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«Navigating the Boundaries of Blackness: Congressional Caucuses, U.S. Foreign Policy, and African Affairs by Menna Aklilu Demessie A dissertation ...»

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Navigating the Boundaries of Blackness: Congressional Caucuses, U.S. Foreign Policy,

and African Affairs


Menna Aklilu Demessie

A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment

of the requirements for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy

(Public Policy and Political Science)

in the University of Michigan

Doctoral Committee:

Professor Richard L. Hall, Co-Chair

Professor Hanes Walton Jr., Co-Chair

Professor Mary E. Corcoran

Associate Professor Magdalena J. Zaborowska © Menna Aklilu Demessie DEDICATION To my beloved Mother Zufan Lemma Demessie, my amazing Father Aklilu Demessie, and my inspiring Brother Nebyat Aklilu Demessie. The three of you are my air, my heart, the wind beneath my wings and I love you more than you’ll ever know. And in the name of the Demessie Family, I dedicate this dissertation to my wonderful American grandfather, Harvey Gittler, for his heart of gold in using his life to promote the lives of others.



First and foremost, thank you God for always believing in me and blessing me with the strength, faith, and family to pursue and achieve my goals. To my beloved mother, father, and brother. Zufan, Aklilu, and Nebyat, you are the three shining lights who give me life!

Mom and Dad, not only are you the best parents I could ask for, but I continue to marvel at how smart, hard-working, generous, and loving you both have been to me and everyone around you. Thank you for being my best friends too! Dad, there is no one smarter and more giving than you. You have been there every step of the way for me throughout my life and I would not be able to survive without your love and support.

Mom, there is no love stronger than yours, you are my sustenance, the air that gives me life, so this achievement is just as much for you both as it is for myself. You make me so proud of my Ethiopian heritage and if God gives me just half of your strength, will, and love, I will be eternally grateful. Nebyat, even though you are my younger brother, I have always looked up to you. You are so gifted and your name is no coincidence. I can only dream of being half as smart and strong willed as you. Thank you for being the best brother and friend ever! I love you more than you will ever know and I know Abaye (our grandfather), Lemma Woldetsadik, is smiling down from above for both of us, so we iii must continue to make him and Emaye (our grandmother), Aselefech Gebretsadik, proud.

I thank them for their love and most importantly for giving me a mother like Zufan Lemma. I thank God for blessing me with such a loving family who has not only supported me throughout this endeavor, but my entire life and has made me who I am today. Mom, Dad, and Nebyat, I LOVE YOU WITH ALL MY HEART!

I also dedicate my work to my amazing American grandfather, Harvey Gittler, who because of his beautiful heart, made it possible for my parents to not only make a living in America, but to prosper and experience the best this country has to offer, so that they may pass on even more opportunities to their children. Gramps, there are no words to describe what your true love, gentle spirit, amazing intellect, progressive mindset, wonderful sense of humor, faithful dedication, and selfless deportment mean to me. You truly are the embodiment of what every American should aspire to be. You have been like a father to my parents and a grandfather to me not because you had to, but because you wanted to and because you believed in us. You have supported me every step of the way since I was born to Oberlin College and to the University of Michigan and beyond.

You prove that blood has very little to do with love for family and I thank God for blessing me with a grandfather like you. I will continue to work hard and although I cannot fill your shoes, I will do my best to carry on your progressive legacy of opening one’s heart and door to those who need it, encouraging equal opportunity and fair treatment for all Americans, and using my life on this earth to better serve others. I love you Gramps!

I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to Dr. Mary Corcoran for her unwavering support and mentorship throughout the entire joint PhD process – you are

–  –  –

invaluable contribution to the discipline of political science and I thank you for being wonderful co-chairs and mentors throughout my graduate career. Thank you also for being such GREAT, supportive people. Dr. Magdalena Zaborowska, you are an AMAZING person with incredible intellectual insight and I thank you for your invaluable support and encouraging me to think deeply about my research ideas. Thank you to Michelle Spornhauer and Lili Kivisto for their unwavering administrative support throughout the years! Laura Klem, you are such a great person to learn from and I sincerely appreciate your advice and help. Thank you to Giselle Kolenic, Jing Wang, Danielle Gwinn, Sarah Monsell, and Paul Barron as well. And a special thanks to Dr.

