Obsessions: Religion, Race, and Sex

Yes I admit it, I’m more than preoccupied by Religion, Race, and Sex. We have been told to avoid these three topics in polite dinner conversation. In fact, I often do not take to heated discussion about religion, race, and sex in polite dinner conversation. This is why I have a blog.

While my major field is the history of Islam in Africa, my research and studies go beyond Africa. I examine the African Diaspora in the Middle East. I have a deep interest in Islam as a global religion. My career was inspired by my personal conviction as a Muslim. I am obsessed about Islam and can talk about it for hours, days on end. I also study race and talk about race. I have written numerous papers and articles on race relations, racial passing, community identity, and the African Diaspora in the Middle East. Importantly, my discussion about race is often personal. I talk about race in that it affects me and a number of people I care about.I talk about sex, women, and gender relations. Who doesn’t think about sex?    I talk about relationships, how Muslim men and women relate to each other, how Black men and women relate to each other, how Black women relate to men and women from various Muslim communities. I talk about women’s gendered roles, men’s gendered roles. I talk about marriage. I talk about free-mixing and gender segregation. I talk about hijab, niqab, and physical attraction.

I’m obsessed with Religion, Race, and Sex.  I am building a career on it. I want to write articles about these topics, explore dusty libraries digging for books about it,  spend sleepless nights researching and editing articles about it, travel around  the world to talk with other scholars and experts about it. I  even want to teach a class about it. We’ll see how receptive university students are to this topic. I’m pretty sure I’ll have a full roster because people can’t say enough about religion, race, and sex. And it is sure to fire up some heated dialog.

This blog is an intellectual and personal exploration of these same themes that have informed my career choice. If you read the title of my blog closely analyzing why I chose certain words, it should become evident that I wanted to talk about Islam, the African Diaspora, and Gender. I haven’t really seen someone from my perspective, as a Black American Muslim, explore these themes. This is why I made my intervention. Some people have written me directly telling me I should get over talking about religion. Others say I should get over race. Even  once someone who expressed ambivalence towards my discussion of FGM. If I were to stop talking about religion, race, and sex then this blog would not have a purpose. Or maybe I could just post cute pictures of flowers, kittens, and bunnies and peppered with my own personal reflections as Just Another Muslim. No, my blog is not polite dinner conversation nor is it designed to make us all feel uplifted. I just want my readers to think. I also want to validate an experience that is forged in struggle.  I try to not present a doom and gloom scenario. Nor am I trying to be a polemic or write entries for shock value. At the same time I think that we as Muslims still need to look at a number of issues. The American Muslim community still needs to examine how race, class, and gender intersect in order to understand how to move forward.

15 thoughts on “Obsessions: Religion, Race, and Sex


    Research by Ibn Haqq
    Posted by RIHAZ RESEARCH translated by Salah Al Zaroo

    In the Nagab and Gaza many people helped to put me in touch with colleagues, neighbors and friends of African descent. They include Ibrahim Abu Jaffar, Adnan El Sanne, Fatme Kassim, and Shahada Ebbweini.
    Last but not least, I wish to thank all the people of African descent who talked with me in Jeruslaem, Gaza and the Nagab. They are not named so that their privacy can be maintained.

    This report summarizes the findings of a project has addressed a neglected and sensitive area of research about the history of Palestine. The history of the region has been turbulent and has involved the settlement of peoples from Asia, Africa and Europe. Since the establishment of Israel in 1948, Palestinians have had little time or inclination to study their origins prior to settlement in Palestine. In recent years, much international attention has focused on the Ethiopian Jews and their position within Israeli society. However, although peoples of African origin other than the Ethiopian Jews have been in Palestine for far longer, there are virtually no accounts of how they arrived in the region or their position and role within Middle Eastern society.

    Interviews with black (sumr) Palestinians were conducted in Gaza, the Nagab and Jerusalem. Contact, through introductions, was sought and people were interviewed informally in their homes in either English or Arabic. However it became more difficult to talk to people about the highly sensitive and political issues of ethnic origin, the legacy of slavery and their current status as Palestinians.
    This study was made possible by the kind co-operation of Palestinians living in Jerusalem, Gaza and the Nagab. People of African descent told me what they knew of their parents and grandparents and their lives in Palestine. Some older people I spoke to Jerusalem had been born in Africa, while others in the Nagab and Gaza told me what they knew of how their ancestors came to Palestine. For many other people the link with Africa had been lost and all but forgotten. In London I searched libraries for historical accounts of the links between Africa and Palestine. I did not find much. This shortage of historical documentation makes the accounts of the people I spoke to all the more important.

