This is a question a lot of American adoptive families of Ethiopian children ask. It is a valid questions, and most come to the conclusion that both terms are correct.
What maybe we can’t answer is what our children will identify with. I spoke to my friend who is an adult that immigrated to Ethiopia as a child. He said that his family did such a wonderful job embracing all people and not showing favoritism to any ethnicity or race. This allowed him to feel like he could identify with whatever group he felt was right. The result? He feels like he identifies with everyone. That is my hope for my children.
I think no matter what there will be issues that everyone has to face as far as fitting in with western society. Having a darker father and a very very fair looking mother made me look somewhere in-between. Growing up I felt that western media was embracing either an “exotic” darker look, or a more fair “girl-next-door” look. I wasn’t either of these things. I think I was brought up in a way that it didn’t bother me, but I definitely noticed it. Sometimes I’d try to push for one or the other and experiment with what I looked like and it just didn’t turn out as I thought, and it wasn’t me.
I think with both of my children, there are going to be things they notice about themselves that go against what western society is telling them is normal. I feel it is my job to explain to them how the culture of this country works, and explain (or show them) other cultures and why American society is neither correct, nor a universal view.
If my boys grow up and decide to live in the United States they may be viewed differently than when they are with me, and I’m aware of that. I think that is sometimes easy to forget, though. I remember talking to a woman before Samuel came home about how people will view us one way, and then when he is by himself will view him totally another way.
Why does this matter? Because racism is unfortunately very real in our country. I have heard a lot of adoptive parents being criticized for just raising their child as Ethiopian Americans and forgetting that there is an African American subculture in our nation. The criticism is that the parents do not believe that their Ethiopian children will be as big of a target for racism because they’re Ethiopian. However, this is not the case and it is naive to think it is.
I always knew and believed this, but it became real when I heard about an Ethiopian student that was murdered by a white supremacy group in Washington. I just kept thinking that could have been Samuel and that is when it hit me we need to be hyper-aware.
There is real danger in this world for all of our children, regardless of race. I think by pretending it does not exist is very irresponsible for parents. I think when and how to bring up these issues is a personal choice and depends on the age of the children, but it should not be overlooked.