Vincent Hutchings, Dr. Cara Wong, Dr. Edie Goldenberg, and Dr. Tyson King-Meadows.

I also sincerely thank all the wonderful scholars of the National Conference of Black Political Scientists (NCOBPS). Thank you to the Center for AfroAmerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan, my home away from home: Dr. Kevin Gaines, Elizabeth James, Faye Portis, Chaquita Willis, Devon Adjei, Dr. Robin Means-Coleman, Dr. Nesha Haniff, Dr. Julius Scott, Dr. Stephen Ward, and Dr. Angela Dillard. To my OUTSTANDING professors at Oberlin College, I am eternally grateful for being lucky to witness and learn from your intellect and wisdom. In particular, I would like to thank Dr.

Eve Sandberg for her mentorship, Dr. Anuradha Needham for her wisdom, Dr. Paul Dawson and Dr. A.G. Miller for their foresight, Dr. Meredith Gadsby and Dr. Pam Brooks for always being there for me, Dr. Hirschel Kasper for making economics exciting and supporting me in my pursuit of my PhD, and former Oberlin president Dr.

Nancy Dye for their encouragement inside and beyond the classroom, and a big hug to

–  –  –

I LOVE all of you at Oberlin College because you have taught me to always think profoundly and beyond the scope of the classroom, to respect those that disagree with you, to speak with conviction, to make positive change in the world, to serve others, and to not only respect, but always celebrate the diversity of people and ideas that make our world so grand! To my high school teachers at Western Reserve Academy, thank you to former headmaster Dr. Henry Flanagan and Britt Flanagan, and my super supportive high school teacher Mr. Russ Hanson for encouraging me with succeeding in my academic pursuits!

Thank you to all the wonderful congressional staff on Capitol Hill for their time,

resources, and support, especially the following amazing women who lead by example:

Ms, Semhar Araia, Ms. Selam Mulugeta, Ms. Noelle LuSane, and Ms. Nkechi Mbanu!

Keep representin’! I would also like to thank Fomer National Security Advisor, Anthony Lake, for his interview. And a special thanks to The Dirkson Center for the Congressional Research Award, which helped fund my research and data collection.

To my dearest grandmother, Dr. Naomi Barnett, thank you so much for your persistent, professional critique - you were part of this journey every step of the way. I love you dearly and cannot thank you enough. To my second mother, Dr. Yewoubdar Beyene, without you I would not have made it this far, thank you for your love, priceless support, and guidance and for opening up your home and heart to me. I love you so much! To Almaz and Hapte, I cannot thank you enough for helping make Ann Arbor my home away from home, I’m blessed to have an aunt and uncle like you!

–  –  –

professional advice, and encouragement: Melynda Price, you are a true sister, friend, and an amazing person who has been there for me every step of the way, I cannot thank you enough! Tiffiany Howard, thank you for being a great mentor and friend who has encouraged me so much! I also want to thank Khuram Siddiqui, R. L’Heureux Lewis, Tony Perez, Alana Hackshaw, Matheos Yosef, Niambi Carter, Dr. Solomon Addis Getahun, Melanye Price, Leniece Davis, Valeria Sinclair-Chapman, Errol Henderson, Joesph Norman, Tadesse Eshetu, Ross Delston, Nathan Kalmoe, Tayana Hardin, Shellae Versay, Maria Esguerra, Kira Youngerman, Abigail Moller, and Viticia and Mark Thames. Viticia, in addition to being an amazing friend, I am so grateful for your generosity, love, and friendship – thank you ihitaye! Lisa Aubrey, I cannot thank you enough for being such a wonderful mentor, advisor, encourager, and friend. Your passion and intellect have been invaluable in helping me think deeply about giving voice to political issues and challenges facing Africans and the Diaspora! Thanks to my super supportive friends who were in writing groups with me: Shanesha Brooks Tatum, Patricia Moonsammy, and Yolanda Covington Ward, and Zanetta Gant. And special thanks to my graduate family who bonded with me on a spiritual level and sustained me through this process: Maria Johnson, Kenyatha Loftis, Lafleur Stephens, Davin Phoenix, and Dominick Wright! Maria and Kenyatha, we did it together and are stronger for it, thank you for being sista soldiers and friends until the end and beyond! Through the years, the two of years have been there for me in so many ways and I cannot thank you enough! To my best friend, Shena McCall, since college you have been by my side and your friendship and support are priceless! To my lovely sister, Shani Senbetta, I love you and

