by Furdos Nurhussen

A few months back I attended an event held by the Ethiopian and Eritrean Student Association at Arizona State University titled “Black or African?” We gathered to discuss what it means to be Black and/or African specifically in an American context. What cultural distinctions do we have and where do our experiences intersect. I wanted to elaborate on some of my thoughts regarding how we as Black/African people define ourselves, as well as how I personally define myself.

Sooo, here’s some back story. I’m an Ethiopian-American born in Sudan. My parents emigrated to the U.S. from Sudan when I was a few months old and we settled in good ‘ol, sunny Phoenix, AZ. I grew up in a predominantly African neighborhood where the majority of my childhood friends were of either Mexican or East African descent (and quite naturally I became very comfortable around these groups). My interactions with other ethnic/racial groups (including African-Americans) were scarce until about high school. This is important to mention because it shaped the way I view race. 

I think it is safe to say that African-Americans and African people view each other as separate groups despite originating from the same continent.  This has largely to do with having different histories. African people, especially if they have recently immigrated, tend to relate and hold on to the traditions of their home countries. They’ll eat African food, speak their mother tongue, and uphold cultural rituals.

African-Americans have lived in America far longer. Having been removed from their culture and history due to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, they have crafted a culture distinct to their experience. They have food, music, and language specific to their group.

So, am I Black or African?

To put it simply, I am both Black and African, but when asked I often identify as African.

This is what feels most true to my identity and upbringing. I grew up eating injera, drinking boona, speaking Tigrinya (kinda), and to some degree following Ethiopian traditions. At the same time I am, indeed, Black, if you understand it to mean originating from Africa. But to call myself Black, as in African-American, almost feels like appropriation.

Sure, I grew up listening to Nas, Tupac, Snoop Dogg, and 50-cent (thanks big bro for introducing me to rap music), and I read James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, and Richard Wright in college. However, I know that isn’t enough to claim Black American culture as my own. My ancestors weren’t the ones who suffered centuries of injustice, who pioneered the civil rights movement, who created jazz and hip hop, and fought tirelessly for the rights that so many minorities in America now enjoy. But I will say I have adopted Black culture and I have a deep love and appreciation for it.

I, along with many children of African immigrants, have found a new home in Black American culture as we drift a little farther from the culture of our parents, and from the shores of the mother land. In the end, we are all a part of the African Diaspora with our roots buried beneath African soil. 

So, what are your thoughts? Are you Black or African? Share this post via Twitter to continue the conversation. Make sure to tag @amara_line.


Furdos Nurhussen is the Co-founder of AMARA, a language and literature enthusiast, and die-hard coffee lover.