A friend once told me an allegory that would forever stay with me. He said, “Imagine a room full of toxic in the air. In that room are African Americans, they have been there for hundred of years trying to stay alive. They can hardly breath; their lungs are exhausted from the toxic. But in that room is also a door that leads to a room with clean air. The African American’s have been pulling on that door as long as they have been in that room, they pull, even though they can hardly breath. They have managed to open it over the years, but just enough so that only an extremely small amount of them get through. Then, African Immigrants come into that room. With toxic free, fresh lungs, these African immigrants are able to pull and open the door the African Americans have loosened. After the Africans reach the room with clean Air, they ask, ‘we came in and opened the door, how come African Americans can’t do the same?”
We Africans, we Habesha’s (A term that refers to people of Ethiopia and of Eritrea, not all people from these countries identify with the term, Oromo people, an ethnic group in Ethiopia also do not typically identify with being habesha although this message is also for them) like to think that we are different from people like Trayvon Martin. Perhaps we are in the sense that he was a person born in America of African decent (African American), and most of us were born and spent most of our lives in a completely different country across the world. We also at times place ourselves on a higher level than African Americas. We think that we, coming directly from Africa, are better than, more respectful than, more educated than the African American people in America. You can argue this is not the case, however, I know what I hear at gatherings, I know the Amharic, Oromo and Tigrinya terms mothers, fathers, and peers use when referring to African Americans. I know the shame a Habesha person might bring to the family if they were to have intimate relationships with African Americans. I know the preference of white friends vs. Black friends for our children- I know these to be true in the community.
I have news for you my sisters and brothers- when we chose to move to America, when we chose (although some of us were refugees) to pursue a life in the country of equality, freedom, and opportunity; we chose to join our fellow black people in the nation. That means we get to access the opportunities African Americans have fought for. In this nation, we get to receive equal opportunity, education, and a life that African Americans have marched and died for. We need to be grateful for this, not only say “God bless America” but commend the black leaders and the black people of America for overcoming injustice and continually fighting for their rights through out history so that we can one day live, prosper and raise our children in a country that does not have institutions that (openly) discriminate.
You see, although we are ethnically different from African Americans and many of us from each other, we are all black. It does not matter what texture your hair is, it does not matter if your skin is a little lighter or darker because at the end of the day we are the black people of this world. So when Trayvon Martin, a young man, a young BLACK man is profiled, followed, and killed with out committing a single crime, we need to be extremely concerned. And then when his killer is found not guilty and gets to resume his life as a free man, we should be livid. We need to be sad, we need to be angry( angry is healthy- it seeks change to eliminate it), and we need to cry like we would if Trayvon Martin was a young man from our own community. A man like Zimmerman, the man who killed Trayvon Martin, would not have cared if Martin were African American or African, or east African or West African. He saw a black young man walking and he used his blackness alone as a reason to follow him. It could have easily been one of your sons, one of your brothers, and one of your friends
There is no doubt black people in this world are divided. Since colonization, Europeans have used our aesthetic features, our class or land to dived us from one another. This is still done today through tools like Media. For example, the media portrays Africans in only one way- hungry, poor, with out civilization. Then the media portrays African Americans also in one way- as thugs, drug dealers, and people with out respect or dignity. So then, when African Americans and Africans look at the media they are not able to relate to one another and carry what the media portrays a group to be into how they perceive one another in the real world. We then create divisions within ourselves; we create our own communities (which I am not saying is bad) and use those communities as crutches so that we do not interact with one another.
I heard a Habesha peer mention that all her mother said when she heard of Trayvon Martin’s death is that he should not have been wearing a hoodie.
We need be concerned about the wellbeing of young black men in America. This includes young black African American men, Ethiopian men, Oromo men, Eritrean men, East African men, West African men, etc. We need to express our grief that we have lost a young black man and are losing young black men everyday our own neighborhoods like St. Paul Selby, Cedar Riverside, and North Minneapolis! We need to drop the negative perceptions that we have of African Americans and start looking at them as our brothers and sisters, as the people who made it possible for us be in America today and people who have been dealt a history of inequality, injustice and racism in America. We need to unite, especially in this time of injustice. We need to join the demonstrations happening in our communities. I beg you, please, please, open your mind, open your heart, and see this young man as your own. Join the cause, make a difference, and continue to unite even after this great tragedy loses its momentum. It is not enough that we turn on CNN, we shake our heads at this tragedy, and move on.
The African American community needs us, especially at this time, and we owe them.