Ethiopian – African-American Relations: The Problems and Solutions

Elias Kifle | June 6th, 1991

By Jegede Legesse Allyn

Ethiopians have many problems when they arrive in the U.S. Usually their expectations are shattered by the realities of life in the U.S. Ethiopians coming to America face the same problems that African Americans do. Wouldn’t it be nice if Ethiopians first coming to the U.S. were welcomed, helped to get adjusted, and immediately employed by African Americans? Wouldn’t it be great if Ethiopians and African Americans jointly started profitable businesses? And wouldn’t it be nice if we could all sit down and drink coffee and talk together? Why doesn’t this happen?

The reason it doesn’t happen is that African Americans think that Ethiopians and all other Africans don’t want anything to do with them. They think Ethiopians hate and feel superior to them. African Americans believe that they are not considered to be Africans by Ethiopians and other Africans but rather as some good-for-nothing, mixed-down, lazy, poor American bums. Thinking these things causes African Americans to disassociate themselves from, and even dislike Ethiopians and other Africans. Being an African American myself, I remember believing these things.

African Americans are constantly subjected to movies, television programs and TV commercials depicting Africa as the so-called “Dark Continent”. African Americans see TV programs like “Feed the Children” which gives the impression that all of Ethiopia and the rest of Africa is starving and doesn’t have food. The information from magazines like National Geographic seem to imply that Ethiopia is a starving desert and Africa is one big jungle. Movies such as Tarzan have led African Americans to believe that whites are the “Kings of the Jungle” and that everything in Ethiopia and elsewhere i Africa is controlled by non-Africans.

There is no representation of cities or industry. Traditional doctors and natural medicine is said to be witch doctors and voodoo medicine. Languages are presented as the chatter of wild savages with the intelligence of baboons. Nothing is said about the fact that there is regular furniture in the huts of the villages. There are even people said to be “authorities in the field” who will say Ethiopians are not Africans! And the innocent cartoons get the children while they are young. Cartoons that African Americans have grown up with such as Popeye, Yogi Bear, Bugs Bunny, and others, at one time or another have depicted Africa as the untamed jungle. So from birth to death, African Americans learn to accept these false ideas as fact and are not quite able to escape them. I am sure that Ethiopians and other Africans are tired of being seen as poor, backwards, and uneducated by African Americans.

But Ethiopians, like all other continental Africans, too, receive and often believe misleading information about African Americans. They are subjected to the Western mass media both in Africa and here in the U.S. I have talked to Ethiopians and other Africans that did not even know African Americans existed before they came here. Some Africans believe the myths that African Americans are “lazy bums.” Ethiopians and other Africans see the news, TV shows, and movies which seem to portray African Americans as the country’s thieves, drug users, drug dealers and irresponsible drunken bums. There is no representation of African American as politicians, businessmen and women, engineers and designers, caring parents, happy children, concerned citizens, or even passionate lovers.

The result of believing untrue things about each other is that when we see each other we say and think bad things about each other. Because of this we decide not to acknowledge each other. We fail to talk to each other and miss out on the to find out who the other really is. We help the untrue information to live on, only to be believed just as easily by the next.

In order to solve the problems we have, we must begin to talk to one another to personally find out who the other really is. We have to visit places where the other goes such as clubs, restaurants, and churches and talk. We must visit each other at our homes. Ethiopians can show African Americans photographs from photo albums, and video tapes taken in the cosmopolitan cities, important towns, and of the beautiful countryside in Ethiopia.

A single picture placed in your wallet or purse can destroy all myths and misconceptions that African Americans have of Ethiopians. And I know this works because I keep a picture of an African country’s city in my wallet at all times. Realize that nobody else is trying to educate African Americans about Africa. African Americans need your help. Neither the library nor the schools offer the type of information that Ethiopians can give their country and continent. Once Ethiopians, other Africans, and African Americans begin helping each other understand who they are, we all can then live in co-operation and harmony together.

Mr. Jegede Legesse Allyn is an African American and founder of United African International, a newly national organization to teach African Americans about the culture from the cities of African countries.

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