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Race and Decolonization in North Africa  

Muriam Haleh Davis

The precolonial history of slavery is fundamental for understanding the roots of antiblack racism in the region known as the Maghreb. At the same time, the question of skin color does not capture the diverse forms of discrimination that have been experienced by populations in the region over the last two hundred years. French colonial officials, for example, upheld the Berber population as a separate race that was inherently more civilized and less Muslim than the Arab population. Jews in Algeria were offered French citizenship in 1870, further complicating the racial formation of the colonial Maghreb. Despite colonial attempts to posit a racial difference between so-called white and black Africa, the porous geographical boundaries in the southern regions of the Sahara made it difficult to assert a clear distinction between Arab and African peoples. After independence, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia sought to foster a coherent national identity and achieve political legitimacy, and their experiences of state building in turn influenced how religious and ethnic minorities were treated after independence.