‘don’t want’ list that can potentially make one tribalist, or racist. And I should add, I think I can be tribalist or racist, its hard not to be given where we come from and what we have been taught. But in places where we come together and share so much in common, there is less need for tribal thoughts.

  31. 31 ep

    Nice article!

    When it comes to this African American and nigga lable, Hebeshas usually are bigheaded. For that matter, most habeshas believe that West Africans (or other black Africans) belong to the nigger group. I don’t think that most West Africans and Black Americans have a lot in common compared to White and Black Americans that used to live together in this land.

    Also, most habesha don’t want their kids to be called African American even though they are born in America however we call Obama African America whose father is pure Kenyan.

    I can’t defend in anyway for the acts of egotistical Habeshas.

  32. 32 Dinich

    Yo…ata hasas,

    I only gave u the “want” list, Plan A. I didn’t say anything about the “don’t want” list.

    I sure had plan B, C, D up to Z.

    Plan Z includes gorrila.

  33. 33 biskut

    annox
    pheeeeew what a relief to know….:) I don’t want to beat this topic to death …but what exactly is tribal thought???

  34. 34 Mamitu

    Dinich, I hear you. Marriage takes a lot of hard work as it is without bringing cultural differences to it. It takes a special kind of person and a lot of perseverance and understanding on both sides when two people from different backgrounds come together to form a family.

  35. 35 Telisi

    Sure using a darogatory word like the “N” word is bad but what i do not understand is that when African American men(may be not all) do not want to refer to another African American person as the “black guy”. What’s harmful about using the reference the “black guy” as oppossed to a “brotha” especially when the person being referred is a distance acquaintance?

  36. 36 D

    Bernos always has the interesting dialogue going on!

    I take it that most people here are not married… As many of you think about marriage and potential partners, it’s fine to have your preferences. But remember that marriage is a sacred covenant with God. And God is no respecter of culture.

    “Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him.” (Acts 10:34)

    While it should not matter, I am African American.

    While it should not matter, my wife is Ethiopian.

    While it was certainly not my intention to develop a long-distance relationship with someone in Addis Ababa, the good Lord had something else in mind. Fortunately, She knows what’s better for me than I do.

    My wife is the most amazing person on this Earth – not because she is Ethiopian, but because she is who she is. She and her family are great, and I’m thankful for the whirlwind tour that brought us together.

    For those who feel a need to hold onto pride, that’s great. I would encourage each of you to think about what having pride in yourself really means. Does it mean “loving” yourself so much that you have no room for love, respect, and empathy for others? If so, I regret to inform you that is not pride. It may be insecurity masked as pride.

    As an African American, I have found myself saddened when brothers and sisters come to the U.S. from elsewhere and import the same toxic attitudes that have poisoned the lives of our brothers and sisters all over the world. Let’s be honest, hatred and narrow mindedness has even turned Ethiopian against Ethiopian: Tigray vs Amhara; Christian vs Jew; Protestant vs Orthodox; everyone vs Oromo; Habesha vs Somali; Government-sponsored genocide against the Anuak; and the list goes on… In fact, I found myself amazed by the amount of things people in Addis had time to hate (perhaps the result of a little too much free time). But once we invite hatred (even if we want to mask it as pride) into our hearts, it’s not a gracious guest.

    @Elle B, great post! As your consider marriage, I can tell you…dating should be the easy / fun part. Marriage is even better!

  37. 37 Nolawi

    ah ah aha ha … I’m laughing at the last comment. Its ok to have preferences.

  38. 38 Dinich

    D.

    I know it is hard to love an Ethiopian and not be accepted by her people.

    All the best with your Ethiopian girl.

    Next time don’t cover up your frustration in bible verses and pretentious words.

  39. 39 fitfit

    I came to the USA many years ago as a 20yr old Ethiopian immigrant. It took me a very long time (decades) to understand and start to identify with African Americans.
    I used to wonder why they were the way they were and only after going through their experience as a black person in the United States did I finally “get it”. I now hold African Americans in the highest regard. I see them as a strong resilient people, who endured the most
    atrocious abuse inflicted on them based solely on their race. Yet emerged from it even stronger. I see in my African American brothers and sisters a fierce determination to maintain their dignity in the face of living amongst a majority that is hostile towards them for no apparent reason other than hate and/or fear towards someone of another race. What I admire most about African Americans is how they hold their head up and deal with racism with humor and patience as one does with a 3 yr old brat. They have emerged from the American experience as a superior race with a heightened awareness and a beauty as that of gold that has been refined in the furnace.

    As for Mr “I am habesha not nigger” I would suggest to search google images for “lynching” look closely at the pictures of those people hanging from the trees and ask
    yourself if you had been there in those times and looked at a white woman in the wrong way or showed some trivial disrespect to a white person. As the mob was putting the rope around your little habesha neck, do you think “but I am habesha” would have saved your ass? hahaha not likely brother. In America, you are “nigger” to some and “my nigga” to others. Embrace the word and rise above it as our African American brothers and sisters have done!

  40. 40 Entina

    Fitit,
    very well said

  41. 41 gorebet

    I have been living in U.S ( DC area) for 10+ years and still trying figuring out the race relationship in the country. I mean..coming from Ethiopia with 99.9% blacks and immediately switching your perception according to color relationship in the country is very difficult.The cultural difference is big among African( Abesha) vs. AA.For my part the women whom i was much interested and contemplated of marrying were non-abeshas. But i am so scared of the cultural difference, some uncomfortable situation my wife-to-be face and the hustle of all things, made me change my mind and stick to marring abesha woman.So i think all settled down to how far you compromise and deal with the situation.

  42. 42 anonx

    I guess even a globalized habesha can be bigot. Its a revelation!

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