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Black American: Color Line


RACE PAGE: Many or None


From Anatoly:
I think that after I was "red" in communist Russia, my white color is questionable. One color I resented the most in Moscow -- the grey. That's maybe the single reason why I defected. You see them everywhere, faceless and blank. Since Russians lived in a closed society, they had ethnic, but not the racial conflicts. It's not a surprise that people famous for "pogroms" could be racists.

How do I file the shameful line in applications -- the race question? Shameful, because there was a nationality point in every Soviet passport. It mattered little, if you happened to be Russian. It was done not for them, for others. If you have "Jewish" in your passport, they knew how to red and what to do. there was 5% quota in universities, they tried to limit Jews from getting too much education.

It was a matter of politics, that royal offsprings would have as many bloods as possible. There are over seventy different languages in Ethiopia, perhaps, hundreds of clans with their own nobility. It was a long process of mixing blood in the line of Lion of Judah. In fact, the very begining of the Solomic dynasty started with the inter-racial relations of black women and a semitic king.

How do they draw their color line in Africa? Oh, yes, there are "blacks" in Africa. And "whites"?

New Genegation

We do not see our family as multi-racial. Nevertheless, we talk about it. Because the issue exists.

[from Chapter 1. 2000 of "HIM" - See page "Writing I" for Part I.]


History is a big problem. Maybe this is the reason for the end of history.

History is a series of troubles which we have to understand to prevent ourselves from repeating them. But all troubles of history occurred because we are the problem. We remember that but not when we judge history. We know what they didn't understand and what should be done to have it right. Our assumption is that we learn from and we know it all now. We don't ask questions, we give answers. Isn't that what any science supposed to do?

The first problem with history is that it never ends. Even after "the end of history" we still have something of a historical process. We still have the past and the future with us in the middle.

The postmodernists who have problems with time and history should consider living in Africa. Even within a global village environment Africa managed to have no visible history. Or a history which we can include in world history. Only a history of troubles. And African troubles have to be big to make it to our evening news. Nothing good comes from Africa. Only the bad things, hunger, wars, AIDS.

Sir Arthur Kirby, Commissioner for British East Africa in London, said in 1958, that "in the last sixty years . . . . East Africa has developed from a completely primitive country, in many ways more backward than the Stone Age. . . ." In David Hume's opinion, pre-European African Negroes could boast of "no ingenious manufactures among them, no arts, no sciences."(1)

[Look further back, and you will discovered that God didn't created an Englishman. Or even a race. Never the less, how come the ancient civilization of Africa never followed the Wonder of Europe? There are many answers, too many.]

The above patronizing statement looks flattering to Haile Sellassie. There are enough testimonials of what he accomplished in modernizing Ethiopia, including the model of Emperor itself. What is missing in such an approach is to notice what Haile Sellassie dismantled while reforming the country. The intellectual moment of departure from the past is the most dramatic and intriguing in the story of Ras Tafari. To a great degree Ethiopia is a hostage to its own long history. The radicalism of the last two decades could be explained as a need to get rid of the cultural treasury in order to move ahead faster. Not the present but the Ethiopian past has to be re-elevated. Who would do it and when?

European interest in its own past has a rather recent history. Archeology as a science owes more to the colonial period perhaps more than to the European soil. The parallel existence of Europe and Africa is no more a paradox than the co-existence of West and East, or even the wonder of developing neighboring cultures which we saw and can see everywhere.

Only after our return from Ethiopia did I realize that the family never visited a single museum in Addis. Archeological, Historical, Art -- museums are not there. The country still behaves as if it is itself a museum. The preservation of the past is done by foreigners. Even the famous pre-historical excavations are conducted by outsiders. Even a poverty-stricken post-communist Russia struggles not to give up its museums and libraries -- the last hope for a possible future renaissance.
And Ethiopia is one of the better known African civilizations.

