Before I started this adoption process, I never would have thought about the distinction between identifying oneself as African American as opposed to an American from Africa.
Turns out this is kind of big deal.
I recently read a really good article in Adoptive Families magazine on this very topic: My Ethiopian Daughters.
I’ve always felt awkward with the term African American, partially because it seems inaccurate… there are plenty of black folks in the US who have roots elsewhere (like the Caribbean, for example). And most of my friends of color refer to themselves as “Black”, not necessarily as “African American”.
My daughter is Ethiopian, not African American.
Hers is a heritage of an ancient proud kingdom, ferociously independent, and (I hope I do not offend) somewhat elitist despite its struggles with resources, health, and natural disasters. She doesn’t have much in common with most of the Black population in the US whose heritage is more likely to be Western African or Caribbean or mixed, and filled with a whole different slate of struggles.
So how to teach her about this? Not sure.
I do know that she will be perceived as (and treated as) African American by people who don’t know her. People who are racist will dislike her because she is Black, and they won’t care that she is Ethiopian. Other Black Americans are not going to treat her better just because she is Ethiopian. So it’s important she understand what it means to be Black in America, not just Ethiopian in America.
I also know that I don’t want her to be uppity about her heritage. Some Ethiopians consider themselves superior to other Africans, and I want to avoid instilling this in her.
But I also want her to be proud of being Ethiopian (and of being Sidama, her ethnic group), to embrace it, and not to be afraid to claim it.
This is going to be tough thing to negotiate, I think.
**updated to link to Cat’s thought-provoking post on the same topic over at [A]typical Family.**