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Blackness in Ethiopia vs the West

Updated: Apr 23

Rose Kassa, Hawassa University

I asked a variety of individuals around campus to share their perspectives on what blackness means to them. Some mentioned hip-hop; others highlighted the beauty of dark-skinned women, while some discussed the challenges faced by black people in the West. These diverse viewpoints collectively underscore the multifaceted nature of what blackness means to different people. However, a common thread among these responses was the absence of a realization that blackness is an inherent part of their identity and is woven into their daily interactions, both formal and informal. Many seemed to view blackness solely through the lens of a social movement in the Western context.

In the Western context, celebrating blackness signifies liberation, unity, and the recognition of the immense potential within the black community. Being black in the west is about being culturally rich. It includes the nod you give when you see a brother or the ‘dap’ you give your ‘homie’ when you see him in the streets. It is also the braids you get with your girl or the empowerment you feel when you see a sister in power. Embracing blackness entails honoring the artistry, creativity, intellect, and resilience of black individuals. It serves as a unifying force within a community that has historically faced segregation based on skin color and offering support in the face of verbal and violent racial discrimination or bigotry. Blackness is also manifested in cultural traditions like Thanksgiving with chicken along with collard greens, yams, cornbread and a sweet potato pie. In the west, blackness is the community among a country where other races exist and dominate so, whether black people are different from one another or not, their blackness has the power to create inclusive space and a feeling of belonging.

Conversely, in Ethiopia, there exists an awareness of blackness, but it is not necessarily a focal point of celebration. With a history free from white supremacy, blackness is simply a lived experience rather than a cause for celebration. In Ethiopian society, blackness is often tied to ethnicity meaning the diversity of the 80 nations and nationalities. Ethiopians don’t label blackness but it is what is observed in our daily lives. The staple food ‘injera with wot’ and the ‘gurshas’ we give to the people we eat with and also the ‘nors’ and the ‘eneblas’ we say to invite people to join us showcases it for us. Blackness is the patriotic feeling we feel whenever we celebrate the victory of Adwa on March 1rst. Blackness is the fact that everyone gets excited for Ramadan and Eid to be able to eat delicious cuisines with our Muslim brothers and sisters and the times when everyone turns vegan at every meal they share with their orthodox brothers and sisters as they fast for the great lent or any of the other fasts. Blackness is when we gather with our neighbors to drink our delicious coffee and chat about the latest ‘who did whats’.

Blackness is lived when people come together for events like weddings, baptisms and holidays. It is lived when a person dies and the neighbors go over to cheer the family up and prepare the ‘misir’ and ‘nifro’ for the guests. Blackness is felt when an auntie we have never seen stops us to ask us how we have been. Blackness is lived when a relative stands in front of us waiting for us to remember them from when you were 10 months old. But for me, blackness is most felt on December 8th, when we celebrate our Nations and Nationalities. It’s the day we showcase the clothing style, the foods, the languages and the traditional dances of the ethnicities we represent. It’s best to say that, blackness is in our everyday life and the harmony between different ethnicities, religions and nationalities in our country best explains it.

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