A Discussion on Anti-Blackness in the Arabic Speaking World

March 9, 2021

At a Wednesdays at the Center event, three scholars in the fields of religion, history, and race held a roundtable discussion on anti-Blackness in the Arabic speaking world.

Moses E. Ochonu, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of History at Vanderbilt University, Yasmin Moll, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan, and Afifa Ltifi, Ph.D. student in the Department of African Studies at Cornell University, joined moderator Mohammed Haron, Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Botswana, for the discussion.

Dr. Moll’s presentation focused on race, culture, and history in Egypt, discussing that while Nubians were never an enslaved people, they have faced the same “racialized subordination and violence” as many slave descendent communities in Northern Africa, as well as migrants from Central Africa that have immigrated to the region. She also discussed her work with Nubian Knights, a group that is “dedicated to claiming a public space for Newbian cultural and musical expression in Cairo through organizing festivals and events.”

Ltifi’s discussion focused on the vestiges of slavery in North Africa, particularly the “troubling yet mundane violence of the itinerant lexicon of Trans-Atlantic slavery” in the form of street names in Tunisia. She noted that these enduring street names hold particular violence for Black Tunisians and “not only render the Atlantic lexicon of Black subjectivity legible, but also invoke the dramatic Trans-Saharan slavery that operated in Tunisia.”

In his presentation, Dr. Ochonu emphasized the importance of utilizing a historical lens to understand modern anti-Black racism in the Arab world. “To understand or explain contemporary anti-Black racism in the Arab world is to be faithful to the historical processes that produced and normalized that racism,” he said. He specifically points to “the enslavement of black Africans across the Sahara/Indian Ocean corridors” as the bedrock of anti-Blackness in that region.

The event was part of the 2020-21 "Wednesdays at the Center" special series: "John Hope Franklin | Global Anti-Racism (Histories of Action.)" The event was co-sponsored by the Duke Center for International and Global Studies, the John Hope Franklin Center, the Duke Africa Initiative, and the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies.  

Watch the event video: