Are Ethiopians Racist?

Photo by Gabriella Muttone

Publisher’s Note: Steven Ivory has been a music and culture journalist for more than twenty-five years. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Essence, Vibe, and The Source, among other publications. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

This article had been published on the Electronic Urban Report (EURweb.com) and the African-American Village prior to its publication here with the author’s permission in January 2003.

Steven told Tadias that Ethiopians who have read the essay have responded to him with warm words and expressions of regret.

“So many Ethiopian people have written in kindness and apology”, he said. “There is no need for this, I know that the actions of a few don’t speak for a whole race.”

We have selected this piece from our archive with a hope that it might spark a healthy debate on the issue.

My Own Kind
By Steven Ivory

Updated: August 13th, 2008

For several years, I’d passed the restaurant while driving through that side of town. It looked like an interesting spot; I said I’d stick my head in there one day.

But when that day finally came, it reminded me of the scene in the movie “48 Hours,” where Eddie Murphy ventures into a bar that happens to be a white country & western joint. My arrival was not nearly as spectacular, but I did elicit my share of curious glances.

A bartender can set the mood for a patron, and the man pouring my drink was pleasant. However, our good-natured chat about the weather and the day’s headlines wasn’t enough to take the chill off this room. I casually looked around the place and couldn’t find one face that appeared to hold much love for a newcomer.

Taking another sip of my beer, I told myself that maybe it was just me. What did I expect, a welcoming committee? I reminded myself that many social establishments often react a little coolly to non-regulars. Maybe what I was feeling didn’t have a damned thing to do with anything but familiarity.

The restaurant was more than half full, but I had the tiny bar all to myself, so I was glad that two men and a woman in the mood for libations joined me. For all the acknowledgment made, though, I might as well have been invisible. When another man moseyed in and took a seat at the end of the bar, he somehow ended up in the trio’s jovial conversation. So they weren’t blind or anti-social, after all. I deduced that it had to be my cologne.

Or, just maybe, it really WAS me. And maybe I really DIDN’T come in here for just a drink and cordial camaraderie. Maybe, deep, deep down inside, I’d come in here to make some kind of point. I certainly was open to conceding as much to myself.

And so, with very little chance of my self-examination being interrupted, I sat there and gave it all serious, honest consideration – and confirmed that I truly did have honorable intentions. I figured I’d come in here, have a drink, dig the atmosphere and thus add it to my list of places to go. For reasons that evaded me, it wasn’t working out that way.

I couldn’t ignore the irony, of course – the very notion that hundreds of years later, there’d be the issue of us getting along. For many years, I’ve heard all the reasons. Inevitably mentioned are issues of culture and the idea that any problems among us are, ultimately, the residual affect of slavery in America. Did that sinister deed, besides everything else, somehow drive a wedge between brothers under God’s sun, a division that, after all these years, still remains?

And who says that we, in particular, must get along, anyway?

But we SHOULD … shouldn’t we?

Once again alone at the bar, I was pondering it all when the bartender spoke.

“My friend, may I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“Why did you come here tonight?”

I explained that I’d never been here before and I thought it adventurous to try something new.

“Just a drink? Or did you also hope to meet some of our women?”

It all sounds so offensive now, but you had to be there. His words came sincerely – out of curiosity more than anything else and, I suppose, concern. I thought about his question.

Maybe, I replied, I ventured in here hoping, perhaps, to discover some measure of kinship. Or, as corny as it might sound, just a little bit of myself.

“But it’s Friday night, my friend,” he said.

“There are many other places in this city for you to be. Would you not want to be with … your own kind?”

I know – it all could have made for some compelling banter. However, after seeking conversation over the course of two beers, all I wanted to do now was leave. I tried to pay my tab, but the bartender simply smiled.

“It is on the house, my friend,” he said.

Translation: Just leave, my friend. Please.

As a Black man born and raised in America, I’ve dealt with prejudice, racism and mistrust in many configurations. Sometimes it is subtle and other times not so subtle, and you can encounter it anywhere, from anybody. Still, it never occurred to me that I’d face any of those things on a Friday night in an Ethiopian restaurant.

From the tiny bar I gathered up my pride and headed out in search of “my own kind” – and hoped that I’d know them when I saw them.

11 Responses to “Are Ethiopians Racist?”


  1. 1 zol Aug 13th, 2008 at 10:34 am

    I thought he got one dummy bartender and it was a sad coincidence, I bet!

    Otherwise, We are pretty sociable in most instances.
    Please visit our restaurants quite regularly and you will end up being socialized!

    We love you

  2. 2 joe Oct 16th, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    Topic title is misleading. Sure the bartender was an ass but surely, you did not come to that conclusion after one night. I expected some kinda experiment or some kinda general facts.

    Through out grade school, I have seen and experienced un acceptance of African immigrants from the African American community but you don’t see me making a sweeping generalizations.