The lack of knowledge is just a part of the problem. The efforts of "post-colonialist" academia to move in the third world studies in many ways causes more harm than good. The extremes of cultural studies are an easy target. The basic mistake is to replace European heritage with "non-white" cultures. To acknowledge somebody's achievements, do we really need to put the other down? After a century of modernity with its universal attitude and discoveries of the Other, itís too late to advocate the need for inclusion of non-western cultures into a body of our knowledge. The question should be how much did we learn from it? How much more can we get?
The problem is not with the subject itself but with mass consumption of cultural studies -- where cultural and studies are lost. There is nothing new about the trivia which takes place when ideas and masses meet. It's a pain and price of popularization.
....Back Americans, Ethiopians, Russians and the rest in the POMO Universe (Americana)



According to a 1992 estimate, the national population of Ethiopia is about 54 million. It is most densely concentrated in the highland areas. Almost 90 percent of the people live outside cities. More than 45 percent of the people are 15 years of age and younger. Both birth and death rates are high. The average life expectancy at birth is about 45 years for males and 49 years for females, among the world's lowest.(2)
In the next 30 years the population is expected to double. A country one-third the size of Europe and with no less diversity has very little impact on world history. It's totally consumed with inner struggle. Ethiopia, as other parts of Africa, lives through the process of self-defining which went on in Europe for centuries.

From potentiality to actuality?
From nation to state? What nation? Afro-communism spans out of politics of modern history. Dictators and dictatorship shacks Africa for three decades. De-colonization brought a wave of civil wars. What did they bring? Oh, we are here not to explain but to change history (Marx). What's now? From state to nation? Which one? Will Africa fall again into neo-tribalism?

How many nations are then in Africa?
More than countries.
Who are they?
To understand Ethiopians is to travel far into the past. The small, the un-noticeable. Egyptian motifs in Ethiopia. They are less visible than African. People's features, not only Semitic or Arabic. Did they move down the River Nile to give birth to the great Egyptian civilization? Did Ethiopian Jews come down at the time of Moses's exodus? Egyptians thought that Ethiopia is a land of God. Because of the Nile's source? Mountains? What will be the meaning of "Ethiopian" in the future? Colors? Ceremony of coffee drinking? Will there be a country "Ethiopia"? Something will be there -- in Africa.

Oh, the nationalism of many nations! Tigrey government, Oromo movement, independence of Eritrea. Each of them claims to be Ethiopian.... What is "Ethiopianess"?


What a century it was!
Archeology of history: H.S.'s path from absolute monarchy to modernity could be analyzed as a reverse process. Democracy (communism) doesn't (?) mix with monarchy. Our previous history was an evolution, breaking away from the only known to us social model of vertical hierarchy does seem to be revolutionary. H.S. -- a case study of the last two centuries of the great transition (transformation?). The compressed development when a decade is an equation of a century. That's why African history of the second half of our century is so bloody. Surprisingly, Africa paid with so few in lives for lessons in modernity.
Only now does Africa rapidly approach the mark of one billion in population. The continent was never over-crowded before. In fact, Africa was no more densely populated than the American continent.
Africa is too extreme. Desert or rain forest. Africa looks like a paradise only to a visitor. The two season cycle is difficult to adapt to. The sun is even more merciless than a northern winter. It kills without putting nature into a sleeping mode.
Humans leave their birthplace for a reason. This cradle keeps them in a position of a full attachment to nature.
Mediterranean -- the "middle" climate. Between the North and the South lay the West.
Why then did the native Americans with four seasons remain frozen in times? Isolation?
Life of Asia...
Ethiopians are east of Africa.


In my first life I was a Russian. At least, I thought I was. What a strange experience it was to learn that everything became "international"! It's not as if the Soviets (the people) asked for globalism, it fell on them. It was the sign of the times. It was there and there was nothing we could do about it, only to accept fate. I live my American life with a strange sense of deja vu: it's here, it's ours, whether we like it or not. We could debate was it America's choice or America's mission to stay as a symbol of a super-power, to be in a position of influencing world history, but what difference does it make? We have to react to what we are and where we are. React? The mind is the best place to do it.

