Neither Here Nor There: Perspectives on Identity by the Young Eritrean and Ethiopian Diaspora in America

November 2, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — Habesha Diaspora @ 12:20 pm


Social context. That is the key to defining human behavior. Some action can seem ridiculous at one time and location but seem perfectly acceptable at a different point in space. This is how we define beauty; through social context. In the earlier centuries, chubby was ‘in’ here in America. Now, stick skinny seems to be a fading fad from the 90’s.

It happened again this weekend. I was in Miami and meeting people from around the world when ethnicity came-up in conversation. You’ve heard the whole “East African look” comment, I’m sure. I have to wonder what people from West or Central Africa are told. Are they told the same thing? “Oh, women from <insert country here> are so beautiful.” Either way, these comments make me uncomfortable. Personally, I think people from all over the continent are beautiful. Different regions have different features and one should not be valued over another. That just creates more animosity between countries. I think women from the west stereo typically have a beautiful, rich skin tone and bangin’ curves that are severely underrated by people who make these comments to me.

This man literally said “I like women from East Africa because you have narrow features.” I wanted to be like, “Did your narrow behind really just say that?” Instead, I just nodded and smiled and excused myself from the scene. <smh>. I feel like the current world needs to open-up its definition of beauty. I aint sayin’ but I’m just sayin’… know what I’m sayin?



  1. The thing is – those with power get to decide what is “in” and for the most part people of the west (meaning Europe & later North America) have held that power. Then with globalization that message gets broadcast & force fed to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, the rest of the world equals power to accuracy and blindly accepts these messages (i remember writing a paper on a small island near Australia. Women generally tended to be larger and curvier which was the standard of beauty. Once television & satellites became more prominent the culture’s standards of beauty changed and they were faced with large numbers of women with “western” eating disorders…)

    This piece actually reminds me of something. Over the wknd. my beach reading was “Of Love and Other Demons” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and it takes place in the early 1900s. Here is a an excerpt (as context the quote comes from a portion of the book that speaks of a slave ship that lost most of it’s cargo due to food poisoning and was trying to make up for the loss):

    “At the time the dog ran through the market, the surviving cargo had already been sold at reduced prices on account of poor health, and the owners were attempting to compensate for the loss with a single article worth all the rest: an Abyssinian female almost 2 meters tall, who was smeared with cane molasses instead of the usual commercial oil, and whose beauty was so unsettling it seemed untrue. She had a slender nose, a rounded skull, slanted eyes, all her teeth, and the equivocal bearing of a Roman gladiator. She had not been branded in the slave pen, and they did not call out her age and the state of her health. Instead, she was put on sale for the simple fact of her beauty. The price the Governor paid, without bargaining and in cash, was her weight in gold.”

    I bring this quote for a couple reasons. First, I am wondering how much the aesthetic “appeal” of “Abyssinian” women was an accepted thing in this time frame (take this statement in account with Liya’s point that beauty is defined by social context). I am aware with the recent Adwa victory (1860s) this part of the world was more in the awareness of parts of East Africa but how much so? (Adwa was even featured in NY Times at the time.) Second, what is the purpose of discussing this in the book? This Abyssinian Slave is discussed for about 2-2.5 pages of a 147 page book and only (repeatedly) on how devastatingly beautiful she is…For those who have read this book – am I missing something here? Finally, I had a question. Is anyone aware of the # of East Africans that were brought to the west (Americas, Carribean, etc.) as slaves? In other words, is this a likely scenario that would have played out?


    Comment by Habesha Diaspora — November 2, 2009 @ 6:25 pm | Reply

  2. Let me give the Guy perspective on this topic: I do agree social context is one of the driving forces on what determines beauty as a whole but I think it goes even farther than that. I believe the power of Media is the major driving force of any kind of categorization that is going on in society. After saying all of this I would like to also suggest that all guys don’t like the same thing. Some guys are attracted to skinny/bonny women but some (like mo’a) are attracted to as Liya mentioned (the banging curvy) women. I honestly believe that when it really comes down to what a guy wants out of a women he doesn’t really check to see what is “in” or what is “out” he is going to go for is who at that moment is lighting his fire in the right spots….if ya’ll know what I’m saying. LMAO……… I

    BTW……the first thing that popped in my head when I read your article was one of my favorite songs, that goes something like this:

    I like big butts and I can not lie
    You other brothers can’t deny
    That when a girl walks in with an itty bitty waist
    And a round thing in your face
    You get sprung
    Wanna pull up tough
    Cuz you notice that butt was stuffed
    Deep in the jeans she’s wearing
    I’m hooked and I can’t stop staring
    Oh, baby I wanna get with ya
    And take your picture
    My homeboys tried to warn me
    But that butt you got
    Make Me so horney
    Ooh, rump of smooth skin
    You say you wanna get in my benz
    Well use me use me cuz you aint that average groupy

    I’ve seen them dancin’
    To hell with romancin’
    She’s Sweat,Wet, got it goin like a turbo vette

    I’m tired of magazines
    Saying flat butts are the thing
    Take the average black man and ask him that
    She gotta pack much back

    So Fellas (yeah) Fellas(yeah)
    Has your girlfriend got the butt (hell yeah)
    Well shake it, shake it, shake it, shake it, shake that healthy butt
    Baby got back.