    Palestine lies at the crossroads of Africa, Asia and Europe. For thousands of years spices have passed along trade routes through Palestine. Ambergris and frankincense were brought from Somalia and Ethiopia. As well as trade, war, colonization and pilgrimage all ensured that the peoples and cultures of north-eastern Africa and Arabia mingled.
    In the seventh century there were Africans living in Arabia, and Muhammed’s P.B.U.H trusted companion, Bilal R.A was an Ethiopian freed slave. Many, but not all, the Africans in Arabia were slaves. It is often forgotten that there were slaves from many parts of the world in the Middle East. For example Circassian people from the Asia Minor to the north were prized as slaves. Black male slaves were often soldiers or government administrators and some achieved high rank. Black women worked as household slaves or were the concubines of wealthy high status men. The children born to concubines were not slaves, and some with fathers of high rank became leaders.
    With the spread of Islam and the conversion of Africans in Africa, more and more black people participated in the Hajj. However there were also migrations from Arabia to Africa and later back to Arabia to perform the Hajj. The Palestinian historian Arif El-Arif reports that some people trace the historical roots of contemporary Africans in Jerusalem back to Arabia:
    ‘The origins of the African community go back to pure Arabic roots. The majority of the members are derived from the Arab Muslim tribe called Al Salamat. This tribe was living in Jeddah, Hijaz (now in Saudi Arabia), and then migrated to Chad and Sudan and other African countries. However, members of the tribe kept up contact with Hijaz, especially Mecca and Medina for the Hajj, and after the pilgrimage they went to Jerusalem to continue their worship in al Aqsa mosque, the place of the nocturnal journey of the prophet Mohammed to the Seven Heavens. So some of these visitors loved Jerusalem and stayed in it.’ (Arif el-Arif, address given in Jerusalem in 1971)

    European writers and travelers tell a different story and report that slaves of African origin guarded the Haram As-Sharif in Jerusalem. According to these accounts Africans were deployed by Mamluke and then Ottoman rulers to guard the holy places of Islam. Similar guards also existed in Mecca and Medina. Although they were slaves, they were respected, trusted and sometimes quite powerful.
    The following information on the history of African Palestinians in Jerusalem is taken from their own account entitled ‘The Palestinian Africans in Jerusalem: Between their Miserable Reality and Hopes for the Future’.
    The Africans living in Jerusalem are proud of their historic role as guardians of the Islamic holy places since the time of the Mamluk in the thirteenth century. They occupy the Mamluk buildings on either side of Al’a Ad-Deen Street leading to Al Aqsa mosque. On one side are the Al’a Ad-Deen Busari buildings, completed in 1267 and named after the Mamluke founder of the quarter. On the other side are the Al Mansouri buildings which were completed in 1282. Originally the two Ribat were hostels for pilgrims worshipping at Al Asqa Mosque.
    During the Ottoman period the Ribats were occupied by Africans who worked as guards of the mosque and waqf properties. Because of their honesty these Africans held keys to the gates of the mosque and were responsible for preventing non-Muslims from entering the mosque area. Towards the end of the Ottoman era the Ribats were converted into prisons: Ribat Ad-Deen bacame Habs Ad -Dam, while Ribat Mansouri became Habs Ar-Ribat. This situation continued until 1914.
    After the British took over Palestine in 1918 the prisons were closed and responsibility for the buildings was returned to the waqf authorities who used the buildings for temporary housing for the poor, including Africans. When Imam Hussein, Al Mufti, who led the struggle against the British and Jews until 1948, took charge of the waqf in Jerusalem he rented the two Ribats to the Africans at a nominal rate. Some of the Africans continued their traditions and worked as bodyguards to the Mufti himself. The descendants of the Africans still live in the two Ribat, today.
    In 1971 the care of the tomb of the founder of the quarter, Al’a Ad-Deen Al Busari, restored by the African community, was entrusted to them in a ceremony led by the ex-mayor of Jerusalem and historian, Arif el-Arif. In his speech he stated that:
    ‘Members of the African community were devoted guards of Al Aqsa mosque. The African community is steadfast in Jerusalem and they did not leave even in crisis situations.’

