People Have Been Using The Alphabet Of Amharic, An Ethiopian Language, As A Meme. Here Is Why It's Wrong.
"It's actually disheartening to see your own language being considered nonexistent and reduced to a copypasta."
When President Donald Trump announced he had tested positive for COVID-19, his Twitter mentions were flooded with people writing in the Ethiopian language Amharic.
Writing in the language has become a meme online, with people using it as a way to pretend to "curse" someone. The trend has gotten so big that it has been documented by Know Your Meme.
However, many people are voicing their concerns about the use of Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia, in this fashion. Before it became widespread, the meme was predominantly used on stan Twitter, where people also criticized it as disrespectful.
Twitter user @anxtiworld called out the replies under Trump's tweets in hopes of educating people about the language. She told BuzzFeed News she had been seeing "curse" tweets for almost a year now. She found them annoying at first because she is friends with East Africans who speak the language, and has attempted to learn Amharic and about its cultural and religious significance.
@anxtiworld said she has attempted to explain to her Twitter mutuals about why the language shouldn't be used as a joke before. Most listened, but others told her she was being extra.
"So after a while, I kinda just gave up, because it became a staple on stan Twitter to use both Amharic and [the ancient Ethiopian language] Ge'ez to 'scare' folks, when in turn the language is actually very beautiful and not something to be afraid of," she said.
"But I feel after seeing Gen Z, the generation that is supposedly progressive, demonizing one of Africa’s most ancient, religious languages, it really irritated me," she continued, "especially knowing most probably didn’t even know what Amharic was."
After seeing the replies to the president's tweet, @anxtiworld tried to educate people again. This time, her response went viral.
@anxtiworld was pleasantly surprised her quote tweet got a lot of support. "I’m just glad I was able to address it," she said.
@TriviaPhoenix, a 21-year-old Ethiopian based in Philadelphia, told BuzzFeed News she also had been seeing similar tweets on Twitter for a while and has been calling people out to try to educate them about the language's origin. When she saw the replies under Trump's tweet in Amharic, she felt angry.
"But then I thought, maybe the reason people keep using Amharic for such purposes was because they did not know about it," she said.
She wanted to let people know that Amharic is a real language and used by millions around the world.
"It's actually disheartening to see your own language being considered nonexistent and reduced to a copypasta," she said.
@TriviaPhoenix got a lot of responses on her tweet as well. She said she was relieved that it seems the trend is mostly based in ignorance rather than racism, xenophobia, or anti-Blackness.
@TriviaPhoenix tweets under an anonymous BTS stan account, and has experienced people who doubted her and reduced what she was saying because of it. However, members of the Habesha community thanked her for the thread and sent her blessings.
"I felt so happy when I saw those comments," she said.
One of the most viral tweets came from Twitter user @ramdaughter, a 23-year-old from Canada. She said she has found it frustrating that no matter how much time passes, the ignorance about Africa never seems to go away. @ramdaughter said she has seen people have a tendency to mock and belittle African cultures online.
"I always wonder what it is about Africa that people find inherently funny," she said. "The jokes and disrespect seem to really outweigh actual admiration and willingness to learn about the people there."
When she tweeted she said she braced herself for a negative response, but she hasn't seen much of that. She said a lot of people assumed Amharic was a dead language, "which shocked me 'cause around 22 million people in the world speak Amharic."
"It goes to show how you really need to do background checks and research and stuff before hopping on memes these days since a lot of them become harmful once you have context," she added.