    Comment by Henock — November 3, 2009 @ 12:20 pm | Reply

    • HAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! That was awesome!!

      So my next question to where does what’s appealing come from? How much is response to “beauty” learned and how much is biological? For example:

      – when it comes to pheromones women are biologically turned off by the scent of close relatives (brothers, fathers, etc.) compared to strangers
      – Biologically we are attracted to symmetry in the face – very subtle angle and size differences that we don’t even know we notice
      – Most (all?) mammals are born with similar features: rounded face, disproportionally large eyes, etc. that makes babies and baby animals “cute”. Humans biologically (for the most part) get protective and care taking when around something with those features – natures way of helping defenseless little ones survive to an age where they can better fend for themselves.

      So what part of our sense of beauty is learned versus nature?

      Comment by Habesha Diaspora — November 3, 2009 @ 1:20 pm | Reply

      • Mahlet……Ok I will try to answer your question. This is how I look at it. First, what part of our sense of beauty is naturally in us? when I thought about this question the first thing that popped in my head was babies. Babies are naturally attracted to happy faces. This is why when you smile they would smile too. They are natural reflectors of how you feel, and they help define what is beautiful. Second, the part about which part of beauty is learned. I believe majority of our definitions of beauty are learned and developed over time due to experience or even trials and errors in life interaction with the opposite sex. That is where we develop and figure out what turns us off and what turns as on. As we all know we do have some cultures that do allow marriages between relatives (i.e. brothers, first cousins, etc.) in this world. This makes it more of an issue of what the society is teaching the kids what is right or wrong. Which ends up affecting their decision on what is appealing or not appealing.

        Comment by Henock — November 3, 2009 @ 6:56 pm | Reply

  3. Mahlet to answer your question “Is anyone aware of the # of East Africans that were brought to the west (Americas, Carribean, etc.) as slaves?” It doesn’t look like it would be possible to have had a lot of slaves come from the Eastern part or Africa to the Americas or Carribean because of the location where the Middle Passage was conducted. The middle passage was mainly targeting the western part of Africa which was the direct path to the Atlantic. The Eastern African slave trade was more towards the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. I believe the main slave port was Zanzibar or something.

    Comment by Henock — November 3, 2009 @ 12:42 pm | Reply

    • Thanks for that, Henock. I didn’t think about the trade to the east…I’ll have to look more into that.

      Comment by Habesha Diaspora — November 3, 2009 @ 1:21 pm | Reply

  4. As the saying goes by the Greeks “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”. What looks beautiful to me may not be to some one else. But, what is beauty? The defines it ..
    “the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest).”

    The plastic surgeon have their own description how beauty should look like. A perfectly symmetrical face, s straight good sized nose, a full hair line, and a full suckable lips (lol). Most Abyssinian women tend to have a symmetric face, straight good size lips, nice hair and suckable lips. Having that kind of look makes you a hot commodity and the governor will pay big dough to own you. And yes, he won’t brand you as a slave but instead he will keep you as one of his Monet paintings.

    Having a beautiful face always goes with petite, slender or athletic body. You can have beautiful face but if what you have under the neck is curvy, full figured, thick, voluptuous, big boned, bbw, plus size or whatever you want to call yourself to avoid the word fat is not going to give me a boner. In other words, I won’t feel an intense pleasure or deep satisfaction in my mind. I am not trying to offend any one and I am strictly talking for myself. I am a small guy who weigh 150 lbs and small girls suit me and petite girls with cute face give me an intense pleasure and very deep satisfaction.

    I have dated this girl who had this perfect body (110 lbs) with nicely shaped boobs (32 or 34C) but I was never attracted to her face. I thought about asking her to put some makeup but didn’t want to get slapped or smacked.

    Beauty is in our head. If the media starts telling us chimpanzee is the new beauty, I am sure most people would believe it. There was a time white people made many white people believe that having a dark skin is the most ugly and unattractive. Even, most Habesha want to be light skin and some don’t even believe they are Africans. I wish I had a very dark skin just like Sudanese dark. I find Alek Wek and Ajuma Nassenyaya very attractive. If beauty don’t look like Ajuma or Alek; I don’t know what it is. Again, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

    I have no idea why the blogger got offended by the “the east African look” remarks. I think you should just take it as compliment and say thank you.

    Comment by Superman — November 23, 2009 @ 3:31 pm | Reply

  5. You know what I’m getting from working on this project? To each his own! We are so different within the diaspora and we all espouse our own values and beliefs and all(most?) are valuable and hard earned in their own right. I thought I knew this – especially since highlighting this variety was part of the intention behind this book project – but I am really realizing just how different we can be. God bless all is all I have to say and proudly stand by what you believe – and allow differing views to help you fine tune your own.

    On a side note, lmao at “full suckable lips.” Loving it!! 🙂


    Comment by Habesha Diaspora — November 30, 2009 @ 10:32 pm | Reply

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