Author Bahru D. Bayisa
Discrimination and abuse wound the human soul. They destroy self-esteem, devastate personality, and expose to varieties of personal and psychological issues. This is especially true when such unfortunate maltreatments begin during childhood due to racial or ethnic differences. These wounds are never easy to overcome. Fortunately, our world has achieved a significant progress in this regard by the help of humanitarian movements and the human rights advocates throughout the world.
The twenty-first century is marked by an unprecedented technological advancement. This in turn resulted in the mingling of diverse groups of people throughout the world thereby enabling societies to accept, or at least tolerate the myriads of differences among them. As often said, the globe has become one village, and no niche is an island anymore. The modern man, regardless of where he lives or which race or ethnicity he or she belongs to, is now confronted with the undeniable truth that no one group of people is inferior or superior to any other.
In one of the graduate courses I took on diversity at San Diego State University, we had to do a “culture plunge” by going to communities of people from different cultures, and languages that were not intelligible to us. We plunged ourselves into cultures of the groups and tried to introspect how we felt about ourselves as a result of being different, or not being able to communicate with any one. The result was astonishing. We felt totally lost and alone despite the crowd. The experience was so informative and powerful that, as teachers, we can always empathize with any student who comes to our classes from the Middle Eastern, Asian or African cultures with minimum English language skills, and find him- or herself in a totally different cultural milieu.
The fact that we are different culturally, linguistically, psychologically, or racially does not mean that we are better off or worse than others. We are just different. Anyone person may, sooner or later, unavoidably experience a culture shock when involved in a culture plunge. Most educated and confident people understand these diversity issues, and try to treat everyone with respect without expecting any favor in return. For example, some studies show that most people in the United States treat immigrants with significant amounts of respect by going out of their ways to support them in various ways. They don’t really care whether you are Chaltu or Mantegbosh!
However, some supercilious and arrogant groups and individuals condescend on the cultures and languages of other people as if their culture and language are better than that of others. In
the Ethiopian empire where over eighty ethnic groups coexist with their own cultures and languages, it’s incomprehensible for an average Ethiopian—let alone the so-called educated ones, to be totally out of touch with this reality. Most “main stream” Amharic speaking Ethiopians are still oblivious about the burning issues of diversity in the country, and they don’t seem prepared to take a single stride in the right direction. They fervently deny or justify verbally and psychologically abusing others especially, the Oromo people. There is no way they feel the pain and agony they inflicted on most of us because the pains are only ours, and we cannot forget them. Their own proverb, “Ye wega biresa, ye tewega ayiresam.” may be in order here, so to speak.
No language, culture, religion, or lineage makes a people the first class citizens of any country at the expense of others, and for our Ethiopian friends this truth may be paramount to an insult. Who can be equal to the saints? Time and again, most of us failed to fit their criteria, namely being Orthodox Christians, speaking Amharic only, and denying everything about us. They are not aware that the essence of diversity is acceptance, or at least tolerance of the needs of others. I said “modern man” because those who are still in the medieval mentality have not yet achieved the intellectual and moral standards of human dignity.
“Chaltu Inde Hellen”, according to the well-spoken Geresu Tufa, is a true story of a young, bright, and pretty Oromo girl who was a relative of his. The prolific and enlightened Tesfaye Gebre’ab, heard this touching story from Geresu, and only used his superb writing skills and outstanding literary gift to make the story so powerfully moving with a tragic suspense. Samson’s continuous bullying of Chaltu and his classmates’ ganging up on her as soon as the honorable teacher, Tsigie, left the classroom are all familiar classroom horror stories for many of us. It’s also worth mentioning that the actions of conscientious and caring individuals like Tsigie mean so much to the victims of this pernicious system, and that we should be very careful not to make hasty generalizations.
Anyone with a typical Oromo first (or second) name, who lived among Amharic speakers, may automatically see him- or herself in this sad story and tearfully sympathize or empathize with Chaltu, while the unsympathetic Ethiopians see themselves in Samson Zeleke, who was bullying and bashing this poor girl non-stop. She was obviously brighter than the bully (who stood forty-first in his class) since she stood third in her class, but it really doesn’t matter in Ethiopia. You can be a bully as long as you belong the “right” ethnic group and find a lonely victim from “other” ethnic groups.