Intellectually, Africa is still the land of myths and fantasies. Our discovery of the planet Africa is too recent. Of course, we have no right for this innocence. We are ignorant. I only wish I could write about Ethiopia the way they did before:

In the earliest account of his fabled kingdom, written in the twelfth century, Prester John is described as ruling over seventy-two kings and over the three Indias. In his realm `were to be found all the strange beast recorded in medieval bestiaries, including the salamander which dwelt in fire; from its incombustible envelope were made the Prester's own robes, which were washed not with water but with fire. In his dominions were also the Amazons and the Bragmans and the unclean races of men whom Alexander the Great had walled up in the cities of the north to emerge at the last day. His palace was built according to the designs of St. Thomas, the apostle of the Indies, and contained a marvelous mirror in which he could see all parts of his dominions... He went to war preceded by thirteen golden crosses, each followed by ten thousand horsemen and a hundred thousand footmen, and it was his great ambition to march to Jerusalem and annihilate the infidels.[3] (ER 52-53)

The four of us arrived in Addis Ababa airport in June of 1995. The kids and I -- for the first time. Esther -- after eighteen years. Lost luggage in Khartoum (as in JFK), fight with the customs officers over a computer (the same as in Russia), and the deposit money for bottles of Coca-Cola.... That must be it, the new, the different.

Of course, after a few months one could collect those pieces of the other culture but the Ethiopia of my imagination was better. I was living through the experience my wife lived through in Russia. Real Addis Ababa was a disappointment. Forget the marvelous mirror of Prester John! The locals walked around dressed by a Salvation Army store if it still could offer the fashion of the late forties. Neglect, abuse, indifference. Buildings, cars, people. Even chickens are small, dusty and without meat. The hotels under construction on Bole Road already look old.
What are the "specifics" of Ethiopia?
[And how much of the "specifics" of African customs are "African"? Is it possible that we see "our" past revealed in preserved forms by cultures of the Island of Africa? To what degree do Ethiopia's peculiar practices differs from European or Russian medieval history? And how much do we know about "our" national histories?]
And where is this "true" Ethiopia?
[More notes in Addis 1995]


I have an excuse for a long introduction. My way to this book was long. Haile Sellassie's life was long, and Ethiopian history is even longer. But longest of all is the future.
I wrote this book not for scholars who know Ethiopian history better than I. I did it for those who do not know it. I wanted to understand the future of my children and therefore I became a student of what became part of my past. I started with my second half -- my wife. The Russian book (unfinished) is still too close to home. Also, the story of the end of the revolutionary age could be better seen through the life of one man -- Haile Sellassie. The story of the end of times.
She is black. Sometimes I notice it and say: "Esther, you are black!" She smiles. Does that make me "white"?
I betrayed my race.



	by RuNell Ni Ebo

     Lord, Lord
     Why did You make me Black?
     Why did You make someone
     The world wants to hold back?

      Black is the color of dirty clothes,
      The color of grimy hands and feet
      Black is the color of darkness,
      The color of tire-beaten streets.

      Why did You give me thick lips,
      A broad nose and kinky hair?
      Why did You make someone
      Who receives the hatred stare?

      Black is the color of the bruised eye
      When someone gets hurt.
      Black is the color of darkness,
      Black is the color of dirt.

      How come my bone structure's so thick,
      My hips and cheeks are high?
      How come my eyes are brown
      And not the color of daylight sky?

      Why do people think I'm useless?
      How come I feel so used?
      Why do some people see my skin
      And think I should be abused?

      Lord I just don't understand.
      What is it about my skin?
      Why do some people want to hate me
      And not know the person within?

      Black is what people are "listed"
      When others want to keep them away.
      Black is the color of shadows cast.
      Black is the end of the day.

      Lord you know my own people mistreat me
      And I know this just ain't right.
      They don't like my hair.
      They say I'm too dark or too light.
      Lord don't You think it's time for You
      To make a change?
      Why don't You re-do creation and
      Make everyone the same?


      Why did I make you Black?
      Why did I make You Black?
      Get off your knees and look around.
      Tell me, what do you see?
      I didn't make you in the image of darkness,
      I made you in likeness of ME!

      I made you the color of coal from which
      Beautiful diamonds are formed.
      I made you the color of oil, the black gold that
      Keeps people warm.

      I made you from the rich, dark earth that can
      Grow the food you need.
      Your color's the same as the black stallion, a
      Majestic animal is he.
      I didn't make you in the image of darkness.
      I made you in likeness of ME!

