End of last year, I’d some conversations on my face book page and also in one email group about my ethnic identity and my refusal to use it. I thought compiling the notes and posting them here on my personal blog so that I could be able to share it to those who aren’t my FB Friends yet. Enjoy reading. If you may have any comment, please use the form at the bottom and leave your thoughts. Thanks in advance!
I was born and raised in Harar, in the Eastern part of Ethiopia. In that part of the world, whether you’re Amhara, Gurage, Walita, Tigray, Oromo, Muslim or Christian or Eritrean, it didn’t matter. As we grew up, what mattered was our friendship, not from where we (our parents) came from and the blood that runs in our veins. Many of us were lucky, we weren’t infected by the poison of the ruling party that plays ethnic cards to divide and conquer. However, I’ve to admit that it has been years, and I don’t really know what is going on there right now. Hope, this aspect of Harar hasn’t changed yet.
First thing first. I’m an:
- Ethiopian American, and
- World Citizen.
I’m proud of my root, the above identities, and who I’m.
Nonetheless, through out my life, I’ve never identified myself with any one ethnic group. For me, it’s irrelevant to invoke my ethnicity and form my identity based on it.
Unfortunately, my approach doesn’t cut it to some people 🙂 lol There were some acquaintances who insisted and asked my ethnicity from time to time. Most of the time, I get away with it, they let me walk away without telling them my ethnic background. But a few forced me to talk about it for their dismay. The latter anticipated a straight and clean answer like I’m Amhara or Oromo or Tigrai. I presume that they’d their own assumptions and what they were looking from me was confirmation.
Because of my last name (Habtewold), some thought that I’m a Tigrian. Since I was born in Harar and speak a little Oromigna, some assumed that I’m an Oromo. And still others thought that I’m Amhara because they never heard me curse this ethnic group or affiliate myself with any other ethnic group. Of course, me too I’m assuming their positions 🙂 Maybe they just struck the conversations to break ice or keep the discussion going, without any other agenda…
There are three reasons why I’m uncomfortable to talk about my ethnic identity, while many of my country men/women bowed down for the divide and conquer propaganda of the ruling party and identified themselves with their ethnic group:
- Reality, and
By principle, I don’t want my individualistic attributes like my ethnicity, color, and bloodline undermine my other higher level identities. For me, it’s mutually exclusive. The more you identify yourself with your race, and ethnicity, the higher the probability of you alienating others who don’t share your race and ethnicity. It is likely that you couldn’t be able to relate, work, and partner with other people as much as you desire. Sooner or later, it intervenes in your relationships and sabotage your ability to work with people from diverse race and ethnicity. I get it. It’s required of us to identify ourselves in terms of race, ethnicity, and so on for official identification purposes. Our governments and organizations need some statistics to govern effectively, and therefore, they need to gather some of our identity data. But, we should not take these data too seriously to the point where we lock out others and cram ourselves in our little boxes. In order to maximize our potential, and reach the height we suppose to, we need to outgrow those identities that may come between us and our fulfillment, which cannot be achieved without releasing our potential by closely working with diverse people.
The second is reality. This is 21st C. The world is globalized and it doesn’t give any sense to identify myself at ethnic level. I don’t see the merit of us creating our little groups and spend time showing loyalty to our ethnic group while the world is coming together and competing at global level. As the century advances, we may not even compete and succeed if we lock ourselves within our national borders. This new reality demands us to embrace diversity by letting go of our obsession with our local and regional identities. In this century, we humans share so many things in common and face numerous common challenges. It is a disadvantage to spend our energy, time, and resources on what makes us different. We should have found those things that bring us together.
The third reason is personal. I don’t have the full picture of my ethnic profile and that is why I hesitate to talk about my ethnic background. While I was still in Ethiopia, the only thing I knew was that my parents were born and raised in Harar. One thing I was sure- they aren’t natives. That means, their grand grand parents came from the North- Amhara regions. In our family, we never talked about it as we grew up. Was it because our parents considered it a taboo? Was it because they didn’t have enough info to share with us? I don’t know!
That however, changed recently. To complete an important form, I needed to provide the last names of both of my parents, and I didn’t have the record readily available. That is when I sent an email to my relatives seeking their help. The result was surprising. Through the email exchange, I learnt that my ethnic background is a mix of two seemingly opposing ethnic groups. In one of my parents’ blood line, we’ve a great grand father whose name is Geneme- an Oromo name. In one of my parents’ blood line, I recently learned that my great grand father was from Gonder, another great grand father from Ankober, and another from Menz, both of the last three places are located in Northern Shewa Amhara region. Of course, I still don’t know the full family genealogy profile. That means, the complexion of my ethnicity profile may further become complicated. I know that many Ethiopians have my kind of mixed ethnic heritage. My surprise was not because I’m from a mixed ethnic groups per se; rather, I figured this out late in life. Otherwise, knowing this early in life wouldn’t have changed the way I think, present, interact with others from other ethnic groups, and the way I live my life. I always put my humanity before ethnicity.
Let me be clear, these new discoveries don’t change my believe that I’m a global citizen. I’ll never buy into TPLF’s ethnic politics and align myself into one or both of these ethnic groups I belong to. I never first asked my friends’ and colleagues’ ethnic affiliation before becoming their friend. I never make a decision whether I respect and trust someone based on their ethnic background. Whatever someone’s ethnic background maybe, my loyalty is to that person’s character and personality. I love, trust, and believe in the unique you, not your ethnic background. Your commitment to the truth makes me loyal to you…
Regardless of TPLF’s propaganda, to divide and conquer us to stay in power, I never joined any party or group that was formed on the basis of ethnic identity. I’m glad to know that many Ethiopians, have refused to focus on our differences and what separates us.