“YOU’RE NOT REALLY BLACK”

“You know my nose not my story”  – a joke I made when talking to a friend, yet it made me think a little deeper into how my features have grown to define me.

“What are you mixed with? Why do you have such soft hair? But why do your parents look Indian? Is that all your real hair?” – While my long soft curly hair, fair skin, and slender nose place emphasis on my more Caucasian features, on the inside, I am a child of Africa.

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I found this quite interesting… What do you think?

From a young age, I have always seen myself as African first, British second, despite being born in the UK. Whenever I filled out my ethnicity on forms I would always tick ‘Black African’ or when in school I was usually part of the ‘black’ friendship groups. As far as I was concerned I was a black African. So when someone told me that I wasn’t really black, because I was from East Africa, it left me rather confused. I began comparing the differences in culture as well as physical appearance between East Africans and the rest of the continent. Whilst much of North Africa is ethnically Arab, East Africa seemed to have it’s own sub-category. Now I didn’t write this post to uncover the scientific explanation as to why East Africans physically look different. I wrote this because I believe many people have experienced the same, and so can relate to this topic. (Scroll further down to see what people had to say about East Africans being seen as non-blacks)

In theory, East Africa also consists of Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, and Rwanda (South East). But due to Hip Hop culture and artists such as Drake and Kendrick, what we know as the ‘Horn of Africa’ has become synonymous with the term ‘East African’, creating the image of an entirely different exotic breed of people. Supermodels such as Yasmine Warsame, Liya Kebede, and Grace Mahary are examples of the typical portrayal of East African women, however, not all of us have small noses, soft hair, or  coca cola bottle figures. Despite many of us secretly loving the special attention we get from Drake, it doesn’t help our case in convincing other Africans that we too are black just like them.

 

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Liya Kebede (Ethiopian) Grace Mahary (Eritrean) – Yasmin Warsame (Somali)

Unfortunately, the representation of East African beauty is unfair, as not all of us look like the women in the images above. Yes, they are all beautiful women from the Horn of Africa, but these women do not represent the beauty of the women of Hamer for instance, who’s darker skin and tribal customs differ from the stereotypical ‘East African Girl’. By beautifying East Africans, separate from the rest of Africa, it only creates a hierarchy of atheistics – remind you of anything? It’s the same as the whole light skin v dark skin, or Africa v Caribbean debate. As someone born and raised in the UK, I’m sure my views on black identity differ from an American perhaps. If you agree or even disagree with anything thats been said, feel free to comment down below – but please respect the views of others.

   – My yellow complexion, nor my soft curls make me any less ‘black’ –

*Please understand that this is just my opinion. I have also chosen to include the views of others down below.


 

Massiah, 22, Ethiopia

Do you identify as being Black or Arab?

“I’m split in two directions because on the one hand I do not like identifying with any particular label or colour block. Why should I have to identify as black or anything for that matter? I love the idea of owning the skin you’re in, of wearing your culture on every tip, curve, crevice of your being… Yet on the other hand, it angers me when other habeshas or other East Africans for that matter say they are not black. I wonder, then what are you???”

 

Why do you think people view East Africans as non-blacks?

“I believe they come to this conclusion for three reasons: (1) from a misunderstanding of what being black implies- these colors are not specific nor are they literal. (Had they been specific, then there should also be pink, caramel, etc haha!) (2)  from a deep desire to disassociate from any negative connations attached to the label “black” and (3) a fixation on focusing on our differences as Africans rather than our similarities.”

~

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Emad, 24, Eritrea

Have you ever been told that you’re not ‘really’ black?

“Yeah I get it all the time. A girl once said that East Africans and other blacks can’t date because of ‘the way my culture is set up’.”

Why do you think people view East Africans as non-blacks?

“I think its a two way street. People say we’re not black because we have different features e.g. nose, hair. But then you also have some East Africans who claim that they’re not black.”

 

~

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Samira, 17, Somalia

 

Have you ever been told that you’re not ‘really’ black?

“Yes, and what’s even worse and strange  is one person said that East Africans are not as African as other Africans like those from the west. To her, and people that are likeminded, “African” and “black” are synonymous to a certain skin tone. The strange strange strange idea that the lighter you are, the less African and black you are which I think stems from the unawareness of the diversity of Africa as a continent and black as a race.”

