Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Voices of Ethiopian adoptees in Black History Month (VIDEO)

African women have always played pivotal roles in history, but our stories remain largely untold. The "Dahomey Amazons" or "Mino" were a Fon all-women military regiment in present day Benin (in West Africa) 

Raised in a homogeneous, white community in rural Québec, I can't remember learning about Black History Month or even hearing anyone talk about it when I was a child. It’s only as an adult that I became more aware and interested in Black History Month. Although I think it is absurd that the shortest month of the year is dedicated Black History, I am happy to be able to attend so many great events in such a short amount of time. It helps bring people together and stimulates interesting and much-needed discussion about issues affecting black communities. Still, this should happen all year round. "Black" issues are everyone's issues, just like Black history is everyone's history. The histories and achievements of Black African people should be highlighted all throughout the year, not just in February.

Perhaps I feel strongly about this issue because I grew up without knowing my history as an Ethiopian and Black Canadian. I did not live in a diverse environment so I did not have contact with Ethiopians or other black people. This made it difficult for me to fully embrace my blackness, my Ethiopian-ness or my African-ness for that matter. I was not exposed to that part of myself, even though it is an important part of my identity. I had to make an effort to get in touch with people who looked like me, but I also had to make an effort to learn about my histories as an Ethiopian and as a black Québécoise-Canadian. The history I learned in school did not include the history of black people in Canada; there was no mention of slavery in Québec or in other parts of Canada. I had never heard of original black communities like Africville in Nova Scotia or Priceville in Ontario. Similarly, I never learnt about pre-colonial African histories, which are not only fascinating but diverse. I also didn't learn about how people of African descent (in the USA, Canada, Haiti, Brazil, Colombia and many other countries) have equally fascinating histories of resistance and triumphs against colonial oppression. Because no one taught me my histories, I had to learn them myself. In doing so, I became more empowered and assumed my blackness. I came to see it as an overwhelmingly positive thing, despite what the rest of the world showed me (and continues to show me). 

My experience illustrates that it can be very challenging for transracial adoptees to form an identity and a healthy and positive sense of self if they do not have contact with people from their culture of origin, but also if they do not know their histories. This is why it's so important that we learn and teach the histories of African peoples from an Afrocentric (and feminist) perspective.

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After much discussion, Aselefech came up with a great idea to do a video about Ethiopian adoptees and Black History Month. This video was inspired by our Lost Daughters sisters #FliptheScript video, and assembled by the wonderful Bryan Tucker of Closure. “I am Black History” features four Ethiopian adoptees (Rahel, Mekdes, Aselefech and I) sharing our experiences of having multiple identities, the importance of Black History and what it means to be Ethiopian and Black in the U.S. and in Canada.We hope to inspire other adoptees to take pride in their multiple identities and also encourage adoptive parents of Ethiopian children to do the same by teaching their children their Ethiopian and African-American or African-Canadian histories from empowering perspectives. Black history is our history too. #Iamblackhistory

Annette-Kassaye (@KassayeBM) is a transracial adoptee from Ethiopia living in Montréal, Québec (Canada). She also writes for Gazillion Voices and co-founded Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora with Aselefech Evans. 

Photo Dahomey women: wikipedia
Photo of Annette-Kassaye: courtesy of Adelaida Pardo 
Video courtesy of Bryan Tucker