Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rejecting the Single Story

On a yahoo group I'm a member of, the subject this week came up about appropriate attire for your embassy appointment in Addis Ababa. An American posted advice on how to dress, including this statement, "You don't need to go in your best shoes or dress as this would actually not compare to the local peoples best dress."

Anyone else cringe? Well, yes, a brave Ethiopian member of this group responded, politely asking for clarification about what this person meant. A few people came to the defense, saying this person meant no harm and why are we all so sensitive anyway? I so appreciated the Ethiopian woman's response:

"Although I have never claimed to be a
"I-Know-Everything-About-Ethiopia-So-Come-Run-And-Ask-Me", I do know first hand
about my life experiences coming from the African Diaspora and how that can lend valuable insight to people who are adopting children who look like me. If my being protective of the culture to which I belong to is offensive to
anyone on this board desiring to parent a child of Africa, I then question
whether you are preparing yourself for the reality of being in a
Transracial/Transcultural/Transethnic relationship and what it will take to build and nurture positive self-concepts within your child(ren) from Africa as they take on life here in America.
For anyone who would "assume" the "locals" are all poor and without, NOPE. Talk (sic) a walk downtown while in Adis Abeba, visit the Malls, yes Malls, watch the business women crossing the streets in their heels with a soulful swagger as they strut with their briefcases in tote. Ask them about Gigi, the designer and they will gladly point you in the direction where you can buy Ethiopian, not traditional clothing (there is a difference).
So to set one's mindset into thinking "Starving Ethiopia" that's displayed
over and over without seeing the totality of a nation, one would come to the
conclusion that the "locals" best don't compare to Americans best---but then
again, I don't know what the OP meant and would never put her/him on blast without knowing what was meant."

Today, I had another enlightening conversation with my Ethiopian friend Daniel about this subject. He mentioned something about how this person who made the remark about American dress vs. Ethiopian dress must be only "listening to one story." This afternoon, he sent me a link to this speech given by the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie, and I'd love for you to watch it too.

We're still working out details on the time and place for our meeting of the Ethiopian immigrant community with Ethiopian-adoptive families, but one detail is for sure: we're here to reject the single story. Watching this video made me tear up in excitement about what this group could accomplish in terms of peace and understanding, for us and for our children.


Claudia said...

Yes, so much of that online conversation was a total cringe-a-thon. Painful in the extreme.

As someone else said later, that woman must not have travelled yet! The whole time I was in Ethiopia I felt like an absolute scruff - it was embarassing.

That's a great video - and as another blogger said, a truly great shirt!

Anonymous said...

I read that and cringed as well. To be honest, I don't know why I even visit that big board anymore. I'd never feel comfortable sharing or asking anything important. I suppose it's a bit like watching reality television - horrific and intriguing. Usually I walk away feeling embarrassed to be a part of the same community (families who have adopted).

I love your mission to connect families with ties to Ethiopia. Our kids have started attending a local Ethiopian church and youth group and they love it. We are also taking them on a return trip to visit their Ethiopian family. We feel so blessed to be an Ethiopian American family.

Thank you for your thoughtful blog, Lori.

mother of Mihret (age 14), Tsion (age 11), and Ezra (7 months)

Anonymous said...

Me again...just saw the video and loved it. I can't wait to share it with my husband and kids.

Thank you!


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much! That video was amazing! I am sharing it on my blog too!.
Thank you again!

kn said...

i'm coming to the tunnel
might not get this through
but you go girl

los cazadores said...

I love the response from that member of the African Diaspora community on that message board.

Awesome. Will go watch video now.


los cazadores said...

Oh that video is so excellent. It reminds me, I was just having a debate with someone over FB not long ago - someone who thinks Obama is Muslim (ERG!!!)...and apparently, thinks all Muslims are terrorists. Talk about a single story. Erg, Erg, Erg!!!!


The B Family said...

As someone who was raised to always look my best, it really bothers me that people would recommend not caring about how you present yourself or even intentionally looking sloppy. When packing my bags, I consulted with one of my local Ethiopian friends, a woman who hardly ever leaves the house without looking polished (jewelry, hat, makeup, matching shoes and purse, the whole 9 yards all elegantly pulled together) about what I should wear. She told me that casual and comfortable is fine, but advised that it rubs many Ethiopians wrong, and even makes them question people's motives for adoption and knowledge about Ethiopia, when Americans, who they know are primarily middle and upper class Americans, show up to adopt a child, never leaving the city, dressed like they are going on a humanitarian aid mission or a safari.

