“You’re African?”

Elias Tewolde

Elias Tewolde is a writer/soon-to-be author and poet. In this Lyric essay, he expresses his resistance to a forced narrative rendered by negative stereotypes surrounding the proud African identity.

This is a Lyric essay that I wrote. It focuses on my personal experiences as a first-generation African immigrant growing up in Denver, Colorado. I am originally from Addis, Ababa, Ethiopia, but my mother and I immigrated to the United States of America when I was two years old, and growing up, I struggled to be proud of my African identity in a society that reduced the continent of Africa to starvation and poverty. 

But the older I became in age and wisdom, the more I recognized how abundantly rich my continent was. Rich in natural resources. Rich in beauty. Rich in culture. Rich in resilience. Rich in diversity. The continent of Africa is phenomenally rich, & my lyric essay expresses these sentiments. 

“You’re African?”

“Do you speak that clicky-clacky language? Did you live in a hut? Have you ever killed an animal? Were there hyenas in your village? Wait… Did you live by Pride Rock?” These are some of the questions I was asked during my third-grade career at Lowry Elementary. As the only African at my school, it was truly an honor to be the spokesperson for the continent of Africa, all of its residents, and more importantly, its hyenas.



In the book Indigenous Races of the Earth, written in 1857, Josiah Clark Nott and George Robin Gliddon say that “negroes are a creational rank between Greeks and Chimpanzees.” The Chimpanzees must have been happy to hear they had cousins who were almost human. These enlightened authors also blessed each “species” with a list of attributes to help them understand what type of lifestyles its members could thrive in. The negro “could achieve his greatest perfection, physical and moral, and also greatest longevity, in a state of slavery.” How exhilarating.



“The transatlantic slave trade was the largest transoceanic forced migration in history.” Millions of Africans were torn from their loved ones, loaded on small, crowded ships, and forcefully taken to a new world. A world that taught them to hate themselves passionately, accept inferiority happily, and be despised, degraded, and brutalized compliantly.

Current State of Africa

Poverty in Africa is so marked today that it can be seen from our flat screen televisions 8,000 miles away. If we compared the standard of living in Africa, to the standard of living in western countries it would be like comparing a newly planted seed to a 120-year-old oak tree. “Some Africans are much poorer. For them, a whole week’s income is less than the amount someone in the UK, on the legal minimum wage, earns in an hour.”


The history of math is very centered around Europe, but there are actually numerous mathematical discoveries that were made in Africa, by Africans. “The Lebombo bone found in Swaziland and the Ishango bone, discovered on the border between Uganda and Zaire, both baboon fibulas, are the world’s two oldest mathematical objects.”


European art is praised all over the world, but there are many European artists that gained much of their inspirations and ideas from African art work. Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso are two artists that clearly had African influences. “In the early 1900s the aesthetics of traditional African sculpture became what the Metropolitan Museum in New York described as “a powerful influence among European artists who formed an avant-garde in the development of modern art.”


Everyone loves Starbucks, but that coffee doesn’t come from the U.S. In fact, a large percentage of all coffee imports come from Ethiopia, a country in East Africa that has some of the strongest, wildest coffee on Earth.

Natural Resources

Africa is rich in natural resources. From copper to cobalt to diamonds to tantalum to tin, Africa has so many valuable and vital resources that Western society requires to function. If it wasn’t for African cobalt we wouldn’t be able to recharge our phone batteries, and if it wasn’t for African diamonds every kiss wouldn’t begin with Kay.

Music and Dance

Genres of music all around the globe have been influenced by African cultures. Salsa, reggaeton, reggae, jazz, soul, blues, and even rock and roll are all genres of music that have been affected by Africans and their diverse traditions. Dances like krumping, hip rolling, shimming, salsa, tango, and twerking are all styles of dance that are also rooted in African cultures.

Pop Culture

American pop culture is African. From the clothes, to the hair, to the use of ebonics it all has African roots. Africans have contributed to American pop culture in creatively unique ways that have always left long-lasting impressions and attracted people from different backgrounds.

Joloff Rice

If it weren’t for Africans the world wouldn’t be blessed with Joloff rice. Even though which country this tasty dish originated in is disputed until this day its mere existence is a wonderful privilege that we wouldn’t be able to enjoy without Africans.


African spirituality has influenced multiple cultures, and is the mother faith to many different faiths. Voodoo in Haiti, Santa Maria in Cuba, and Candomble’ in Brazil are all religions that are practiced in the Americas, but they all come from Bantu spirituality, the mother religion. Also, Ethiopian culture and history are the main sources of Rastafarianism.


Typically, when people think of Africa, they think of Africans as one ethnicity, but Africa has over 3000 distinct ethnic groups and there are over 2000 languages that are spoken within the continent. People in an African country can have the same nationality but speak two completely different languages.

Powerful African Empires:

Another thing many western history books tend to imply is that African history started with slavery, but the truth is Africans were not always victims. There were many African empires that were politically powerful and prosperous: the Axum Empire, the Benin Empire, the Kingdom of Ghana, the Mali Empire, the Songhai Empire, and the Ethiopian Empire.

“You’re African?”

Yes, I am African. Africa is more than a story of oppression. It is more than a narration of poverty and starvation. It is the magnificent cradle of all human existence. It is a symbol of unapologetic pride and continental greatness. Yes, I am African. Not ashamed, not embarrassed. Just African. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.

You can find Elias on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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