      All the colors of the heavenly rainbow can be
      Found throughout every nation.
      But when all of those colors were blended, you
      Became my greatest creation.

      Your hair is the texture of lamb's wool.
      Such a humble little creature is he.
      I am the Shepherd who watches them.
      I am the One who will watch over thee.

      You are the color of midnight sky.
      I put the stars' glitter in your eyes.
      There is a smile hidden behind your pain.
      That's why your cheeks are so high.

      You are the color of dark clouds formed,
      When I send My strongest weather.
      I made your lips full so when you kiss the one
      that you love, they will remember.

      Your stature is strong, your bone structure thick
      To withstand the burdens of time.

      The reflection you see in the mirror...
      The image that looks back is MINE.


"I was in Africa. I'm not African. I'm an American." Woopii Goldberg. American actress (star) with Jewish last name and African (?) first name. Of course, she is not African, she is very American.
Yeah, American. And what is that?
Something is wrong with this "black" adjective in front of the word "American"...
Black Americans are lost in their search for a true identity. White America has no answer for them; they don't know that the White (what is that?) will be next to face this question. Conservatives and liberals have nothing to say on this matter. They have lived for too long on the assumption that they are "western civilization" (Europeans) to understand the issue. Confronted with the disintegration of "American culture" they are looking for something which they never had -- their own defined ideas. As ideology both "democracy" and "capitalism" are not American inventions. Only applications were made in America. They are Americans de facto. They watch the mess in Somalia or Bosnia with a sense of superiority; they don't understand that the issue of identity which an Arab or an Afghan struggles with has no less dramatic implications in the United States. On cultural, social levels. America is a blind giant which leads the adolescent world into the future without any forms or shapes. We make it, the future.
If the Ethiopians or the Russians are consumed with various shapes of Ethiopianess or Russianess, this problem is more complicated in America. We have no separate ethnic groups, no national republics. Our divisions cross each American through the heart; we have 250 million nations. There's the best ground for extremism and terrorism. White America(s) arrives at the position in which Black America exists with the Civil War. This is a very postmodern situation with no resolution on the political horizon. Not the race but the question of identity is the American agenda.
We know what "American" is only by experience. We define "American" by comparing it to others. American isn't Japanese. (There are Japanese Americans in America and a lot of Japanese in Japan with an American mentality). Since America is a process, ever changing "becoming," our task to define it becomes impossible. In one generation this country goes through transformations which another culture takes centuries to do.
I guess, I am a gray American. For a Russian "white" means an aristocrat. I saw nothing of this sort in America. There are no "whites" in the USA, as well as "blacks" -- Americans should travel more -- Africans are not black and there are too many shades of whiteness in Europe to count. Americans have no color. American racial problems are not even of American origins, it's an original sin from the past, it's our problem only by default. Americans are colorless, color neutral, racially blind. Racism in the US is visible because it's an open society were everything is in the open. We are innocent (stupid) enough not to understand it.


For several months I was a subscriber to the "Ethiopia" Internet group and I still entertain the idea of writing about "Electronic Ethiopians." (If only I could crack the mystery of cyber ethnic identity from the performance point of view). I was a silent spectator of their struggle to discover (construct) their present identity. The Ethiopian diaspora is large and growing. The revolution shock the country and the after-shocks are far from over. Ethiopian restaurants can be found not only in D.C. or L.A. and NYC, there is row of them now in Denver. They bring the spirit of the country with them. They don't know yet that they will never go back, that they are Americans.
Black Americans?
I was wrong about "Electronic Ethiopians," they are Americans. And that's why they are the Invisible, secret Ethiopians. In many ways they are the best, the only true Ethiopians left.
They know the agony of our times.

