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USA | Jun 13, 2021

Black Lives Matter in Ethiopian-American communities too

/ Our Today

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A man gestures on a bench, as the verdict announcement is expected in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is facing murder charges in the death of George Floyd, at the George Floyd Square in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., April 20, 2021. REUTERS/Octavio Jones

By Yodit Hylton

We Ethiopian-American in the United States, the diaspora and at home in Ethiopia are devastated and deeply disturbed by the brutal murder of George Floyd and many other Black Americans in the United States.

On this the first anniversary of the killing of George Floyd, we must stand in solidarity with the African American community in declaring that Black Lives Matter (BLM) and we should be a part of thousands upon thousands of people continuing to demand justice in protests across the world.  

There are hundreds of thousands of first, second and third generations of Ethiopian-American children living all over the United States. Therefore, it’s essential to acknowledge the BLM issues even if we think it doesn’t impact our family directly because it does, in fact, affect everyone. In today age it’s a real challenge for any black parents raising boys and girls in America.

While Ethiopian-American parents tend to avoid conversations about race with their children much more frequently than other black parents.

Staff at the Prime Minister’s office waives Ethiopian national flags at an event to honour the national defence forces, at the Prime Ministers compound, in Addis Ababa, on November 17, 2020. (Photo by Eduardo Soteras for Politico.eu)

Ethiopian parents in the diaspora and at home need to discuss identity matters and also encourage their children to take pride in who they are and respect the differences in others.  “Black Lives Matter” doesn’t mean that only black lives matter. It means that racism unfairly affects black lives and the BLM movement is calling on everyone to change that.

Even if the intention is sincere, help your child understand that the phrase “All Lives Matter” implies that the BLM movement’s critique of systemic racism and its effects on Black people is invalid.

We must empower our black children to stand up to racial injustice, systemic racism, profound stereotypes, structural barriers and prepare the growing Ethiopian-American community in the USA to both recognize and be able to fight systemic racism.

In Ethiopia, we are all black, thus at the moment are not facing systematic racial injustices and inequalities in everyday life as black people in the USA, the Americas or Europe. The issues Ethiopia faces today are different, such as governance and leadership, brain drain, lack of strong institutions, which leads to inadequate services, poverty and political  instability.

In the USA, the Declaration of Independence, issued on July 4, 1776, was guided by the premise that “all men are created equal.” The first Revolution (1775-1783) against the British set in motion socio-economic and political processes that led to the Civil War, which is also called the Second American Revolution (1861-1865), and that led to the abolition of slavery.

The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s accompanied the dissolution of Jim Crow, in which most, if not all states in the US, practiced or supported official discrimination against blacks in all aspects of their social and political life. The current uprisings are the latest phase in the unfinished struggle against racism to make the United States a more perfect union.

Historically, the pan-African movement has been linked to the liberation of black people in the Americas and Africa. From the African struggles for independence from colonial powers to the US Civil Rights movement and the international fight to end apartheid in South Africa, black consciousness leaders and intellectuals on both continents have inspired, supported, and influenced each other.

Ethiopian-American writer and columnist, Yodit Hylton. (Photo contributed)

Today, we Ethiopians in the USA would not have been able to live and work, if it was not for the civil rights movement led by black and brown people, supported by conscious white people who exercised their rights and stood up to protect and advance the civil rights of black people, including Africans in the diaspora.

Many African people are very enthusiastic, as the BLM campaign resonates with their own lived experiences. However, many Ethiopians are hesitant in supporting the BLM movement.

Why is this so? We must confront this issue honestly and answer the question. The consequences of not doing anything and being seen as not supporting the struggle for the next phase of civil and political rights are not insignificant.

The message of BLM is echoing in neighbourhoods, cities and many countries that have long been indifferent to the realities of black people. And it’s no surprise that in Africa, there is a reawakening of the struggle to complete the decolonization process and achieve genuine racial and ethnic justice.

Protesters hold signs and placards during a demonstration against police killings and brutality, in the Mathare slum in Nairobi, Kenya, June 8, 2020. Baz Ratner/Reuters

In many African countries, the idea of protests often threatens the ruling political elite who inherited the colonial power structures created by imperialism, including policing and punishment.

Demonstrators in African cities have braved police brutality to protest the murders and racial injustices in America. In Uganda’s capital Kampala, Ghana, and Kenya, the BLM movement is taken seriously and is supported. In Khartoum, Sudan, there is a mural depicting American football player Colin Kaepernick taking a knee, which he did before each football game during the singing of the US national anthem, to protest police brutality. These protests in Africa reiterate the connectedness of the struggles of black people around the world. The protests have also taken root beyond the streets, with Africans sending messages of solidarity and calling for police accountability.

Jasmine Rand, an attorney specialising in Civil Rights matters and the international legal strategist for the George Floyd legal team added, “We look to East Africa for support and leadership as we fight systemic racism in America. In Tanzania, Julius Nyere once stated that only evil that can ‘make the colour of a man’s skin the criteria for granting him civil rights’. In Kenya, Mau Mau freedom fighters fought to end the evil of white supremacy and colonization. In Ethiopia we have no response, yet. In America, we continue to fight that evil today as the voices of the masses of African descendants proclaim to our nation: Black Lives Matter.”  

The George Floyd legal team is looking for advocates and activists in Ethiopia to push for systemic reform in America. Also, the African Union is being asked to pressure the United States Government to cease and desist from the systemic racism and police brutality resulting in the murder of African Americans, and to adopt a 12-point plan for reform of policing.

More than 100 prominent African writers signed a statement demanding that American legal institutions address police violence. The writers also asked African governments to “offer refuge, homes, and citizenship in the name of pan-Africanism” to those who choose it. The African Union Commission condemned the murders, and a group of African countries led by Burkina Faso pushed the United Nations Human Rights Council to hold a debate on racism and police brutality.

A George Floyd mural in Kenya. (Photo: Baz Ratner/Reuters)

We Ethiopian-American must accept that even if we choose to live in isolation within our community, in reality, our children cannot escape the brutality of the police once they leave the isolated communities in which they were born and grow up.

The fact is, there is a wider America outside of these enclaves of ethnic communities, populated by black, white and brown people where the struggle for racial justice continues.  The Ethiopian-American community cannot afford to remain apart from this greater struggle.

“Talking about race with you your children is not racist. It’s important!  Avoiding these discussions has negative consequences for your Ethiopian-American children who might face police brutality on the street, which is the reality of black boys and girls in the USA.”

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