  3. 3 lily Mar 12th, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    I HAVE COMMENTED ON THIS BF BUT WAN ADD THIS…WHAT IS RACIST ANY WAY ” TREATING OTHERS WHO ARENT THE SAME AS YOU DIFFERENTLY” dont we do that in our every day life…admite it or not we do wether wanting or not, bcs of setuations, depending on individuals, some might be visible some might not but still there and it will always be like that…although the level it gets might minimize time after time, country to country, state to state….
    But everyone dont forget..how many different views this topic should have..I would like to focuse on why Mr Ivory brought this article up, is it to honestly know or to generalize every body as same? And if you have done generalized everyone same because of ur one encounter, what if that bartender has that one bad encounter that made him generalize every A American to be the same as well… if steve happen to generalize every one the same he is in the running for being racist as well!!! We Ethiopians have faults with in each other and towards others and A American have faults..we cant fix others with out fixing self!! AAmerican clean your image!! Ethiopians like the bartender and rest open ur minds…do on to others the same you want it to be done to you!!!

  4. 4 Russell Fig Aug 1st, 2009 at 10:03 am

    Ethiopiabs are racist towards other blacks if you look like them it helps. they call blcks who look like West Africans or black Americans a Baria which means slave.

    In their own country they have Nilotic people with those features like the Southern Sudanese who live in Western Ethiopia and they are looked down on. If you were a black American who had the Semetic or Cushiatic look they woud accept you.

  5. 5 EmpreZion Aug 23rd, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    My King was Ethiopian and treated me as a Queen and he respect Me and I respected him and we had opposite features and you know he deemed his to be of weak Genes and deemed mine features to be of the strong Genes. now you see the good sense he had? yall better know that all of africa be mighty and powerful! you know what he and i knew for sure Mama Africa be Powerful. oh i am from Niger Africa!

  6. 6 Lyn Mar 5th, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    I have an ethiopian co-worker and she said to me their people are special they abhor mix marriages and they even called other black african a slave.

  7. 7 Dan Apr 19th, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    As an African (Kenyan) this is expected behaviour from the Ethiopian community. Not all of course act like this, but many believe as the people Steve encountered. The irony of it all, is quite a number had to go through Kenya as refugees. Belief systems that will keep people down. I have had several try to make the distinction that they are not African!! Yet when people think of starving Africans Ethiopia is what they think of, not the “inferior” Kenya or Nigeria

  8. 8 GodBlessEthiopia Aug 11th, 2010 at 6:05 am

    Ethiopians aren’t all racist. But some (especially the older generation) tend to associate only with those of their ethnicity. It might be as a result of different cultural traditions and language barriers. Also a few assume that their women are the most beautiful in the world and every race is attracted to them. They feel threatened and believe that African American men would rather be with an Ethiopian female than be with someone of their own race. I bet that is what happened in your situation. Not all Ethiopians are the same, so don’t let one situation influence your overall opinion. I am Ethiopian and love African/African American/Black men. Every race is beautiful!

  9. 9 Ariel Aberra Nov 27th, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    I am Ethiopian American and he probably asked you that because most Black American men I have met want to date everything but an African American woman. Just in the past month alone I have had about then Black American guys come up to me and they all start with “what are you mixed with?”. “Are you from the Islands? Your hair is pretty.” Sorry to sound racist but most Black American guys i’ve met only want to date white women, hispanic women, Asian women, Arab women or East African/East Indian looking women. You should do an article on why Black American men feel that they are too good to date and Black American woman. Why do Black men stop dating Black women the second they get some money?

  10. 10 des Jan 19th, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    Wow, can’t believe even the most stupid bartender, as Ethiopian as he might be, utter those words. I am Ethiopian and I know there is bunch of uninformed wanderers out there.

    Ethiopia has been a closed down culture for 2000 years. With a swipe of Judaism, Christianity and Islam at some obscure past it then closed down around its rugged interior. Now the country is opening up, some Ethios have been venturing out in Africa and Europe for the last 200 years.

    One thing is sure, Ethios can be awkward, shy and distant. This is so for everyone, white, black, Yellow, brown, etc… In Africa, Europe, Asia and America. Ethios see themselves as different and hard to understand. We think our ways are strange to others. We opt to keep it safe and inwards. Kind of like the Japanese.

    Most Ethiopians I mingle with who lived here in the US for some time know the free air they breath is a result of crushed bones and spilled blood of African American souls. We feel indebted and stand inline with our Brothers for the African cause.

  11. 11 EmpreZion Jun 22nd, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    here is an enlightenment of my personal observations after being around many of them also study the Ethiopians round there like minds … & yes they are highly prejudice…and against Darker skinned Blacks world wide … also they tend to favor the White European more…although I found they do not know they possess this behavior … the lighter ones use the same Cast system as the Indians ( which are their relatives too)it’s embedded in them unbeknownst to them.
    No strong stance can come from these whom are out right instilled with this type of thinking…
    they are not interested in the Reparation … damage which the bible caused with forgive & one love brain washing them over time.
    over a time … my king left me for a white wombman & connection with the Reggae music … him not realizing I had even greater pull world wide…all African Bloods too! EmpreZion aka Wifiyah Hakim

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