    During interviews with members of the African community in Jerusalem I learnt of the recent history of Palestinians of African origin. Their written account, mentioned above, ‘The African Palestinians in Jerusalem’, provided more details.
    Most contemporary members of the African community came to Jerusalem as pilgrims and workers under the British Mandate of Palestine (1917-1948). They came mostly from Senegal, Chad, Nigeria and Sudan. They regard themselves as Palestinian and played an active role in the Intifada. Some of the Africans arrived as part of the Egyptian led ‘Salvation Army’ which aimed to liberate the Palestinian areas held by Jews in 1948. After the defeat of that army and its retreat to Egypt many Africans returned to their original countries, while others preferred to stay in Palestine.
    El Haj Jeddeh, who was born in Chad but traces his family origins to Jeddah in the Hijaz, is the Mukhtar of the African community and some other Arabs living in the vicinity. He has served under the British, the Jordanians and now the Israelis. In addition, he also takes care of the tomb of Al’a Ad-Deen Busari and acts as a spiritual leader to his community.
    Men who came from Africa to Jerusalem during this century married local women, many of whom were of African descent.. Ties with Jericho, where many black Palestinians live, are particularly strong. Others married Palestinian women who have no ties with Africa.
    In their account of their history ‘The Palestinian Africans in Jerusalem’ they explain how when Israel occupied the West Bank many Africans were forced to become refugees in surrounding countries’ leading to a 25% reduction of the numbers of African Palestinians living in Jerusalem. African Palestinians were particularly active during the Intifada and many confrontations with Israeli troops took place. One day the Israelis arrested all males aged between 10 and 45 years and insulted them telling them ‘you are Africans; you have nothing to do with Palestine’.

    Although Africans have been in Palestine for centuries, most people know little about this migration. For centuries, under the Ottoman Empire and before, slaves were brought from Africa. Some older people today remember stories told by their parents or grandparents of how they came to be in Palestine. Therefore it is possible to discover something of the later history of slavery. Several people mentioned that they had heard that there was a big slave market in Egypt and one ‘white’ Bedouin told me that his grandfather had been a slave trader who traveled regularly to Egypt. Most people with any idea of where their ancestors came from mention Sudan or Ethiopia. Sometimes they know the name of the town. Indeed, it is probable that many Africans came from these countries as they are near to Palestine. However, one woman I spoke to pointed out that ‘we just say Sudan because we do not know and because the name means ‘place of black people. It could just as easily have been Congo!’ According to history books, slave traders and owners used to make a distinction between Ethiopians (Habash) and other Africans such as the Zanj from the East African Coast. In their racist way of thinking, they considered the Ethiopians to be superior to the other Africans.
    In Gaza I spoke to people of Bedouin origin who had been living in the Nagab prior to 1948. In the Nagab I spoke with Bedouin of African descent that had stayed in the area after 1948. In Gaza, I also encountered black people of the Al Rubayn ashira who were settled Bedouin living around the area of Jaffa, before being driven from their villages as refugees in 1948. They said that they were unconnected to the Nagab Bedouin. Their name derived from Nabi Rubooyn who thousands of years ago used a well near their home area.
    These people of Bedouin origin currently resident in Gaza and the Nagab recall being told by their elders how children were kidnapped or bought in slave markets and brought, sometimes carried in the camel saddle-bags, to live with important Bedouin families. This occurred in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. The children were often the only Africans living with the family. They looked after animals, grew wheat and barley and performed household tasks. People told me that the Bedouin did not use the girls as concubines, although in the West Bank they did ‘marry’ female slaves. Only big wealthy families owned and traded in slaves. Black people were scattered throughout Palestine living with white families who ‘owned’ them. However, some families needed slaves to help in self- defense when they were weak in number. It is possible that within the twentieth century adults were also brought from Africa and sold as slaves. One elderly man reported that in his youth he had come across African men who were strong, bore tribal scars on their faces and spoke little Arabic.
    One ‘white’ Bedouin man told me that slaves used to be branded like animals, but that there were no papers concerning ownership or origins. In the family unit, there were sometimes also other slaves who were white or low status dependants, such as Harman. But one man told me that a white slave would never have answered to a black slave.
    Some African children were educated along with the other, free, children of the family. Once the children grew up their masters arranged for them to be married. They never married white people, even if they were also slaves. As there were not many Africans around, marriage often meant that girls moved away from the master’s family. People also reported that, upon becoming adults, slaves could choose to take their chances with freedom or to remain attached to a family who would arrange marriage. This probably only occurred towards the end of the institution of slavery, during the British period, when it had already begun to fade away.
    In the Nagab the Bedouin had a three tier social and political system. Sheikhs were drawn from the Samran, the original Bedouin. Attached to them as clients were the Hamran, families, who were originally fellaheen. but required protection and/or land from Samran families. The Abed, the slaves, were on the bottom tier and did not have the same rights or status as free people.
    Slaves did not count in blood feuds between families. Several people told me that if a black man killed a white man, the death of that black man would not count. Payment (sulha) could be made in money or by the giving of a slave of a certain height. If a black man kills a white, the family of the deceased may kill the ‘owners’ of the black man. Recently, in Rahat in the Nagab, a black boy eloped with a white girl. They were discovered and the girl killed by her family. However, the boy survived and subsequently married a black girl.
    Under the old system slaves could not sit in the shig at the same level as their masters. In some places this is still observed, with the role of the black people being to serve tea and coffee to the white people. One man told me that there were some shig that he would not go to because they would ask him who he ‘belonged to’. But in other shig this no longer happens and black and whites sit happily together. In one shig in Gaza, the black sheikh presides, while white people take responsibility for serving tea and coffee.

    Slavery appears to have been an active institution under Ottoman rule. The British Mandate of Palestine was established in 1917. Slaves were not given release papers and there appears that the British made little formal effort to end the system of slavery in Palestine. Rather, as economic and social conditions changed, the institution faded away in some areas, but still operated other areas until the 1950s.
    The groups of black people living in the Nagab and as refugees in Gaza today are the descendants of slaves of the Bedouin. As the peoples of Gaza and the Nagab have only been separated by frequently closed borders since 1948 (when Israel was established and the majority of the Nagab Bedouin became refugees in Gaza and Jordan), the various communities retain kin ties.
    Prior to 1948 a political and social system of tribal affiliation operated in the Nagab. There were four gabail: the Gdarat, the Azazme, the Turabeen and the Dlam. Of these, the Tarabeen probably had the blackest slaves. Each Gabila was sub-divided in ashira or hamula, and these were, in turn, divided into extended families (‘ayla). Within each ‘ayla were individual families (asira).
    Jama’an Abu Jurmi, of the Tarabeen, was a powerful black Sheikh to whom all black people could turn. However, during the war of 1948 the hamula of Abu Jurmi was dispersed and is now in Sinai, or possibly Jordan or Gaza.
    Many black people in the Nagab are now affiliated to the Abu Bilal. There is some confusion amongst many Bedouin as to the origins of the Abu Bilal: some people say that the Israelis invented the Abu Bilal to represent all black Bedouin, and named the hamula after Bilal, the Ethiopian companion of the Prophet Mohammed, because he was black. However, the son of the current Sheikh of the Abu Bilal tells a different story. Five or six generations ago a child, Bilal, was stolen from Africa and taken to Sinai. The boy became a slave of the family who purchased him, and although his own family found him and asked him to come home, he was used to his new life and refused. He married and had descendants, and up to now, the Abu Bilal has land in Sinai. However, the descendants moved to the Nagab.
    Bilal’s grandson, Suleiman was very clever and a natural leader. During and after the war of 1948 he was appointed as a Sheikh by the Israelis and negotiated with the Israeli Military Authority and many poor people, both black and white, asked him to speak on their behalf. This was a time when all Bedouin had to be affiliated with a Sheikh in order to get rations and travel permits. After 1950 Sheikhs, such as Suleiman, were formally appointed by the Israelis. In 1952, when a census was carried out, many black people registered as Abu Bilal, despite the fact that they had been attached to other families.
    For example, one elderly man told me how he took the opportunity of registering as a member of Abu Bilal as a means of disassociating himself from the descendants of his grandfather’s masters who had anyway lost their land. He explained: ‘Sulemain Abu Bilal was a very clever and strong man, although he could not read and write. Many went to join him. Before 1948 Abu Bilal was a family. Bilal was a slave living in Sinai.’ The elderly man told me that he and his family had lived a nomadic existence in the West Bank with the Abu Bilal for about 10 years. That way of life ended with the war of 1967.
    In some areas slavery as a way of life appears to have continued into the 1950s. One black (sumr) man who came to Palestine as a migrant worker from Egypt, and was caught up in the war of 1948 recalls life for black people attached to the Al Huzail. He had been working in the orchards near Rishon with black people of the Abu Barakat. When war broke out they fled back to their home area of the Al Huzail where Rahat has now been constructed. When the Egyptian man arrived there he found black people growing wheat for Al Huzail. They were given food and, if they requested it for a special purpose, money. Slaves and masters lived separately in black tents. There was no intermarriage and no concubinage. The Egyptian man slept in the Sheikh’s shig and worked as a shepherd, but received no wages. The Sheikh arranged his marriage to a white girl from Gaza. However in1952 when the census was taken, slavery as an institution faded away.

    After 1948 the most of the Nagab Bedouin lost their land and those who had not left the area to become refugees in Gaza and Jordan, were confined to a small military zone around Beersheba. Many Bedouin, including black families appear to have moved around working in the orchards to the north around Rishon, Rehovot and ‘Atir or laboring or herding animals in the West Bank. One family, now resident in Rahat told me that they had moved nine times between 1956 and 1958. After the 1967 war it became much harder to move around.
    In the late 1960s the Israelis started developing planned settlements to house the Nagab Bedouin. Currently, about half the Nagab Bedouin live in these towns, while the other half have resisted moving and remain in shanty settlements or in encampments. Many black families moved into the planned towns, the biggest of which is Rahat. Of about 30,000 people who live in Rahat, about a third are black (sumr) and are concentrated in three areas of the town. Many, but not all, of these families are registered as Abu Bilal.
    Everybody I spoke to stressed that they had been told that in the past marriage between black and white slaves was not permitted. In addition, there seemed to be no evidence that slave owners took black women as concubines. Rather black slaves were married to other black slaves belonging to other families. Nevertheless, not all blacks were slaves and most people of African origin living in Palestine have some white ancestry. Family histories reveal intermarriage for several generations, at least, between people of African origin and other Palestinians.
    In the twentieth century, particularly after 1948, there were changes. Black men of slave descent married white women from fellaheen backgrounds from the West Bank, Gaza or Galilee, but never Bedouin women. Rarely a white Bedouin man might marry a black Bedouin woman. Hence, most people who are considered black are of mixed descent. The male line is all-important in reckoning descent. I met one man of black African appearance in Gaza. His family had come from the Nagab after 1948. However, he claimed that technically he was white, because his father’s father had been white. Conversely, I met a man of white appearance in Rahat, who was black because his father was black, although his mother was white.
    Black Bedouin also continued to marry other black Bedouin, usually within the ashira, thereby conforming to the cultural preference in Arab society to marry relatives. One man told me that cousin marriage is becoming more common among black Bedouin. However, after 1956 it became relatively easy for black Nagab Bedouin men to arrange marriages with white fellahen women. One result was that left some women without husbands. Therefore black Bedouin have recently started marrying between ashira, for example between Abu Rqaiq and Abu Bilal.
    Although the African Palestinians of Jeruslaem are a separate community from the black Bedouin, some intermarriage occurs. For example, one of the wives of a man of I met in Jerusalem was from a family of Nagab Bedouin originally from Beersheba, but now living in a refugee camp in Bethlehem.
    However, many of the Jerusalem community have intermarried with families from Jericho, some of whom are clearly of African origin, although few people seem to know when or how Africans came to Jericho. Several people told me that Jericho suited black people because the weather was hot!
    As the Bedouin of African descent have been geographically dispersed and caught up as individuals and families in the enormous political changes affecting the region, there has been little opportunity to develop a sense of identity as Africans. Some are Israeli or Jordanian citizens while others are registered as Palestinian refugees and hold UNRWA papers. Others were dispersed to Lebanon and Tunisia and have achieved military rank in the PLO. Many families are dispersed and may not be able to meet often separated as they are by frequently closed borders.
    Living within such a complex political and daily reality, where ethnic identity and citizenship are so important it is hardly surprising that most black people do not have a developed sense of being of African descent. Those still living in the Nagab spoke of a changing sense of identity from being Bedouin to being Arab and /or Palestinian. Although they were also Israeli citizens, many said that there was little room for them within the Jewish state.
    Many Palestinians of African descent are poor and disadvantaged, even compared with other Palestinians. However, some black people (Sumr) have achieved leadership roles. The roles of Al Hajj Jeddeh in Jeruslaem and the Sheikh of the Abu Bilal have already been discussed. In Gaza I also encountered, several people of African/ Nagab Bedouin or Al Rubayn descent who were prominent local leaders. For example, one elderly Bedouin Sheikh hears cases and settles disputes for both black and white people from his shig in Zuwaida. His wife hears cases concerning women. Until closures made movement difficult, the Sheikh returned to Tel Sabaa in the Nagab to hear cases. He said that his family had played an important role in dispute settlement since the days of the British. His work is recognised by the Palestinian Authority and since 1995 he has been registered under the Bedouin Association. Another black local leader, I was told about but did not meet, is the Mukhtar who lives in the Yaramouk area of Gaza who settles disputes within the Al Rubayn community. In addition, many black Palestinians of Bedouin origin, in Gaza and in Jordan, continue the military tradition of people of African descent serving in the armed forces and police.
    Over and beyond citizenship and rights, many black people associated with the Bedouin talked about the strong affinity and sense of common roots they felt with black people they encountered or saw on television. Indeed, in the Nagab and Gaza it is common for all black men to refer to each other as khali, or my mother’s brother. One woman explained that the term khal indicated respect and affection. If somebody was referred as ‘am (father’s brother), it was a sign that the speaker wanted something because there were obligations between these categories of kin that did not exist between maternal uncle and nephew. The term is used to address all black people and is recognition of shared ancestry and common roots. People told me that the term is used in relation to the Black Hebrews, who migrated from the USA to live in Dimona as a Jewish group. However, ‘khali’ would not be used to address Ethiopian Jews, who, although clearly African, were more closely associated with the state of Israel.
    Black people in the Nagab, Gaza and Jerusalem refer to themselves as the sumr. This is stark contrast to many other Palestinians who persist in referring to all black people as abed, a term that is synonymous with ‘slaves’. In addition, some older black people still use the term ‘abed’ as a means of self referral, while younger people avoid the term. Indeed, many younger people know little or nothing of their history. One young woman upon hearing from her grandmother tales of slavery was shocked and asked for reassurance that such things only happened centuries ago.
    Although some white Palestinians claim that ‘abed’ is not an abusive name and that any connotations with slavery have been lost, others are embarrassed to even hear the word mentioned. Clearly the issue of the origins, identity and terminology used to describe people of African origin is a highly sensitive one. When I spoke to some white Palestinians they denied that black people were ever slaves in the region, and said that rather they had been soldiers of the Ottoman Empire. When I pointed out that this was not the case, one man almost whispered to me ‘we never talk about it’. Yet, white Palestinians by persisting in calling people of African origin ‘abed, perpetuate discrimination.
    The African Palestinians living in Jerusalem told me that they would fight with anybody who referred to them as ‘abed’. They added that this does not often happen as their place within Palestinian society and their role in the struggle is generally acknowledged by the citizens of Jerusalem. They also clearly identify themselves as African and Palestinian. However, they have different problems in establishing their identity, particularly when applying for travel documents. Unlike other Palestinians in the West Bank, the Jordanian government does not recognize the African Palestinians as Jordanian citizens. They cannot obtain Palestinian passports because they live in Jerusalem which is excluded from the Oslo Agreement. As a result, the majority of Africans living in Jerusalem have no passports, and the only option for overseas travel is to obtain Israeli documents. The majority refuse this option.

    It is hoped that this document will be of interest to individuals and community groups in the Nagab, Gaza and Jerusalem that it will engender a strengthened sense of identity and community so that they will be encouraged to renew and strengthen contacts between themselves. MAY ALLAH{S.W.T} BLESS OUR SCHOLARS AND THOSE WHO SEEK TRUTH


  2. salaams,

    i love your blog. as a black muslim woman, it is nice to see and read about some doing this kind of work. i wouldn’t say you are obsessed (in the pejorative sense that people often associate with obsession) with these things–there is a healthy concern and curiosity. i appreciate your candor and approach.


  3. your obsession is one reason why this has become my favorite blog. I don’t feel as though you sensationalize these topics that you explore, unlike some other blogs. You discuss these things from a scholarly approach. Big props, yo! (thought that would take you back to the 90’s!)


  4. sister here is some info on race you might find helpful

    Blacker Than Coal?
    This January marked the anniversary of one of the greatest, most energetic cartoon shorts ever made. Nearly every animation critic and historian extant believe this short to be an unmitigated masterpiece. It’s creator, possibly at the height of his imaginative powers at the time he produced this work, is a legendary member of the Animation Hall of Fame. When 1,000 animation professionals gathered in 1994 to select the fifty greatest cartoons of all time, this cartoon finished in the top half of that revered roll call. Yet, many ardent animation aficionados have likely never seen it. It will not be released to theaters. It will probably never air on network or cable television. And it can only be found on tape if one really knows where to look. By now you have probably guessed the identity of The Toon That Dares Not Speak Its Name…Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs.
    Sometime during 1941 Bob Clampett, one of the most talented and rambunctious directors in the Warner stable, studied Harlem as Seen by Hirschfeld. Once absorbed by the Clampett imagination, the expressive caricatures in that book fused with his love of jazz, his manic energy, his irrepressible bent for parody, and the wartime zeitgeist that united America during a grim struggle against the Axis powers. As Clampett’s vision became clearer, he took his animation unit (including Rod Scribner, Virgil Ross, and Mike Sasanoff) out to Central Avenue in Los Angeles to one black jazz nightclub after another. There, among the jitterbug, jazz, and jive crowd they sought to capture some semblance of the vitality of black culture and nightlife. Intending to parody Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Clampett developed these experiences into a short called So White and de Sebben Dwarfs.
    In order to stay true to his original idea, Clampett managed to round up an all-star black cast for his opus. It wasn’t difficult; Vivian Dandridge (now enjoying renewed, if posthumous popularity) willingly signed on to voice So White. Her mother, Ruby Dandridge, took the role of the heavy, the evil stepmother Queenie. Zoot Watson eagerly lent his vocal talents to the role of Prince Chawmin’, and Eddie Beals contributed the masterful jazz-and-boogie pastiche that comprises the score. Clampett wanted an entire big band composed of leading black musicians, but either Leon Schlesinger or Carl Stalling objected, depending on which version one hears. One of the legends around the film is that it was originally intended to be a two-reeler with even more outlandish gags and fiery jazz. Clampett himself has denied this, stating that Schlesinger would never have sprung for the extra cost. In order to avoid confusion (or perhaps lawsuits), the short was retitled Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs, even though the lead character refers to herself as “So White” early in the film.
    The short, (which seems to be directed at five times normal speed) manages to meet every goal Clampett envisioned and it fully deserves its place as one of the greatest cartoons ever made. In lieu of a full synopsis, suffice it to say that no other film of that era symbolizes the energy, power, confidence, and determination that an aroused America would unleash upon the Axis powers and their proxies. Not quite like Coal Black did. Contained in this seven-minute cartoon is the unerring spirit of a nation that is delivering a message to its foes: “You’ve picked on the wrong guy. You WILL be sorry!” World War Two turned an antiquated army and a largely isolationist nation into a super-industrialized juggernaut virtually capable of subduing a planet overnight. For Bob Clampett, that incredible sense of speed and almost inhuman vitality found its expression through the soul of black jazz and culture; it is literally the “military secret” that the “Dopey” dwarf uses when he kisses So White back to life at the film’s conclusion, the power of that kiss causing her pigtails to explode into twin American flags.
