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Why The Terms “Afro-Arab” and “Black Arab” Are Not The Same

Algerian man in the 1870s, Library of Congress

The late 2010s saw the emergence of many voices which had been silenced for many years. The discussion regarding the political violence endured by the black American community also encouraged many other racial groups trapped within the duality of intersection to speak out. Though we knew they already existed, the Afro-Arab and Afro-Latin communities became more and more visible and present on the Internet and social media. The users who belonged to these two communities did not just want to be seen, but to be heard. For many black Westerners, the existence of Afro-Latinos and Afro-Arabs were much more than surprising. The black Americans for the most part did not even know that these groups existed.

Yet, though the faces which came out to represent these communities tried to use their social media to highlight the dynamic of their respective social groups, they were given media coverage for not being black. More than fifteen years ago, the documentaries which focused on Afro-Latinos showed faces of unambiguous black groups who had been submitted to the Iberian colonial powers. And the blackness of these individuals was the key to the efficiency of the movement which was originally designed to defend their rights. However, fifteen years later, in the late 2010s, in the racist Western institutional media structures, the thought of giving a black group coverage in both the Latin and Arab spheres, which are still backwards regarding the state of black people, was deemed to be too risqué.

For this reason, in another form of cultural, racial and social genocide, the black groups were replaced by both Afro-Latinos and Afro-Arabs.

The Israeli forces occupy Palestine, but here are all the lands taken away from Africa by the Arabian power

Why “Afro-Arab” and “Black Arab” are not the same

Black Iraqi, photo by Hussein Faleh for AFP

Before we begin this article, it is more than important to remind our readers that being Arab is not a race, but an ethnic group. If the original and indigenous Arabs from the Arabian peninsula are black, due to the Turkic invasions and displacement of population, white and mixed-race Arabs also exist. The North African populations are descendants of several different black Hamitic groups of ancient Libyans (modern-day West African), Kushites (ancient Aethiopians), Horners, and Nomads who lived throughout the Sahel. The North Africans are not Arab but they belong to different clans, many of them are Imazigh.

If the idea of having an Afro-Arab individual represent their fellow seems to be correct, in reality, the supposed Afro-Arab individual can be white. Indeed, the term Afro signifies that the person possesses either partial or total African ancestry. This partiality thus gives permission of entry to many white Arabs who can carry any small amount of black African blood.

Therefore, any individual who carries a minimum of ten per cent of black African blood can claim a form of blackness and a proximity to black Arabs thanks to the percentage of black blood they have in their DNA.

The mixed white Arabs will thus become the voices of the black Arabs and they will withhold the questions regarding racism, isolation and abuse endured by the rejected ones. This reality can not be tolerated, especially when the mixed-race white Arabs with no direct and visible black ancestors do not endure the pain black Arabs deal with.

Black Algerian woman.Photo by Labib Benslama

On the contrary, Black Arabs, as the term indicates, are visibly black and they face the most brutal form of treatment at the hands of the white Arabs. If the black Arabs resist and ought to fight for their rights, they will also pay the price and be murdered, as illustrated by the tragic story of Indigenous black Iraqi, Jalal Diab who was gunned down in 2013 for his political activities regarding his fight in defending black Iraqis from oppression through political reforms.

The Black Arabs face several problematics which are still hidden. First, their indigeneity to the Middle Eastern and North African lands are not recognised at all. Actually, if the Arab activists spend their days lamenting over the political state of Palestine, the same activisits forget to remind how Arabian political powers literally snatched the whole Northern part of Africa and the Middle East from their black African roots. Then, the black Arabs, whether they were Arabized or imported through the slave trade, from southern Algeria, Tunisia to Iraq, suffer from amnesia when it comes to their roots, backgrounds and origins. The modern-day black Palestinians and the black groups living in the southern part of Israel do not know where they come from and wrongly believe the insults made towards them, as they are referred to as “abd”, or descendants of slaves.

In reality, the Black Palestinians are the original Canaanites.

Arabization, just like Latinidad in the Caribbean and South America, is another form of white supremacy in the Arab world. It is also important to specify that the most important Arab traders were white Arabians but also indigenous black Arabians as symbolized by Tippu Tip or Rumaliza.

The Arab world hates blackness and it was the first sphere to have initiated the slave trade in Africa before the Europeans themselves. If the black Africans are called “slaves” in the Arab world, the Arab powers often forget to admit that their wealth could have never been generated without the physical exploitation of the black African body during the slave trade. The same Negroid black population they loathe and who came from Central Africa, were the same groups who built the port of Basra in Iraq. As for the Europeans, the black slaves were used as the first technological objects to increase their financial prosperity at the time.

Arabization came with slavery but also it also was supported by a constant dehumanization of the black African man which lasts until this day.

Maha Abdelhamid, Black Tunisian historian and geographer

Yet, contrary to the condition of the black Westerners who suffer but whose historical misery is still talked about and mentioned in books, the Arab world refuses to speak about the slave trade. Worst. The Muslim writers, whether from West Africa or East Africa, have a hard time speaking upon it out of fear regarding their religion Islam.

