Ethiopia: Why Habeshas Must Stop Racism

Published on 19th February 2019

One Saturday morning, I was having a cup of coffee with a friend in one of the stores of Starbucks. As usual, I was having my black coffee Grande, which is the medium size by Starbucks standards, with a little of sugar. As much as I love the sip of a cup of coffee, I still can’t stand coffee without sugar. My friend was having the same but the smaller size. We were not talking anything in particular. He was just telling me about the new job that he got. But, suddenly, our conversation turned into something serious.

It started when my friend noticed that a couple of customers changed a table after another one sat right close to where these customers were sitting. My friend apparently was curiously and attentively paying attention to what was going on few feet away from us, while talking to me. Multitasking maybe?

He suddenly said “These white people are so racist!” Did you see what they did when that black man sat near them?¨ It was a rhetorical question, of course. I asked him what had happened, and he said “As soon as the black man sat near the table where the white couple was sitting, the white couple got up and changed their sit to just get far away from the new comer. “He ended by saying, “this is ridiculous!”

I was mesmerized by the intensity of his anger and disbelief. I asked him how he could be sure that the reason for the couple to move away was based on racism. He said simply because he could see and tell. I, of course, did not share his views. I simply thought his conclusion was based on a preconceived notion that most white people tend to be racist. I did not say much about the whole thing and tried to switch the conversation to some trivial stuff.

However, few minutes later, I saw another couple, both guys, walking towards the same table the previous couple had occupied. I wanted to see what was going to happen. The couple exchanged the usual pleasantries and joined “the racist couple.” Again, it was then that I understood the reason why the previous couple (a young girl and a boy, both in their mid-twenties) had to switch a table. I could not help it but laugh aloud and ask my friend if he still believed that the reason why the first couple moved to another table was because of racism. Then I said “you see, we tend to jump to conclusions and make a mistake. You thought this lovely couple had a sinister motive behind their changing their table but probably they just had a call and realized that their friends were coming to join them. It so happens that the timing of their table change happened right after the lonely black guy arrived and sat beside them. You, however, being a typical Habesha, opted to just think the worst. You did not even want to give them the benefit of the doubt.”

I finished my sort of lecture by saying to my friend “this is one of ‘us the Habeshas’ problems. We think of ourselves as righteous and always correct, when, to the contrary, though, we most of the time find ourselves on the wrong side.” I kept going “let me tell you one thing that has been bothering me for a long time, and I have been struggling with for quite some time now. When it comes to racism, I believe Habeshas are actually the most vicious and culpable in the whole world.”

He was obviously not pleased with what I said because it contradicted the belief he held for so long on the purity and awesomeness of being an Habesha. He was offended when I said that we were the most racist people on earth. He countered by saying: “How dare you say that? Are we not the most welcoming and peaceful people in the world? Have you even considered the fact that any person can live in Ethiopia or Eritrea, for that matter, without being singled out? Did you forget that many people love the fact that we are always smiling? And, guess what, our smile is the most genuine of all smiles.”

I acknowledged some of the points that he brought. I did accept that our smile is truly genuine. When an Habesha smiles, it is always for real. We do not know a fake smile.“I give you that!”I said. But I was in no mood to argue with my friend on this. However, there has been always something that I wanted to really get out of my chest and I started saying “but...”, he did not let me finish what I was about to say. He interrupted me (typical of Habeshas also) and said “Oh no, there is no ‘but’, everything I said is true.” Of course, we Habeshas hate to be proven wrong.

After some consideration, I wanted to let go and just enjoy my coffee. But, my friend would not let it go. He kept arguing about everything from how America is considered the most racist nation after Germany. I was bewildered how he brought up Germany into this conversation. I asked him if he ever had been to Germany (because I had).  He countered by saying that that was not the point. Again, typical Habesha- not sticking to the point! He argued about the genocide during WWII. I tried to explain to him that the current German generation is quite different and very welcoming, again, because I lived there and I know them. No, this did not matter to my friend.  It is a difficult endeavor making some substantive argument and discussions with Habeshas. We the Habeshas are not blameless when it comes to racism. Maybe we are the worst.

According to Cambridge Dictionary, racism is “the belief that some races are better than others, or the unfairtreatment of someone because of his or her race.”he American Heritage College Dictionary defines  racism as, “The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others” and secondly as, “Discrimination or prejudice based on race.”  According to Wikipedia, racism is the belief in the superiority of one race over another, which often results in discrimination and prejudice towards people based on their race or ethnicity. The use of the term "racism" does not easily fall under a single definition.[1]

As human beings, besides the fact that we consider  one race has better ability than the other, we also keep the belief that one race is better looking than the other, or has better hair than the other etc. Is this not the case in Ethiopia/Eritrea? How many times have each of us uttered phrases like“ Inezihtiqurocheko”, in a derogatory way,  to refer to any black person? How many of us have referred to people mostly from the southern part of our country and to African-American or to Black Africa “YiheBariya” (literally meaning-this slave!), or “Yihekinkiras”? 

Let’s be honest! Have we not uttered these and more sinister words towards our own African brothers simply because they look slightly different than us at least once in our lives? Even worse, we make fun of them simply because their noses are not as straight as ours? 

Are we not hostile to each other simply because we are of different ethnic groups? Is it not true that Eritreans call Amaras “Adgi” and the Tigreans“Agame?” The Amaras call the Tigres“ Anbetabelita, Chigaram etc..” The Tigres call the Amaras “neftegna, lazy etc..” The Amaras call the Oromos“ Gala, dulateshekami, bale botichama, Gimatam etc..” Or, the Amaras calling Eritreans “ YeTalianashker.” Even worse yet, we call our African brothers  Enezihbariyawochsigemueko!”And so on and on! That is a definition of racism, admit it!!

I remember how one of our family friends reacted when her daughter brought her boyfriend to introduce her parents. She literally fainted. I kid you not. That was because the boyfriend happened to be an African-American. This kind of sentiment is abundant among us, the Habeshas - Ethiopians and Eritreans as well.  

I have been guilty of the above as well on occasions. I have said these offensive words before I realized how ugly and racist they could be. I only hope that I am not saying these awful things anymore!

Therefore, my Habesha brothers and sisters, stop being hypocrites and stop complaining about racism here in the USA, which, according to my understanding, is a lot better than what we see in our own countries.

Those at the top of society fan ideas of nationalism, racism that divide people. Sometimes, those who hold this kind of trait do not even have to be at the top, they actually are in the middle and hunger for some kind of power through creating animosity and discord between two people, usually of different ethnic groups. This is what is happening right now in our beloved country.

Racism is not just based on skin color or ethnic background. There is also a form of racism related to religious beliefs. I also strongly believe that it is racist as well to suggest that one religion is right and all others are not. Does this ring a bell, my dear brothers and sisters? I know a family who disavowed their only daughter simply because she joined the protestant church. How many of us are comfortable eating in a house of a Muslim, if we are a Christian and vis-versa?  Yes, let’s not kid ourselves folks. We are among the most racist people on earth. How many of our sisters have been out casted from the community they love because they married to a black person?

So, ask yourselves, who is more racist? Are we not?

John 8:7 “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast stone at her.” I rest my point!

By TeKa Kassa, an Ethiopian born and raised, mainly, in Eritrea (Asmara).

Courtesy: Aiga Forum


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