Thursday, September 11, 2014

African Geography and Race

This map shows both the Arabian and Iberian peninsulas as separate from Africa. But, there were times in the past when both were politically joined to parts of Africa. Like all other continents Africa is an ideological construct and the version in color to the right has problems. For instance why are the Arab dominated states of Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, and Mauritania considered African, but Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and others just to the east are not? Now granted the north African states of Morocco, Libya, Algeria, and Egypt are often grouped with the rest of the Arab world as part of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). But, why does this designation frequently exclude Arab dominated Mauritania and Sudan? The fact is that many people in Libya including its former leader in the years before his death think of themselves as linked with the rest of Africa rather than with the Arab states east of the Red Sea. Likewise in Sudan many people including the current leadership consider Sudan an Arab, not an African state. So why do western scholars more often than not group Libya with the Middle East and North Africa and Sudan with sub-Saharan Africa rather than the other way around? Is it just because of skin color? Does the fact many of the people claiming to be Arabs in Sudan and Mauritania have darker skin than the Berbers in Libya mean that the former will always be "Black" Africans and the latter "Middle Eastern Arabs" in the eyes of western scholars? How does this jibe at all with the fact that these same people claim race is constructed when they essentialize and reify pigmentation in this way? There is obviously a "White" vs. "Black" divide across northern Africa. But, to impose a scheme of constructing racial differences between different groups of Arabic speaking Africans based solely upon pigment and to ignore the local social, cultural, and historical contexts existing in the region just seems so typical of American "progressives."

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