the unique somali identity


Rejecting what you are: claiming what you aren’t!!

By Abdullahi Arale

Since their migration to Europe and North America in mid 1980th, there has been a confusion and bewilderment among Somalis, concerning their Somali identity, some of whom calling themselves Somalis as they have always been, and others, due to lack of contextual historical facts calling themselves “black, African” or Muslim, etc. The older, knowledgeable Somalis who still proudly hang on to their collective memory of high self esteem, autonomy, courage and self-worth are very aggravated by the fact that their identity is being defined by foreigners with the collaboration of a careless younger generation. More to the point, on the streets of Urban North American cities , in the schools and in the malls, you find Somali youth mainly young men wearing loose bulgy clothing with caps and very excitedly walking side to side, on sidewalks while pulling up one side of their trousers or pants so that they do not fall from their hips. What is more disturbing is the fact that these youth also early on in their life, at their Somali-Muslim homes have started changing their clean facial features by deliberately jelling their hair making it look like shrubs and bushes just like the black people they enthusiastically idolize. This is not all, in the public transportations, in buses in particular, these young males sit in the back rows of the bus in groups and howl, woof, and bark in a manner that is intolerable to the other passengers. By behaving in such a way, these youngsters are shamelessly copying the despicable manners known to urban black kids in North America.

What is ethnic identity anyway? Identity is a particular ethnic group’s nationality (ancestry), facial appearance, and socio-cultural heritage such as language, customs and tradition. In this argument, I intend to bring up some of the identities that are relevant to this discussion:

Somali ethnicity

  • Somalis are known to have distinct features from any other ethnic groups: they are known for their lean physical built; dark complexion (not black) with Caucasoid faces (aquiline nose, and narrow long faces) and soft hair. Historically, Somalis before settling into permanent settlements were and still are nomads meaning their geographical movements are motivated by constant search for green pastures that is essential to their livestock.

Somalis migrated to North America due to social strife and civil wars in their country. Somalis do not call themselves as “black Canadians” but “Somali Canadians”. In schools, in government institutions and in work places, Somalis are addressed as Somalis. Somalis are also known for their strong cultural, ancestral and faith relationship with the Middle Eastern nations which is illustrated in the membership of Arab and Muslim countries and the immense number of Somalis residing in the Gulf Arab States.

  • Whereas, “Black” has a specific connotation with race. “Black” implies “Negro”-Negroid race encompasses all of the black African tribes as the Zulus of South Africa, Bantus, Haitians, Bachwanis, etc, who have specific features that are totally different from the Somali features. The so-called African American Blacks who are the descendants of black Africans were forcefully removed from their ancestral homes of Africa in 16 century and brought to North America as slaves by Europeans.

This short comparative historical introduction noted above reveals that Somalis have no common ancestry with black Caribbean or Black native Africans, nor have common historical experiences and culture. Somali academics, elders and parents must therefore firstly educate young Somalis in North America and Europe about their different heritage and culture; secondly, disconnect young children from the inner city black youth influences in the schools; and thirdly, reaffirm the proud Somali character of decency, and of transparency in temperament and appearance (proper clothing, proper dress code) as well as vision and wisdom.

Ominous signs of bewilderment:

Any time a young Somali boy comes to near proximity with older Somali men and women in public spheres he either flees the scene or immediately turns his face away from them. It can be deduced from the boy’s behavior that he is not comfortable being in the company of his Somali compatriots while he is very happy to hang out with his black friends. The irony is that although this boy has a Somali mother and father at home and speaks the language fluently, he seems, nonetheless,  based on his character dispositions to have been abducted to a mysterious location and indoctrinated by an unknown underworld, rebellious “black subculture” movement which seemingly bullies him to renounce the morals and ideals of his people. In this unsafe path and of uncertainty to which many Somali youth seem to plough along with will undoubtedly lead them to joining the world of mobsters and hoodlums and consequently ending up in detention centers with hefty prison terms.  Obviously, it requires time and efforts for the community to bring back its  youth to reclaim their Somali identity and traditions so that they could seek better spiritual life, academic Excellency, possibilities for better livelihood for themselves and for their immigrant families, therefore I offer the following recommendations to the Somali community for remedy:

