Chivona Renee Newsome, co-founder of the Greater New York chapter of Black Lives Matter, spoke at a Tigray Genocide protest Sunday morning. This is one of the earliest, if not the first, recorded instances of a BLM representative recognizing the Tigray Genocide as a global Black issue.
In the fiery minute-and-a-half clip, Newsome denounces the intentional blocking of humanitarian aid to Tigray by Ethiopia’s unelected PM Abiy Ahmed. She also condemns the widespread sexual violence being perpetrated by Eritrean soldiers, an issue that seems to grow in scope with every new report.
But for all the good contained in the clip of Newsome’s speech, some parts lacked the care necessary when dealing with severe ethnic-based conflict abroad.
A NY #BLM co-founder Chivona Renee Newsome calls #Eritreans monsters & making a threatening statement saying “I am coming for u” on the Tigray protest. Stop accusing & threatening #Eritreans. Get ur information right!#TPLFisaTerroristGroup #100DaysWithoutTPLF #Ethiopia #Eritrea pic.twitter.com/TeWf10AvpI
— Awit (@EriZara3) February 14, 2021
On the whole, Newsome’s speech was advocacy for the people of Tigray and a denouncement of the genocide being perpetrated by the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments.
From a pan-African and humanitarian standpoint, this is worth a light celebration. Newsome delivered a stronger condemnation of genocide and related war crimes than most Western entities are providing at the moment. Also, the involvement of BLM ensures self-determination and freedom of Black people worldwide remain a key principle in racial justice work.
Beyond the fixable mispronunciation of Tigray (tih-GRY rather than ty-GRA), Chivona Newsome was heavy-handed in her addressing of Eritrea’s involvement in the Tigray Genocide.
For instance, Newsome’s use of the word “Eritrea” could have been a stand-in for the Eritrean government or army. However, Newsome declaring she is “coming for [Eritrea]” and calling Eritreans “monsters” understandably rubbed Eritreans the wrong way online. Considering the average Eritrean citizen lives under the world’s strictest censorship and can be forced into a slavery-like military system on a whim, conflating the acts of Eritrea’s dictator Isayas Afwerki with the will of the Eritrean people is dangerously inaccurate.
In fact, Eritreans look to flee the country at an alarming rate: in 2015, 1 in 10 prospective migrants to Europe were Eritrean—and this was during one of the most violent periods of the Syrian civil war. There are roughly 100,000 Eritrean refugees in Tigray right now, and the War on Tigray has displaced many of them.
In summary, Eritreans are also victims of the Tigray Genocide. Many are being forced to fight in the war, Eritrean refugees are being scattered and forcibly returned to Eritrea (an international crime), and Eritreans who still live in Eritrea are in a constant state of semi-starvation and surveillance. Bringing native Eritreans and Eritreans of the diaspora into the fold is necessary in the fight to end this genocidal war.
Chivona Newsome’s continued advocacy for Tigray needs to come with improved tact and information. That being said, her denouncement of the Tigray Genocide as a leader in the BLM movement is highly valuable. The sooner BLM and related movements treat the Tigray Genocide as an urgent agenda matter, the sooner it will be over.
With eyes toward the future, achieving justice and peace in Tigray will allow Black people globally to pay attention to the debate of Ethiopia’s future: is a unified Ethiopia at the expense of self-determination for nations like Tigray and Oromia worth it?
UPDATE 3/3/2021: Edited for internal link