Extra Baggage on a Trip Home

Traveling to my parents' native Ethiopia, I thought I left racial tensions back in the U.S. I was wrong.

AFP/Getty Images

It’s hard to explain the immediate effect the situation had on me. Though, I’m sure that many are familiar with the feeling. That stubborn aftertaste of discrimination—bitter.

Processing the emotions that take shape after being turned away by your own people is even more difficult to put in context; like enduring the “brown paper bag test” at an HBCU. It’s the anger that comes after an unexpected blow, being suddenly vulnerable where once secure.

In muddling through my quarter-life crises, I misconstrued my relationship with Ethiopia. I saw the country as a safe-haven of sorts, somewhere where my race, of all things, would not be an issue. In the States, there remains a constant consciousness of the facts.

I am 20-something.

I am a woman.

I am Ethiopian-American.

I am black.

There is a steady vigilance, an unwavering awareness of the identifiers. There is never a moment when I forget I am black in America; never a moment when I am able to do so.

Perhaps, the constant pressure of these labels is what lends to the tension among black Americans: “Good hair” versus “bad hair”. Light-skinned versus dark-skinned. These divisive issues haven’t eluded Ethiopian blacks, though some would disagree. I’ve often heard relatives and family friends, mention how unique Ethiopia is. Facial features, cultural traditions and historical notoriety combining to form a race all its own. Neither black nor typically African. This, of course, is as wrong as my original misconception; believing Ethiopia to be a vacation from race as an issue. The forces were indeed internal, but I didn’t drag them overseas. They had been waiting for me.

Saaret E. Yoseph is a writer living in Washington, D.C. and editorial assistant for The Root.