    Because the film is a cartoon masterpiece, a cultural tour de force of 1940’s America, and a vital example of how animation is often able to capture a nation’s social nuances in ways that live-action films can never hope to do, Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs should be seen by animation fans and anyone else interested in the evolution of our cultural mythos. There is, however, a problem. The film contains what are today considered shockingly racist images. In fact, one might say that in some circles its reputation is blacker than coal. Defenders of this short are quick to point out that the cartoon was made without malice, meanness of spirit, and with the full cooperation of black performers who by all accounts found the cartoon hilariously entertaining. It has been noted that Clampett, by insisting on using Watson, Beals, and the Dandridges, struck a blow against the inherent racism of 1940’s Hollywood. Again, the concept of black men (though in caricature) wearing US Army uniforms while performing heroic deeds has been lauded in some quarters as one of the few depictions of blacks in that sort of role during the war years. Because the country adopted racist attitudes, it has been reasoned, cartoons carried these images forth, as did radio, stage, and movies. For good or ill, such were the times.
    Yet for many, the coat-of arms bearing dice and switchblades, the dice that serve as Prince Chawmin’s front teeth, the wild-eyed jitterbugging, the black dialect, and the thick-lipped caricatures mark this cartoon as far from harmless. Even though Clampett may have meant to show the Teutonic Master Race that even the blacks they despised were a formidable foe to reckon with when gathered under the American flag, the racist images speak only of contempt, bigotry, and ridicule. Some feel that this cartoon is so offensive to African-Americans that it should be consigned to the censor’s vault for all eternity, lest any showing of it at all spark an outpouring of anger, shame, and outrage among blacks and indeed, all who rightfully seek to eradicate racism from our society.
    Thus far, the latter group has held sway. Cartoons with racial themes and caricatures slowly began to disappear from the movie screen and were quietly pulled from the playlists of the new medium, television. The civil rights movement may have been one factor. There may have also been a realization that a country which fought hot wars to defeat fascism and cold ones to preserve democracy could no longer afford the hypocrisy of overt racism. Noted animation scholar Karl Cohen also posits that with cartoons becoming increasingly expensive to produce, the studios could not afford to lose money by offending anyone anymore. And so Coal Black and other films like it seemingly vanished. Memories of the Walter Lantz Cartunes, bursting with bouncy boogie-woogie, faded away. Certain adventures of Popeye, Bugs Bunny, and a few of Friz Freleng’s early efforts at Warner were never seen again. And no, Cartoon Network fans, you have not seen the complete catalogue of Tex Avery’s shorts. For good or ill, such are the times.
    Each side has very good points and both can, in their own manner, lay claim to the truth. Coal Black, as our archetypal example, was considered a harmless film at the time and was representative, nay, typical in its portrayal of blacks. Audiences of both races ate it up with great relish, seemingly never thinking twice about racist content. This was a snapshot of America in 1943, distorted through the lens of Bob Clampett’s frenetic imagination, and should be viewed as such. On the other hand, the cartoon is undeniably racist and offensive in 1990’s America, and no matter how animation has avoided racial stereotypes since the days of Coal Black, this film is an unforgivable sin. So where does that leave the animation fan who wants to view this piece of work?
    Let’s consider the one bottom line that neither side can deny: Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs exists. It was conceived, written, animated, produced and shown. There really is such a film, and no one can sanely say that there isn’t. It cannot be unmade, and even if every copy were destroyed and every reference to it eradicated, there would still be those who remembered it. Orwell was, and is wrong. To pretend that Coal Black will somehow go away is to perpetuate a lie about animation and our culture’s relationship to that art, and we cannot afford the lie of censorship anymore than we can afford racism. Unfortunately, after more than a decade of multiculturalism, sensitivity training, diversity agendas, affirmative action debates, dialogues on race, Rodney King, OJ Simpson, Louis Farrakhan, Bell Curves, Aryan Nations, separatism and reverse discrimination and white backlash the verdict has to be…race relations in America have a long, hard way to go, and any subject has the potential to become a raging battlefield.


