[P4915] Blackness in the Middle East: a Comparative Perspective

Created by Beeta Baghoolizadeh
Monday, 11/20/17 3:30pm


This panel investigates "blackness" as a lens for understanding social relationships in the broader Middle East. While the dominant historiography has prioritized religion, ethnicity, and class for understanding social, political and cultural history, this panel offers race as an alternate category of analysis. The region's long entangled history of enslaving peoples from sub-Saharan and East Africa shaped the visuality of blackness in this region, from Anatolia to Arabia to Iran and Swahili Coast.

The panel begins with a discussion on the identity of the Swahili Coast. The first panelist interrogates "Arab" and "African" as useful or accurate labels, arguing against simplistic colonial or pan-Africanist debates that place the region neatly in either category. Instead, this panelist uses archival and anthropological sources to propose an approach that incorporates race, Africanity, and Islam in a cohesive manner.

Continuing the negotiation of blackness and modernity, the second panelist discusses the legacies of slavery and visuality of blackness in Iranian blackface theater during the mid twentieth century. By presenting references to the Qajar court as timeless fictions, the theater upheld racial hierarchies while erasing a tangible history of slavery. Drawing on photography, film, political caricatures and other textual sources, the author of this paper argues that blackface theater served as a major conduit between slavery and abolition, maintaining the rigid racial hierarchies of enslavement in Iran while simultaneously erasing the history.

Following this line of representation of racial stereotypes, the third panelist examines the use of the "Arab Nurse/Arab House girl" archetype (Arap Kizi/Baci) in Turkish television programs and commercials from 2015. While traditionally faceless, modern representations of the character enlist an overweight man in black body paint and a wig to portray a gender-bending, race-bending caricature of black slaves.

Finally, the panel concludes with an discussion of Afro-Turkish identity through an analysis of the "Calf Festival" (Dana Bayrami), an Ottoman-era festival that only recently re-emerged as an annual festival in modern Turkey. Through an analysis of newspapers, digital paraphernalia, and oral history interviews, this panelist argues that the (re)inception of the Calf Festival in 2006 has provided a public space for negotiating and articulating a black identity in an otherwise non-black society.

While exploring different regional foci, these papers interrogate blackness as a useful category across the broader Middle East in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.





Asli Z. Igsiz

(New York University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Chair;

Michael Ferguson

(The New School for Social Research)
Panel Participating Role(s): Discussant;

Beeta Baghoolizadeh

(University of Pennsylvania)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Zavier Wingham

(New York University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Nathaniel Mathews

(Binghamton University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Mayowa Willoughby

(Cornell University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;