Colorizm in Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, December 07, 2014 (GMN) - A couple of weeks ago, I travelled to the very beautiful Gambella and my timing could not be the worst. Gambella was messed up with conflict. Though I only stayed for a couple of nights, I asked everyone I met about the cause of this on again off again conflict in that region. Everyone seemed to have a different opinion, and most have something to do with the unfair resource division, land grab and other political pressures from the area. Very few mention the issue of ethnicity, which is assumed to be a common source of conflict in Ethiopia. Rather, one cause that I have discussed with my good Friend Kute broke my heart.

For him, while other causes deserve their due recognition, the conflict also has a lot to do with colour as well. We all know that the native people of Gambella are dark/black. And we, the people who came to this world with a relatively lighter skins, are famous for discriminating black skin, and this is not the problem of Ethiopia only, though we are very famous for it. We all know that having a deep black skin is not good news for social interaction.

I had a friend in collage, who was black (looked like African as many referred her. Though we all should have been considered African) and suffered from it every single day. Mostly people never considered her Ethiopian; she was called unattractive and treated differently. Though she put a brave face and acted as if she did not care, her close friends knew she was deeply disturbed by it.

The racism we have against each other is a direct reflection of colonialism and slavery. We Ethiopians, who claim to be never colonized, shout about how we defeated the whites and how proud we are to be who we are, are as affected as the rest of the colonized world when it comes to colour. It is like the lighter your skin, the superior and the better you are. Light skin shows beauty and wisdom in our idiocy perception of appearance. Therefore, what happens in Gambella is, the people who moved to the region from the central part of the country, who have a lighter skin, feel superior, better and try to discriminate and violate the dark skin natives (This is by no means a generalization). That of course is unacceptable for the natives of Gambella, and they are deeply offended, insulted by it. As a result, any one in Gambella city can see the bold line drawn between people with a dark skin and the light skin. There seems to be a small social interaction, and even when they work together, are neighbours and go to the same school, you can see the tension between them just by being around them.

Kute asked me why, many consider Ethiopian women beautiful. I said ‘you tell me’. His answer was it is because they have a light skin compare to the rest of Africa. The definition given by our colonizers, by people who sold, abused and exploited us, is the definition we gave ourselves about beauty. One of the most popular beauty products in the Africa are skin-bleaching lotions. That says a lot about our self worth, degree of insecurity and perception of beauty.

Most of us know this problem instantly, because we do it to others or we suffer from it, but we internalized it so much that we do not recognize that we should do something about it. We are Africans. For the outside world, we belong to the same race and we are black people. This should be the message we give to our little once.  Authored by Seble Teweldebirhan   Ethio Modish