In the francophone world, West African historian Tidiane Ndiaye with his book “Le Génocide Voilé” was one of the very first black African Muslim writer to have worked on the subject of the Arab slave trade in Africa. In Mauretania, a country plagued by racism, colorism and anti-blackness, social activist Biram Ould Dah Ould Abeid is one of the few voices which openly fight against the racism and violence of his society. In Iraq, Jalal Diab followed the spirit of resistance which was proper to the black Iraqi community whose members managed to defeat their white Arab oppressors in the 9th century.

Yet again, the violence of Arabization led to a hierarchy of blackness in the Arab world. Since the beginning of the slave trade, though they were sexually abused and despised, the African women from the Horn were sold at a higher price than the Central African ones deemed ugly for having Negroid features. This disdain also led to a form of inner racism between the modern-day Horners towards the Central Africans, as illustrated by the treatment of the Somali Bantu in Somalia who are seen as inferior due to their Central African origins. Then, in North Africa and in the Middle East, the black Arabs and Arabized Blacks do not stand up for their Central African brothers who travel to these spheres through immigration. If the racism of white North Africans has been exposed, their hatred towards the black Africans also takes place since the Black Arabs never stand up for them. Their reaction can only be understood through the spectrum of hierarchy.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Mohamed Messara/EPA/Shutterstock (7643034f) Algerian Children Pose For Photographs at the Public Market in Tamanrasset Algeria 24 February 2010 Located in the Tamanrasset Province in the Ahaggar Mountains Tamanrasset is an Oasis City where Tuareg People Are the Main Inhabitants Algeria Tamenrassete Algeria Travel – Feb 2010

In this scheme, where the white Arab and white North African dominate, the latter make a clear difference of treatment between their Blacks and the others, who come from further south. In this dynamic, many black Arabs find a sense of joy and belonging, even if they are still discriminated by the Whites. Black Tunisian historian Mahé Abdelhamid spoke about the way former Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba insisted upon the idea of “Tunisianité“. Abdelhamid wrote extensively about Slim Merzoug, a black Tunisian writer who vowed to start a rebellion in Tunisia within the black population against Bourguiba. As a response, Bourguiba committed him to a mental asylum from which he was released in 2001, at the end of his life. As she states, the issue of “Tunisianité” encouraged the black Tunisians to detach their identity from Africa, Africanity and Africans they were conditioned to view as inferior beings.

When it comes to the black Palestinians, their experience is even worst. For the ones who live on the Israeli side, problems related to documents, or even recognization are real. If the Israelis do not even know anything about their existence, the Arab Palestinian side treat them like less than animals. Yet, the pro-Palestinian activists, especially the white Arab ones, never speak on these matters out of pure manipulation.

Then, the black Africans who wish to migrate into the white Arab countries are beaten, tortured by gangs of Bedouins, trafficked, raped or end up in Lampedusa as they evolve in close centers.

The Black Arabs have thus endured centuries of mental oppression, erasure, murder, genocide and brutality they were never encouraged to express.

What can be said about black Arab history, then? This historical amnesia was caused by the Egyptian and Canaanite colonial conquests of Alexander the Great in 332 BCE. From there, a process of hellenization, which was followed by a forced Roman assimilation contributed to the emigration of many black indigenous groups to the Levant, into the interior of Africa, especially in the Horn of Africa. Yet, the event which sealed the deal for the black populations in the Middle East was the 7th century process of Arabization.

Therefore, in the scheme of history, by ignoring their existence and presence, the black populations from the Arab world were the victims of a genocide, condemned to being forgotten. They are mocked, ridiculed and attacked for being black, and due to their ignorance regarding their past and roots, they are called “slaves” and ridiculed.

All these issues were never brought up clearly by the Arab media, since the black Arabs remain in silence.

Why We Have To Insist Upon The Term “Black Arabs”

Not all the black populations who live in the Middle Eastern world are Arab. If some are, others were black Africans who have been Arabized and taken away from their African roots.

As stated prior, the term Afro-Arab allows any individual with 5 to 10 percent of African ancestry to claim a form of blackness they do not really have physically. A blonde and white Arab can call themselves an Afro-Arab if they possess black ancestry, but they could never experience the misery that black Arabs have to deal with on a daily basis.

If the original Arabians are black, the white Arabs of Turkoid heritage were chosen as the faces of Arabity. Therefore, the violence experienced by a black Arab is faced whenever a white Arab and white Westerner questions the authenticity of their roots. “You do not look Arab because you are black”. Worst, black Westerners who mostly come from West and West-Central Africa ignore the dynamic of the Arab world and are also one of the first to attack and mock the unambiguous black Arabs they do not believe for being Negroid in features. These black Westerners also brutally question the roots of these individuals by wrongly thinking that a black African of the Arab world has to be mixed-race, with curly hair and Caucasoid features. To the black ones they would say “You can’t be Arab, because you don’t have the features”.