 

 

~

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Michael, 20, Ethiopia

Have you ever been told that you’re not really black?

“Although I hear it rarely, I’ve heard it come up sometimes. This doesn’t seem correct to me since being one of the oldest states in Africa, we have consistently aided other Black Africans. For instance Nelson Mandela received military training in Ethiopia to help in his fight against the apartheid. These actions of uniting Africa is what makes it difficult for me to understand why Ethiopians are seen as non blacks.”

Why do you think people view East Africans as non-blacks?

“In terms of our physical features we differ from most other African countries so may be its this? But then you need to ask what black is and its definition. It’s like saying Chinese people aren’t the real Asians because they aren’t Indians. Since when did black mean one shade of skin, one type of facial feature one type of hair texture.”

~

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Mansan, 18, Djibouti

 

Have you ever been told that you’re not ‘really’ black?

“All the time, especially because I went to a predominantly white secondary school. My white friends used to compare me to the West Africans and say ‘you don’t look like them, you look more.. Asian’.” 

 

 

~

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Heba, 19, Sudan

Do you identify as being Black or Arab?

“Neither. I classify myself as Sundanese. ‘Too black to be Arab and too Arab to be black’. I come from a rich unique culture that doesn’t have to fit into either. What even is black? Each country in Africa has a different rich culture with different roots-why do we feel the need to group them under one called ‘black’ . Its like claiming all white people in the west are the same.”

Have you ever been told that you’re not ‘really’ black?

“People tell me I’m wrong when I explain that Sudan is in Africa. Its depressing how in the west, Africa is seen as a country rather than a continent and we have a standard format of how some one from Africa must look. I often get told my nose is too slim and that my hair is way too soft, often mistaken or being south Asian-from India or Bangladesh, its heartbreaking and actually quite offensive. “

~

Jamal, 19, Somalia

 

Why do you think people view East Africans as non-blacks?

“It’s because we look different. People see our features and think ‘nah they’re not black because their nose is too small’. I remember high school days when people compared my afro to a Nigerian guy’s afro. Mine wasn’t ‘black’ enough apparently.”

21 Comments

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  1. this is great, and also quite eye opening to non-black people 👏🏽

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is really good Addie! (I’m a quiet fan of your blog but I always read lol)
    Keep it up!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fantastic, inspiring and insightful as always. Xx
    Haleema 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. and which part of east africa you from miss ADDIE?

    Like

  5. That was really interesting topic & well done girl

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “But due to Hip Hop culture and artists such as Drake and Kendrick, what we know as the ‘Horn of Africa’ has become synonymous with the term ‘East African’, creating the image of an entirely different exotic breed of people.”

    The part about rappers isn’t entirely true.
    It was actually mainly East Africans themselves creating hashtags such as #EastonFleek

    Not to mention, many go on African-American spaces and try competing – bragging about having ‘soft hair’ or light-skin. I’ve even seen some deny being black themselves lol.

    I do agree with the general narrative of this blog however.
    So many people are ignorant of Africa and don’t know the actual diversity of culture and peoples.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Of course, there are several East Africans who choose to openly separate themselves from other ‘blacks’. But having rappers single out East Africans and celebrate their beauty – separate from the rest of Africa doesn’t help either. Regarding your comment on the ‘East On Fleek’ trend, the hashtag is pretty new, whereas references to East Africans in Hip-Hop/RnB has been around for quite a while now. Thank you for leaving a comment though! 🙂

      Like

  7. Wow. This blog is literally what I’ve been trying to say. Kudos to you Addie! 👏👏👏👏👏👏👏

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Such an interesting point of view. Really good blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This is really amazing and I want to thank you for it. More or less to say I was born and raised in the US and although I’m not African I am African American. I can understand peoples frustration when others question who the they are or where they come from. When you spoke on the whole “light skin, dark skin” controversy it always reminds me how ignorant some people are. People always ask me if I’m mixed because I have curly hair or because of the way I look to them. And it always gets to me because there are so many beautiful black women and men who you would think are mixed but really aren’t. I’m glad you have the mindset to speak up against society and tell us your opinion. Your blog was great and I enjoyed it so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This was brilliant Addie! You literally summed up the problem of identity facing us East Africans. Wonderfully written.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you so much for sharing! Appreciate it girl x

    Like

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