  • Persons in authority positions (community leaders, educators, teachers, politicians and parents) must purposefully educate the community en-masse through the media to stand tall and remain united in the face of the ongoing distortion and misinterpretation of the Somali identity by none other than weak soul-less Somali individuals.
  • Challenge the youth in real time in mosques, at home and in other forums about the need for them to hold up their Somali identity and literally wear it on their sleeves. On this point, Somali parents must be on guard against the urban black subculture’s negative influence in their children. It is a common knowledge that urban black children in public schools have an uncommon skill to pull Somali children down to their non-committal attitude toward progress, thereby converting grade “A” students to “D” students. Case in point, a Somali teacher in one of our conversations shared an account about a rise and fall of a gifted Somali child that he taught in grade seven. He went on to say that the child scored in all tests with A+ in the first two sessions, but as time went on, the boy scored B- and Cs and Ds. The downfall of the Somali child is ascribed to a child of Jamaican descent who was seated together with the Somali child who convinced him that he would not succeed in life even with his high marks because he is black. This is the kind of influence that the Somali children have to endure in public schools where they are told by their black classmates “don’t bother working hard, you don’t achieve anything because you are not “white”- you are black”. Without proper guidance and constant reaffirmation of his creed and identity undoubtedly, in close contact, the Somali child is dominated and taken over by black children whose forefathers were slaved and over the decades failed to lift themselves up from the ashes toward progress. Hence, without proper scrutiny and constant reaffirmation of his different identity and history the child has no option but to take the bait and accordingly fail.
  • Also, imams, parents (moms and dads) and grandparents must detect early deviance in the children: The Somali child’s deviance starts with his adoption of black subculture by altering his proper (academic) English language to street lingo. He Alters also his posture and self-control all set to assuming a quasi animal-like persona as opposed to maintaining his natural human cognitive inclinations.

A concerned observer may wonder whether or not Somali parents are aware of their child’s gradual transformation from a gracious human being to a talking beast. Assuming that parents are aware of the child’s behavior change but can they really correct these abnormalities. Obviously, parents and the community as its entirety need to step up the plate to ensure that their children grow up in a healthy traditional environment where he or she can dream of a better future and develop into a productive citizen.

  • Proud Somalis should always remember that they belong to a unique ethnic group. Any outsider can pin point a Somali in a crowd of thousands for their particular features that are equal to no one else. However, as loose cannon as they are verbally, Somalis tend to confuse color with ethnicity. For instance, the Somali word “madoow” is not synonymous with race; it rather refers to dark color. Whereas the English word “Black” in a racial context, refers to a particular race-“Negroid”. As a result of this linguistic flip flop on the part of the Somalis, they assume that the word “madow” impel them to be part of the Negro race. To the contrary, there are many nations whose color is dark just as the Somalis I.e., Sri Lankans, Indians, and Bengalis, Eritreans, the Tuareg of northern Mali ad the Berber, etc, but, none of these ethnic groups claims to be part of the black (Negro) race, except the mindless, racially ignorant Somalis. Because of their low self esteem and lack of knowledge about their ethnicity, they have fallen into a trap of interweaving themselves into a race that they have nothing in common with, culturally and otherwise.

As lively and recognizable of a community it is, the Somali community is seen by the majority of its members as one that does not have a coherent philosophy, ideology and mission to lead. In a nutshell, the Somali community lacks the kind of unity, discipline, or platform that discerns who they are as people, who can speak for them and who can advocate on their behalf, or organize protests in its name, in times of crisis. For instance, following the death of brother Abdurrahman, the Somali gentleman who died in the hands of the police, in Ottawa, out of nowhere, there showed up a bunch of black men and women and their Somali collaborators, carrying posters/placards with distasteful slogans-“Black Lives Matter”-. My questions to this misfits and their Somali collaborators is, since when they became an advocator/defender in chief of Somali causes or elected to be the guardians of the Somali community. For your information, “black lives matter” movement is a violent black American organization which is in active war with American Law enforcement agencies in the USA and equally has no credibility whatsoever in solving the social problems of Black America.

You bet I got pissed and angry as hell, when I saw these black rugged-faced  individuals, with rubbish attire, following the death of our brother Abdurrahman shouting black lives matter; for god’s sake, why didn’t I see real indignant Somalis out there shouting ‘Somali lives matter’ at the police headquarters. This is all happening because of the Somali impotence with regard to their lack of self-actualization and coherence and lack of nationalistic sentiment in any way you look at it”., said to me an angry Somali.

Today, we are in an epoch (period of time) where every ethnic group of all colors is focused on liberating themselves from old oppressions, thereby asserting and declaring their intentions to hold up their identities like never before. Ethnic groups in North America are also ready to establishing their autonomies and independence by emphasizing any particular tiny difference from other races and ethnicities. For unexplained reasons the Somalis are running the opposite direction. In a multi-cultural multi-racial world, Somalis have grown into the weakest ethnic group of the world societies. They have demonstrated to the world repeatedly their inability to affirming their identity and to standing up for their sovereignty as people and as result regrettably their statehood, self-determination and dignity has been torn apart.

As a new community to North America and Europe, Somalis for the best interest of their community should align themselves with other immigrant communities whom they share common purpose, culture and political views with, and establish strong collaborative and cooperative relationships with the main stream Canadian and American societies and with their governing institutions. Furthermore, the Somali community is remarkably well liked by the main stream Canadians and also by the immigrant communities, therefore Somalis run the risk of losing that support from society if they continue associating themselves to dubious movements and organizations.

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