Like most 21st century political and social movements, Black Lives Matter started with a humble hashtag in response to George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, a Black American teen. The movement then burst onto America’s national media narrative in 2013 following the murder of yet another Black man at the hands of the police in Ferguson, Missouri.
The Michael Brown shooting and the outrage it prompted from the African American community helped propel the Black Lives Matter movement to the mainstream. Fast forward to 2020 and Black American men and women still face the same racially-motivated, and often lethal, police brutality that have come to define the racial schism of American life.
With the resurgence of Black Lives Matter, following the blood-curdling killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, a global solidarity movement is shifting the narrative on race and forcing societies across the world to reckon with their own racism.
The MENA region is no different. In addition to the troubling history of the Arab Slave Trade—which remains largely unacknowledged as a historic injustice, Muslim, North African and Arab communities everywhere have to make amends for the erasure of Blackness, which in turn led to a political vacuum where Afro-Arab issues should be. But it isn’t enough to be anti-racist, now more than ever, the voices, issues, political, social and cultural concerns of Black Arabs and North Africans need to be platformed.
But in order to create platforms within political theory and in order to make sense of the complexities of Black experiences in Arab and predominantly Muslim cultures, we must cede our privilege and our spaces in order to make room for Black voices.
One of Egypt’s most prominent Nubian rights activists, Fatma Emam Sakory has fought for political, social and cultural reform in Egypt since the 2011 revolt.
She is also a noted feminist researcher and blogger whose work with organizations like Nazra for Feminist Studies, Women Living Under Muslim Laws and the Egyptian Women’s Center for Legal Assistance has helped carve out spaces for the cause of gender equality in Egypt’s progressive left.
In 2013, she worked with Egyptian novelist Haggag Oddoul to codify the Nubian right of return in Egypt’s 2014 constitution, which concerns the dispossession of the community of its historical lands following the construction of the Old Aswan and High dams.
In 2016, the government appropriated historically Nubian lands for military use and a massive development project, seriously undermining the community’s aspirations. In response, Sakory and a number of other civil rights and Nubian rights activists organized the Nubian Return Caravan, a march that set out to stage a sit-in in the village of Forkund. Authorities prevented the protesters from reaching the Nubian village and many were arrested on charges of protesting without a permit and inciting violence.
And although the promise of return still eludes Egypt’s Nubians, Sakory continues to raise awareness about the issue as one of the main narratives of Black Egyptian identity politics.
View this post on Instagram
Afro-Palestinian actress and filmmaker Maryam About Khaled made her directorial debut in 2013 with the documentary Art/Violence, which earned her Cinema Fairbindet Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival.
The documentary film, co-directed by About Khaled, explores the intersection of different forms of oppression young Palestinian actresses experience, namely gender discrimination and the Israeli occupation, in the context of the group’s brutal realities as members of an occupied population. In 2016, Abu Khaled starred in Israeli hip hop drama Junction 48, directed by her Art/Violence co-director Udi Aloni.
But it was About Khaled’s social media presence that captivated audiences around the Arab-speaking world, first with a series of hilariously relatable videos about her relationship with her anthropomorphic fridge in quarantine. What sets About Khaled apart, however, is her accessible political content and commentary, as well as her peace activism through performing arts.
Recently, the Berlin-based theatre artist took to Instagram to issue a rallying cry against ant-black racism in Arab culture in light of the Black Lives Matter protests taking place across the world. About Khaled called the hypocrisy of denouncing anti-Black racism in the US, but not in the MENA region. Her message has resonated with many progressive and Black Arabs and North Africans, propelling her vlog to one of the most trending pieces of content on the topic regionally.