"Is something really wrong with the black people all over the world? Here in the USA many blacks kill one another for things that are absolutely insignificant. In Latin America, for example, in Haiti blacks kill one another rampantly.
Look what is going on in Africa!! Sudan, Eritrea, Egypt, and Ethiopia are vowing to wage war against one another. The Rwandas devoured one another like a hell. Uganda is at odds with Sudan. Meles' Ethiopia and Sudan are on the verge of devouring one another. Sudan seems determined to rape the X-daughter of Ethiopia, which is Eritrea. Egypt and Sudan are at odds with one another. All of them are trying to destroy one another. They are destroying each other's country. They are destroying Africa. They are destroying the black land; they are destroying themselves.
But look what the Europeans are doing!! They already became united as the "European Union" or "EU". They are growing their economy through unity. They are developing their European culture or white culture. They are extremely advancing in technology; in education; they are invading the space in the sky. They are paving the way in which they put all the world under their total subjugation or submission.
The black people all over the world are paving the way for the Europeans or the white race so that the Europeans will put all black race under their total control; In other words, black people are paving the way for their own destructions.
Are the black people really cursed? Are they really cursed? Cursed? Cursed? Jalala.(5)

I never saw our family as an inter-racial marriage. What did I know in Russia about black people? I don't know how much one could learn about being a black from the Ethiopians. I liked their unique position in history and geography. They were referred as "lost in history" -- they never could claim to belong to one or another side. Emperor Menelik didn't consider himself black or African. Anthropology has no final answer on the origins of Ethiopians. They are dark, all right. One can see all possible shades of darkness on the streets of Addis Ababa, no less than in black Americans. There are "blacks' (Oromo) in Ethiopian, according to Amhara. But the Indians could be even darker! Ethiopian conflicts lie along ethnic lines, at least on their visible agenda.


Only a black person alienated from black language-use could fail to understand that we have been deconstructing white people's languages and discourses since that dreadful day in 1619 when we were marched off the boat in Virginia. Derrida did not invent deconstruction, we did! - Henry Louis Gates(6)

It was only natural. And non-conscious. "Ebonics" is no less real than English grammar. It's not just a deconstruction of the English language but the language itself.
Double consciousness emerges from the unhappy symbiosis between three modes of thinking, being, and seeing. The first is racially particularistic, the second nationalistic in that it derives from the nation state in which the ex-slaves but not yet citizens find themselves, rather than from their aspiration towards a nation state of their own. The third is diasporic or hemispheric, something global and occasionally universalist.(7)
Double consciousness is not a criterion of "black mind" -- but our pomo state of mind....



There are many forbidden topics in the history of Ethiopia. One of them is the Ethiopian colonization of Africa, the participation of an African country in the "scramble for Africa."
The late 19th century Menelik's advancing to the south could be seen as a competition with European powers for African colonies. Until the late sixties Ethiopia had no African identity; on the contrary, it saw itself as a non-African country.

Haile Sellassie finished building the Empire at the time when the empires already had fallen apart. The world was into economic and cultural imperialism, not political. Even at that time Ethiopia was out of touch with the world. Global history time was much more powerful than a local national time -- Ethiopia still lives seven years behind the universal calendar.
We understand imperialism differently.

Imperialism = concentration of capital across national borders. Power is a capital (pre-industrial mode).
Colonization. Was it also the "North over South" in Ethiopian history? Menelik with his army fought not so much Italians but his southern neighbors. In a few years he doubled the size of the empire. There was little resistance, no more than to the Russian colonization of Siberia. When Americans moved to the wild West, Menelik went to the South.

The race issue? Abyssinians over Africans.
The same with Egyptians, who are only located in Africa. Even our present geo-political classification speaks of "Northern Africa" and "Sub-Saharan Africa" -- how many Africas are there?
Oh, Africa is the world and it has four corners.

Was it a mixture of classical empire and imperialism? Marxism always tries to save empires falling apart. That's how we think about "China" -- a country. Really?
Empires end up with civil wars.
The present Ethiopian republic speaks of federation, which is more like a confederation. The same news on TV is broadcast in three languages.
Empires exist only in motion; the moment they stop growing, they die. Any empire is a hostage to its expansion. They have to be in a state of war all the time.

The Ethiopian solution to a race issue -- the mix.

...Color of your skin. Something so simple, turns out very controvertual.

When our daughter was three year old, she had her question of identity solved. Sasha, are you white or black? "I am half Russian, half Ethiopian, half American and half English." The three halfs were easy to understand, but why "English"? Why English, Sasha? "Because I speak English."
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