I want to draw readers’ attention to a personal essay by the paleoanthropologist Zeresenay Alemseged, who reflects on Black Lives Matter and the current racial landscape in the U.S. “When Colorblind Parenting Meets Anti-racism”.
The headline does not capture the depth of the essay. Alemseged combines an anthropologist’s intellectual understanding of race as a social concept with the effects of racism as felt by an Ethiopian in the U.S. on behalf of his children. It is hard to choose a short excerpt to give an impression, but I will take a short part in which he expresses his situation.
But racial ideas are social constructions, and they are not the same everywhere. Moreover, understanding how racism works intellectually is not the same as actually experiencing and feeling its effects.
In Ethiopia, for example, there are over 80 different languages, and the term “race” is absurdly and loosely applied to classify groups of people along linguistic lines. To make matters more complicated, there are over 90 distinct ethnic groups—distinguished by linguistic, religious, and regional differences—listed on the Ethiopian census, with ongoing conflicts over political representation. With respect to “race,” skin color is used to rather subjectively classify people as “red” or “black,” with finer variations between the two. Yet, according to U.S. classifications, we would all fall into the Black racial category.
It is hard to admit but even after living in the U.S. for many years, I did not have a full grasp of the injustices the African American community endures, especially at the hands of police. Now racism in this country has become personal to me in a way it wasn’t before.
It is an important moment for all of us, not just in North America, and I hope that voices like Alemseged’s will be heard clearly.