In the Arab sphere, only the Black Arabs endure the most abject forms of discrimination, not the Afro-Arabs.

 In the Atlantic world, the Afro-Latin movement proved to be a total disaster as white mestizos and black mestizos like Gina Torres are the ONLY faces of Afro Latinidad which was originally a political movement created for BLACK LATINOS aka Black people with little to NO ADMIXTURE. The same problem is taking place in the Arab diaspora and WORST, it is blended with black American concepts which do not always apply in the Arab world.
Only BLACK ARABS face the most brutal form of racism, not their mixed descendants who have white attributed or mixed attributes. The Black Arabs are still marginalised, abused and taken away from the history they built and made. The visibility should be placed upon them.

As a consequence, if one does not pay attention, the Afro-Arabs can become the only faces to represent and replace black Arabs, thus allowing mixed-race and mixed white Arabized Turks to embody the a movement which should concerns the blacks first.

However, if the mixed-race individuals can be included within the black section, the black Arabs should be placed at the center all the time.

For this reason, it is better to talk about Black Arabs, rather than Afro-Arabs.

By Victoria “VKY” Kabeya, All Rights Reserved 2023

[1] McLeod, Nicholas C., “Race, rebellion, and Arab Muslim slavery : the Zanj Rebellion in Iraq, 869 – 883 C.E.” (2016). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Paper 2381.

[2] Ide, Derek, “AGAINST IGNORING RACE: THE ZANJ REVOLUTION AS BLACK SLAVE REVOLT“, HamptonThink, April 20th 2019, https://www.hamptonthink.org/read/against-ignoring-race-the-zanj-revolution-as-black-slave-revolt

[3] Gates, Henry Louis, “Did Black Slaves Revolt in Iraq?“, The Roots and The Neo-Griot, July 21st 2014, https://kalamu.com/neogriot/2014/07/30/history-did-black-slaves-revolt-in-iraq/

[4] Abdelhamid, Maha, “Slim Marzouk militant noir que Bourguiba a enfermé dans un asile psychiatrique pendant 35 ans!”, LeBanco.net, 2 mars 2019, https://www.lebanco.net/news/37007-slim-marzouk-militant-noir-que-bourguiba-a-enferm233-dans-un-asile-psychiatrique-pendant-35-ans.html

[5] Abdelhamid, Maha, “Bourguiba raciste: l’incroyable destin de Slim Marzoug”, Kapitalis, June 21st, 2016, https://kapitalis.com/tunisie/2016/06/21/bourguiba-raciste-lincroyable-destin-de-slim-marzouk/

[6] Mariva, Gladys, « En Afrique du Nord, il y a des codes sociaux qui excluent les Noirs », Le Monde Afrique, 12 mai 2019, https://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2019/05/12/en-afrique-du-nord-il-y-a-des-codes-sociaux-qui-excluent-les-noirs_5461175_3212.html

[7] LaFrance, Camille, “Maha Abdelhamid : « Les Tunisiennes sont toujours représentées par des femmes à la peau plus claire », JeuneAfrique, 2020 https://www.jeuneafrique.com/903224/societe/maha-abdelhamid-les-tunisiennes-sont-toujours-representees-par-des-femmes-a-la-peau-plus-claire/

[8] “Mauritanie : un militant anti-esclavagiste en tournée en Afrique subsaharienne”, Le Monde Afrique, 9 septembre 2016, https://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2016/09/09/mauritanie-un-militant-anti-esclavagiste-en-tournee-en-afrique-subsaharienne_4995074_3212.html

[9] Bah, Aboudlaye, “La Mauritanie persiste et signe dans son racisme anti-Noir systémique”, Global Voices, 2020 https://fr.globalvoices.org/2020/07/15/253882/

[10] “Mauritanie : Un activiste inculpé pour avoir dénoncé le racisme”, Human Rights Watch, 21 septembre 2018, https://www.hrw.org/fr/news/2018/09/21/mauritanie-un-activiste-inculpe-pour-avoir-denonce-le-racisme

[11] Greenwood, Phoebe, “Egyptian authorities look the other way as Bedouin kidnap refugees”, The Guardian, 2012 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/feb/14/egypt-bedouin-kidnap-refugees-israel

[12] Hadid, Diaa, “African migrants headed to Israel tell of torture in Sinai desert by smugglers”, The Toronto Star, 2012 https://www.thestar.com/news/world/2012/02/17/african_migrants_headed_to_israel_tell_of_torture_in_sinai_desert_by_smugglers.html

[13] Pleitgen, Fred, Fahmy, Fadel Mohamed, “Death in the desert: Tribesmen exploit battle to reach Israel”, CNN, 2011 https://edition.cnn.com/2011/11/02/world/meast/egypt-refugees/index.html

[14] Gittleson, Ben, “Inside Sinai’s Torture Camps”, The Atlantic, 2012

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