  5. Having grown up in Australia, we tend to look upon Americans as sometimes being too euphemistic (here I myself am using a euphemism to denote that sometimes we think Americans bullshit a little too much). Its the reason why Americans are the kings of marketing, because they can always make something sound better than it is.

    This is two ways of looking at a situation of course. From the American perspective, they are being polite about a situation, and perhaps being more positive about it. From the Australian perspective, they are avoiding or covering up the issue and should speak straight.

    What does this have to do with the topic at hand? I think Margari wants to talk about some of the white elephants in American society. I give two thumbs up to that.

    As an Australian, I would further say that you shouldn’t even avoid these issues at the dinner table. Of course, sometimes Australians are thought of as rather crass and too direct, so it can be a double edged sword at times.


  6. I agree with you that a blog is a really appropriate place to discuss all these things. If someone doesn’t like what you are writing about, they don’t have to come back and keep reading! If they are coming back, in spite of that, then it is obvious that something you are saying is interesting them, attracting them, and they are thinking about what you are saying.

    Margot in Marrakesh


  7. salaamz, as another commenter said, it is because you do talk about these things that i stop by here.

    hey, have you seen or heard of the UAE digitally animated cartoon Fareej? if you can get your hands on the DVD box set (maybe online) i think it would be really interesting to analyze for someone who is interested in looking at race issues in Arabia and especially Afro-Arabs.

    Anywayz do keep writing about religion race and sex.



  8. Salaams All!! Thanks for your supportive comments!!
    Luckyfatima!! Jazak Allah kheir for the heads up. I ran across this, put it flashed by so fast, I never got the name. I’m definitely going to look into this.


  9. These subjects are crucial to the modern Muslim Ummah. For too long the Imams from the east have ignored the racisit nature of many Muslim countries and how that racism translates to the America Masjids (Mosques).

    Do not abandon these subjects. They are crucial to the healing of the Muslim Ummah.

    P.S. What do you think about the Kennedy’s endorsing Barack Obama?
    What does it mean to Muslims that the grandson of a devout Muslim may become president of the United States?


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