I never forget a summer day when, while my Oromo friends and I were walking in Piazza, Ethiopia, chatting in Afaan Oromo, an Amharic speaking beggar begged us for some change. We politely answered him that we didn’t have change. He was so upset and abruptly yelled to our face, “Hodam Galloch!” We walked by him quietly since we were more refined university students than the beggar who believed he was better than us just because he belonged to the “right” group. My older brother, now 60, whose first name is Bedhsa once told me that his college dorm mates called him “Be xaasaa”, and stressed to me that there was no escaping the abuse since the system itself condones such ethnic slurs and abuses. His eldest son’s name was Dinqa Bedhasa, and as may be expected, was often addressed as “Dingayi Be Xaasaa” by these heartless imbeciles. He was later forced to change his first name to Megersa. My younger brother named Gutu was often called “Guttoo!” and he was so emotionally drained about it all the time.
I myself have personally experienced such abuses due to my last name, Bayisa, but mine was less severe since my first name was “acceptable” to the bullies. I especially felt so bad when, in the third year at Sidist Killo, my close friend and dorm mate, whose last name was also Bayisa, decided to change it. When our professor asked him why he wanted to change his last name, his explanation was that girls teased him so bad, and that he should take more acceptable last name to be on his B.A. degree by the next year. I enjoyed some degree of justice though when the professor yelled, “Do you see how he has just Amharized himself? Shame on you!”
My point is that all my family members with an Oromo name have been severely bullied at one time or another. And, it goes without saying that all Oromos whose identities are known to these narrow-minded, ethnocentric gangs cannot be immune to such demeaning and dehumanizing abuse. The painful irony, however, is that it is they who are complaining and whining the most about their diabolical and condescending words and manners. The so-called Judge Weldemicheal’s dubious and inconsistent diatribe is a case in point. His unending and self-contradicting argument proves that even education failed to change the minds of the Ethiopians. How could a lawyer, given all the facts we know, say that Tesfaye Gebreab is a devil who should have been persecuted for a genocide? Education was wasted on him! No wonder that thousands of innocent people in Ethiopia have suffered in the hands of such incompetent and cruel lawyers.
Similarly, in his interview with SBS, journalist Zenaneh Mekonnen did not come anywhere close to admitting the truth about Tesfaye Gebreab’s Chaltu Inde Hellen. All he did was criticize the writer for inciting ethnic conflict in order to dismantle Ethiopia. His argument that the name
“Chaltu” is acceptable around Finfine is disingenuous and far from the truth. He should be in our shoes to feel our pain and suffering.
Educated or illiterate, young or old, these groups cannot see beyond their narrow ethnic boxes. Like sheep, they follow one another. Like parrots, they repeat verbatim what one of them says.
They still, out of sheer ignorance and empty pride, think that they have been favored by God over other people. And, they still think their severely prejudiced opinions are facts, and they take them for granted. Any deviations from their scheme of thought are considered unwise and naïve. They belittle, despise, and disparage not only the views of others but also the identity of the people who they think are naturally inferior to them. Nazism, fascism, and apartheid were examples of state doctrines in which the supremacy of one people became the norm but these doctrines have long gone for good. Ethio-centerism, however, is a doctrine that totally disregards diversity issues and attempts to build the supremacy of one group of people at the expense of others. It has destroyed, and is still destroying the identities of others in order to build the one and only Emiye Ethiopia.
When we speak and write about these abuses and bullying, it should be clear that we have been the victims. Why would we play victims if we haven’t suffered such unbearable pains? It’s not fun to be victims. Therefore, rather than trying to deny or justify the abuses and the bullying, it would be wise to apologize, or at least admit it. Trying to victimize the victims will totally destroy any hopes of reconciliations in the future.
All told, we will rise above all these unfair encroachments on our inalienable human rights sooner or later. We will overcome just like so many others before us. To do this, however, we should not bow down to their demands and expectations, for doing so will only prolong our pain and agony. On their part, the bullies should be educated about diversity issues and stop bullying other ethnic groups, especially the Oromo. We could have easily been their dreams, but if they continue to be disrespectful, we can also be their worst nightmares because WE WILL RISE AGAIN!