–  –  –

extended family and parent’s close friends who have been rooting for me all the way.

And to all my vibrant, energetic friends at Bally’s Total Fitness in Ann Arbor who have literally been there every “step” of the way, thank you for keeping me healthy and motivated to jump for the stars!

To my second set of parents and mentors, the board members on the Society of Ethiopians Established in the Diaspora (SEED), and to the founders and their spouses in particular (Dr. Melaku and Roman Lakew, Wondem and Hermela Teferra, Yaregal and Blesilda Gebreyesus, Shawel and Almaz Beyene, Tesfaye and Selamawit Haile, Aklilu and Zufan Demessie). I thank you for birthing an organization that truly inspires Ethiopian Americans to work hard, achieve, become productive citizens of society, and be proud and yet humbled by our Ethiopian heritage and culture at the same time.

Because of you, not only do I know who I am, but I also am proud of who I am and where I come from and will continue to use my life on this earth to help and serve others.

–  –  –

It wasn’t until Jesse Jackson launched a presidential campaign and assembled a group of black leaders together on December 21, 1988, that the use of the term “African

American” was officially designated as a descriptor for black people in the United States:

“’To be called African American has cultural integrity,” Jackson said. “It puts us in our proper historical context’” (JBHE 1997, 12). His efforts continued when he successfully demanded that the New York Times refer to black people as “African American” and they subsequently followed suit. Jackson was attempting to ascribe displaced black people in America with an identity beyond the whims of white folk, who assigned them interchangeable terms such as “Negro,” “Colored,” and “Black ”, in hopes of instilling a sense of national identity to a group of people who had not only been stripped of their culture and ethnic distinctiveness or a land mass to which they could call “home,” but also their citizenship rights in the United States (Walton and Smith 2006). Essentially, slavery rendered black people in America invisible, while also truncating any viable sense of ethnic or national attachment to their ancestral homeland in Africa. Equally important, as the numbers of African immigrants to America have increased sizably since

–  –  –

recognize black ethnic diversity has also rendered them invisible. 2. This has been particularly troubling for mainstream American politics discourse because without accounting for black ethnic diversity, we cannot capture nuances in voting patterns, policy preferences, congressional representation, participation, social and political movements, citizenship rights, etc., that would help both scholars and policymakers better assess issues of equality and representation within black America.

Scholarship in American political science, and discursive texts in the social sciences more broadly, have been tainted by the same misconceptions. As African American political scientists entered the realm of American politics discourse, most notably in 1969, with the inception of the National Conference of Black Political Scientists (NCOBPS), substantial progress has been made in contributing to a better understanding of race, ethnicity, culture, and nationality as it pertains to black people in America, Africa, and the Caribbean. Furthermore, pioneering scholars like Hanes Walton Jr., Cheryl Miller, Joseph P. McCormick, Mack H. Jones, and others have made groundbreaking contributions in the study of black politics, setting the framework for what is now known as the subfield of African American politics. For example, Walton’s critique of research methods, traditions, and theory building in African American Power and Politics, emphasizes how the research paradigm of political science scholarship must

change in order to capture the changes taking place in the American political context:

African immigrants in America estimated at 1.4 million according to the 2007 American Community.

Black America refers to all black peoples in the United States whether they are African American, African, or Caribbean.

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