Calmil2 said...

Thank you so much for sharing this...I was entranced by her beauty and message and will share it with others.

mama becca said...

wow. i'm really shocked that someone on the yahoo group would say that. maybe i shouldn't be shocked... but i am. the ethiopian woman's response was wonderful. our ethiopian neighbors are becoming dear friends of ours. even before really knowing them and their story, i never would've thought of the ethiopian people as anything less than put-together and polished looking. i actually noticed that a lot in ethiopia... even the poorest of people would take great pride in their appearance. as a culture they seem much more put together and respectable-looking than were i live here in the states.
anyway. wow. thanks for sharing your thoughts and giving a voice to other parts of the adoption community as well.

Anonymous said...

I so enjoy each and every post you write. thanks for the things you make me think about and the things you make me smile about! truly a nice part of my day to see a new blog post.

Erin Sager said...

thanks for sharing, I will be passing this on....

PVZ said...

I love that phrase about only listening to a single story, that will stick with me. Thank you.

Kelli said...

thank you for sharing...

Heidi said...

This is great. Thanks, Lori

beards said...

in this transnational, transracial journey will my amazement over insensitive, unthoughtful, ethnocentric, xenophobic, classist comments ever cease? reject the single story. love it. thanks lori. (from laura, tho' am signed in as bearden) :)

Gretchen said...

Great video. I wish I were in a town I could listen to and watch speakers so eloquent as she. Thank goodness for youtube and friends that know how to share the important stuff!

Jen said...

Thank you for sharing. I loved the video. She is so articulate with an amazing message. I can't wait to share with my husband, children, and friends. What a challenge for us to look at people...all more than a single story.

M and M said...

Yep, I read that whole exchange. It's a classis example of how indigenous/local/NOT the dominant culture group totally dismisses the voices and experiences of Poc's. There's a lot of hard work to be done. It's important for AP's to speak up, and maintain our work at being good allies. Awesome video!

Julia said...

I saw that original post and cringed too. And then I was ashamed that I didn't step up and say something myself. I shouldn't have left it to the PoC to make the point.

Lindy Young said...

To which I say, my goodness. That was some response.

I admit that I almost never have the same take on these things that most of my blogging friends do, but I thought I would comment here just because all the other comments lean the other way.

My family currently lives in Senegal, and while it's true that some Senegalese have a LOT of money (drive BMWs, have swimming pools, get dressed to the nines to go out on the town), I think that's a little weird. I feel it's best to dress modestly and not draw attention to myself. Particularly as a foreigner, but mostly because it feels inappropriate to be in expensive, fancy clothes while walking right by other people have so little (if they're in another town or at least a few city blocks over, I will admit that, very hypocritically, I'm less uncomfortable).

And while in Ethiopia there are couture designers and some people there do have money and a nice way of life, there are also lots of people who have next to nothing.

TO me, it's not really clear what she meant. But it seems like she could have meant something a little less ignorant. She could have meant something cautionary by it. Like, be careful and dress humbly while you are in Ethiopia. Don't overdo it.

That seems okay to me.

Anonymous said...

You can dress what ever you like to dress it is upto the indvidual to be cautious of others. Like any othe country Ethiopia have thos who have everything and those who have nothing. It shouldn't take all unnecessary words.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your kind post. I am the one to whom posted for clarification on the big yahoo board only because I did not understand the OP's message. Little did I know that I would receive hateful private e-mails that "accidently" were forwarded to me. I have since then stopped posting on the yahoo board as so many other AP and PAP of color and now hope that Daniel Bekele will continue to be a source of information for AP and PAP who find themselves wanting to learn more about Ethiopia and her people.

I am humbled to have traveled the adoption journey to complete my family and to come full circle of the soil of my parents.

I am honored to be in the company of souls who have heard the call deep within their beings and have pushed past the exterior of society to be called among those into International Adoption of children of color, children of Africa who will live the rest of their lives in America as African Americans--as Americans.

May your paperchase be calm, your waitlist be reflective, your "the call" be tearful, your courtdate and passing be without delays and lastly, may your travels to your destiny be forever engrained within you as you raise your Habesha Honey!