Colorism/Shadeism Project

ZeZe: “East Africans are not really black”…..Yes we are!

Throughout my life I heard “East-African’s are not really black” countless times which can confuse anyone growing up in an already confusing world.

During my early years (11 years old and under) I remember having the odd comment of “you have lovely curly hair”, “where are you from?” and “I thought you was mixed” here and there from people which never bothered me. I would just correct them by explaining that I was not mixed and both my parents were African and that was that.

Once I reached high school the questions and comments continued but this time the questions were more intense. “You’re African?….You don’t look African”, “you have different features and curly hair so you have to be mixed with something”.  “East-African’s are not full black”, “why do East-Africans look different?”. I remember feeling pressured to say I was mixed when I wasn’t and learning terms such as ‘good hair’, ‘lighty’ and discovering the existence of weaves, relaxers and the desire for straight hair.

I remember going through experiences which brought to my attention that there was an issue, like having my friends ask me to go weave shopping with them but then being the only black girl asked to leave the room when it was being installed, so I didn’t see their real hair. I remember feeling left out and started to question this request only to be left baffled when they told me they didn’t feel comfortable to show me their hair. How I lucky and didn’t know what it was like to be have ‘real’ black girl problems. Or the first time I heard someone say they preferred ‘light skinned’ girls. I was so confused by such a statement and even more surprised it was coming from someone who themselves were not ‘light skinned’. I remember thinking it was the most stupid thing I had heard. Looking back I feel fortunate to have been raised by parents and in an environment which didn’t have or express such ridiculous views. Allowing me to see the foolishness in such a statement.

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Having come from a proud African family and having always identified myself as a black female it really frustrated me when I felt like I was being asked to prove my ‘blackness’ . To non-blacks I was a black girl even though the word ‘different’ was mentioned at some point. What hurt and confused me more than anything else, was the very people who I identified myself with felt that I was different to them as well. I had no idea why East-Africans looked different and to be honest I didn’t really care. I  felt like the odd girl that didn’t fit in the ‘black girl’ box because people said I didn’t match the criteria, didn’t fit in the ‘mixed race box’ because technically I wasn’t mixed so was given my own box, the ‘East-African girl’.

Overtime I learnt other people have been through the same or very similar experiences as I did which made me feel less excluded. How there was a division within the black community even though we are considered the same to everyone else. I began to understand it’s a natural negative condition of internal racism that’s being passed from one generation to another which needs to be put to a stop. Black people come from many different countries all over the world, they come in many different skin shades, with different features and hair textures which in no way denounces their blackness.

Let’s not hate but praise what makes us so unique and beautiful!

Peace & Bless, 



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This article has 4 comments

  1. Pingback: Not Black …Enough? – thatgirlv1

  2. Zewdya

    I just want to say that I thoroughly empathize with women like yourself who are continuously in the middle or the “culprit” of something that isn’t exactly your fault. However, I just want to shed some light on why you may have experienced this, despite you already coming to the correct conclusion on your own.

    I am not “taking away” your blackness, but your experience as a woman of color is different than most black girls. You women tend to not have to face the oppressive struggles with hair, features, and societal expectations that we do because you are the preferred type. People from East Africa, especially Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, and Sudan are often of “mixed” ancestry; so albeit not considering yourselves mixed (understandable)- it exposes itself in the unique phenotype of many from the Horn. Ethiopian and Eritrean, many are Habesha, and depending on the tribe: do not say they are black because technically, they aren’t. I know that it sounds divisive, but the reality is that the term “black” was designated for people of West African origin, descent, and the diaspora. East Africans who resemble yourself, or other black people who do from other portions of the world, are considered the archetype because you are “more beautiful” than the rest of us. I know it is not your fault that people have these opinions and viewpoints, but this is deeply ingrained. Drake, for example, highlighted East African girls years ago in a song and finally, the world got a clear look of the “exotic” archetype of passing black/ambiguous female who they consider better than actual black women.

    What I’m trying to say is that while unity is beautiful and the goal, we can’t dismiss the truth. The truth is that while it hurts many women like yourself who share the same lineage and/or image of “different”, you will never know what it feels like to be the regular, plain, “ugly” black girl. It has nothing to do with our self-esteems or being bitter, jealous, or angry. (even though though our emotions are justifiable due to how unpleasant our experiences tend to be) It has to do with conditioning and reality. You women are always the preferential type. You are “black enough” and passing, but considered better than all of us. I know it hurt you when your black friends wanted you to leave the room while they installed their weaves, but I want you to imagine how hurtful it was for them to probably have to see you everyday- in all of your glory, with your hair texture, not having to do what they did. I’m sure they did not envy you, as they loved you, but I’m sure they felt inferior in some way because let’s be truthful: it is not just hair. I’m sure it hurts to be told you’re not African, but I hope you know it is only the ignorance of people that are unaware of African history. Africa is not a country and people continue to believe that Africa is solely exclusive to black people, or people who look a certain way (west africans), when it’s a large continent. Many countries, races, tribes, and complex histories. I’m sure hearing “you don’t look african” was hurtful, but imagine being told, “I don’t like black girls, I only like East African or Spanish girls, or mixed/light skinned women,” it sucks. We are never enough as we are, and often, we are outshined by women like you who don’t even know how hard it is to be one of us. I’m sure your black experience is challenging and unique in its own way, and yes we are all different, but it is better by default. When it comes to identity, there is no more scorned than a black woman. Lighter skinned black women have it easier, ambiguous and/or mixed women have it easier, and East African (ambiguous)/Latino (often ambiguous) women have it much easier.

    I am not trying to thrust you into guilt or remorse for something not your fault, but I just hope you realize it is not personal. Your black is not ours.

  3. Zewdya

    Also, there is not enough “space” and that is a false concept of unity that people try to speak on to make black women stop talking about the preferential biases they’ve experienced. An East African girl, OFTEN, will look like you and women like you who have straighter features/curlier hair, straight noses, and often get the, “What are you?” question because people say it enchantingly/stunned by how beautiful you guys are. Us actual black women, however, are out shined and out-resourced by women of your kind who yes, are black to a degree, but not really. (Sorry if that sounds ofensive, I can not think of an appropriate way to word it better, I apologize deeply though) Mixed women or women like yourself from the horn or latinas consistently try to speak on a black experience as if they truly know what it is like. You don’t. Any black woman who is not lighter skinned, ambiguous to some degree, mixed, or passing won’t experience a struggle the same as someone who is just regular and “plainly” … black? I dunno, it’s a bit complex but I hope you can understand where I am coming from. I don’t really think women realize how detrimental inclusion can be to black women. It has gotten so bad that in the natural hair movement, women like yourself are becoming the face of something oppressed and societally “ugly” women have created to make ourselves feel safe and loved.

  4. Hannah

    I am African. I don’t identify with “black”. Slavery is not my identity. I prefer to see people for their integrity and not their features. If skin is what you concern yourself with, then maybe you have severe personality issues. They are not my issues. They are yours. I also do not listen to those who talk about “blackness”. They have some really bad confidence problems going on. All this “too dark” and “too light” rubbish is just that: RUBBISH.

    Ethiopian and PROUD. Humanity is one beautiful species and that is enough for me. Culture before the fallacy of “race”.

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