View this post on Instagram
Repost • @rough_silk Last year (2019) I went to only *one* event in all the talks I went to, or was invited to contribute to, around ‘voices within the Middle East’ where there was a Black Arab on the panel (where the conversation was not explicitly about African Arabs). That event was ‘Wrong Queens’ with Pride Of Arabia (PoA) @prideofarabia and that Arab was Colette Dalal Tchantcho. @cdtchantcho PoA is a Queer Arab initiative, pushing for LGBTQI+ visibility & Wrong Queens was an event programmed by the incredible human @evarhussayni Why this is important is because it’s very rare to find Black Arab voices centralized on a panel which has a broad ‘Middle Eastern’ title in it, out here in the UK & multiple parts of the WANA (West Asia and North Africa) region too. Let alone that person be a *dark* skin Black Arab. Instead I witness many of these critical voices being programmed into specific talks regarding ‘black countries’ within our region. Limiting that narrative & experience to specific black ‘focused’ conversations, rather then *without question*, having black voices *centralized* & apart of the wider conversation. This is conscious & unconscious bias. And as non black Arabs, it is totally on us to do better in understanding our own biases & the biases we have helped create structurally, which also adds to the dismissal of Black Lives in & among our communities and towards self hate within Black Arab communities & the wider world. If you have a platform, if you have access, if you have money, if you have anything which resonates with the word ‘power’, then use it to dismantle what we all know is clear. We really can’t get to better places if we can’t recognise our own responsibilities in all this & silence is without doubt, complacency. Start at home. Without question; Black Lives Matter. And we, the rest of the world, owe so much to Black endurance, intelligence, struggles & injustices. May we come to a day where we realise all our struggles are interconnected & we can never be free unless we are all free & that the two most damaging of structures are White Supremacy & Patriarchy. More clips to come. #Arabsforblacklives #arab #black #bl
Colette Dalal Tchantcho is a Cameroonian-Kuwaiti actress and theatre artist. Her career in theatre has seen her perform with the National Theatre of Scotland, the Royal Lyceum Edinburgh and Bristol Old Vic, among others.
The London-based artist is also known for her critically-acclaimed screen performances on BBC’s Doctors and Netflix’ hit show the Witcher. In the period between 2013 and 2016, Tchantcho returned to Kuwait, where she taught workshops, directed performances and facilitated creative projects, in her role as artistic director of COBA, her arts company.
In her theatre projects, Tchantcho explores race and gender issues, and is often outspokenly critical of anti-Black racism in Muslim and Arab communities. Last year, the prolific artist gave a talk on the topic of anti-Black racism as part of Wrong Queens, an event organized by LGBTQIA art and visibility initiative Pride of Arabia. In her talk, Tchantcho opened up about the otherness and social alienation she experienced in Kuwait because of her race. “They still didn’t consider me one of them,” she said of her personal experience with anti-Black racism growing up in the GCC country.
View this post on Instagram
Day 75 of COVID19 lockdown: a message to all the Sudanese people who are confused as to why we care about what’s happening in America right now. I can’t believe this even has to be explained, but here we are. Anti-blackness is a disease. Allah yahdeena w yahdeekum. الترجمة موجودة في الفيديو
Charming, charismatic and ever-so-eloquent, Sudanese-American author and activist Sara El Hassan is one of the most prominent and relevant voices at the intersection of Black, Arab, Muslim and American identities.
El Hassan is best known for her social and political activism in support of democracy in Sudan. She became one of the leading voices of the 2018-2019 uprising in the North African country as she helped draw media attention to the violent crackdown on the protests that ousted former Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir.
In addition to co-hosting the No Sir No Ma’am podcast, the activist also uses storytelling to platform Sudanese issues, providing reporting and commentary on the country’s revolt and contentious transition to CNN, OkayAfrica and AFROPUNK.
More importantly, El Hassan has helped many across the MENA region and the Arab and Muslim diaspora gain a better understanding of the nuances of Sudanese social issues like colorism and gender-based discrimination. She continues to further a narrative of Black pride and celebrating Black beauty.
A scholar in the making, Tunisian activist, journalist and author Afifa Ltifi is a PhD candidate at Cornell University’s Africana Studies department. Her research focuses on the effects of colonialism and the trans-saharan slave trade “on conceptualizations of race and Blackness” in the Maghreb and across North Africa.
Her work deals with issues of Black representation in North African pop culture and the histories through which these portrayals were formed “within the ‘African’ milieu.” In addition to authoring academic publications, Ltifi has been published in Manshoor, Aljazeera English, Urban Africa, OpenDemocracy and 7iber.
Ltifi is one of Tunisia’s most eminent young Black activists, co-founding the Voice of Tunisian Black Women collective. Her activism centers on Black feminism, the layered oppression Afro-Arab women face, as well as promoting racial justice and equality in Tunisia, building on the nation’s post-Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. It is thanks to young activists like Ltifi that Tunisia’s political discourse has become more diverse.