Dr. Moses Ochone of Vanderbilt sees Arab's racism as prevalent:

Professor Iliya Harik's piece (dialogue 894) is a commendable and bold attempt by an Arab scholar to openly discuss the sensitive issue of Africa-Arab relations. There is need for an open, unfettered dialogue between Africans and Arabs on the fractured
state of relations between the two peoples.

Professor Harik's write-up is however trapped in the language of denial and obfuscation that has become a key defining feature of Arab responses to charges of
racism against blacks. His response sounds eerily
familiar, for I have heard many such feeble defenses
of Arab racism against blacks--defenses which merely
deracializes the racism or/or emphasize the African
roots of North African Arabs. One would normally
excuse such defensive posturing were it not for its
diversionary implications for understanding the
history of Afro-Arab relations--a history preceding
Africa's relations with the West.

In fact, Professor Harik's rendering of the crisis in Darfur is almost offensive to blacks in that it is not only an intolerable simplification and trivialization
of a racist genocide on the part of the Arabized
government in Khartoum but also an inexplicable
attempt to dilute the fact that race, even if it is
mediated by culture, is at the heart of the crisis in

Harik claims that Arabs are not "anti-African on any basis." But this is a straw man. Dr. Onyeani never argued that Arabs were anti-African. The allegation,
which Harik did not directly respond to, is that there
is a disturbing pattern of anti-African racism in many
Arab countries, and that this attitude translates to
many Arabs being indifferent to African struggles and
sensibilities at a time when black African leaders
like Mbeki and Obasanjo are bending over backwards to
accommodate and protect the interests of Arab North
African nations. Many people, in the interest of
Afro-Arab political alliances and in order not to
alienate our North African brothers, do not want this
issue discussed. But it should. This is why Harik must
be commended for making his post, as disappointing as
its contents are.

It is true that the population of most North African countries are mixed, but it is not a secret that in these countries there is a gradation of human
valuation that corresponds directly to skin color,
with the most privileged status being accorded those
perceived rightly or wrongly as being of "pure" Arab
stock while those with the darkest skin and curliest
hair are located on the lowest rung of the social

In fact, Arab racism is embedded in the history of North Africa itself and in the Arabic language. The Arab conquest of North Africa and the subsequent
conversion and marginalization of the original Berbers
and Moors of North Africa and parts of the Sahel was
undergirded by a racist ethos. Till this day, the
descendants of the dark-skinned Moors, the Berbers,
and other distinct peoples are confined to the fringes
of North African and North-west African society--in
Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Mauritania, etc. The plight
of the descendants of blacks (some of who predated the
Arab conquest of the 9th century and others who came
to North Africa as slaves, captives, and free
migrants) is worse than that of the Berbers. In
Morocco, Tunisia, and throughout much of the Arab
world, the only ticket to social visibility for blacks
is soccer. Becoming a soccer star gives a black person
access to coveted corridors of society and enables
them to "marry up", racially speaking.

Arab racism is also so deep it is inscribed in the semantics of the Arab language. Till this day, the generic word for a black person is the preface "abd,"
which translates as "slave," as in "Abd"-allah (slave
of God). This rule, among many other racially-loaded
ones, applies throughout the Arab-speaking world
regardless of dialect and orthography.

The case of the Sudan is perhaps the most vivid, poignant, and irrefutable example of Arab racism
against black Africans. Let it be noted that until the Janjaweed and their racist and murderous Sudanese government backers gave a bad name to the art of
hating, marginalizing, and murdering blacks, Arabs
never quite saw the raiding of black villages for
slaves and cattle, especially in Southern Sudan, as a
crime. The racism which propels these practices was
increasingly authorized by the discourse of the
distinction, within Islam, between dar-al Islam (the
abode of Islam) and dar-al-hard (the abode of war and
unbelief). For many Arabs, the historical description
of blacks as slaves and servile presences in the Arab
world is hard to unlearn.

Arabs still generally regard the Darfur genocide as a public relations disaster rather than a barbaric racist war against black people. After all, we haven't
heard any condemnation of the Sudanese government's
racist practices from any Arab state. To do that would
be hypocritical because some of these states
themselves condone the racist practices of mavericks
or practice anti-black racism in their own official
policies. For instance, black African immigrants are
routinely killed, maimed, and their houses and
properties destroyed in Gaddafi's Libya. The same
Ghadaffi who wants to be the leader of a politically
united African super-state. Africans have become jaded
about Ghadaffi's feeble condemnations of anti-black
riots in his country and the ad-hoc and sterile
apologies he offers after each tragic episode.

Professor Harik is only half right about the Arab-speaking Northern Sudanese. They are a
dark-skinned people, although most of them are of
mixed Arab and African ancestry. But these folks, by
virtue of the Arab penetration of the Sudan and the
adoption of Arabic and many aspects of Arab and
Bedouin culture, no longer perceive themselves as
blacks, or African in any functional way. Indeed, they
have long become Arabized. While Harik and I, as
historically conscious people, may recognize them only
as cultural Arabs, the Northern Sudanese people and
their ideologues and rulers have since, for good or
ill, racialized their identity and their distinction
(which is actually essentially linguistic and
cultural) from the people of Darfur (Western Sudan).

It is not for me to say whether it is wrong or right to conflate Arabization with Arab racial
consciousness, which is the Northern Sudanese people seems to have done. What I do know is that in both its practical expression and its tragic consequences, the
attitude of the Arabized Northern Sudanese people and
their government towards Darfur is racist.

So, to conclude, I would say that African-Arab political solidarity and alliances have survived not
because of the absence of Arab racism towards black
Africans--as Harik seems to suggest--but in spite of
it. Nkrumah, Toure, Mbeki, Obasanjo, and other black
African leaders were/are aware of this racism but
are/were motivated by avowedly higher ideals and goals
in their interaction with North Africa and the entire
Arab world. This pursuit of South-South alliance and
solidarity has cost Africa dearly in human and
material terms. My personal opinion is that we are
actually approaching a tipping point as Arab
disrespect for black-Africans heightens. The emotional
blackmail in the form of charges of black racism
against North Africa, which is being subtly invoked by
our North African AU members to obscure the treatment
of blacks in the Arab world, will no longer be

Even beyond the domain of group relations, there is a preponderance of individual anecdotal evidence to support the notion of a pattern of Arab racist
attitudes towards blacks. A Nigerian friend of mine (a
Muslim) who now lives in London was appalled at the
racist treatment that he and other black Africans
received when he traveled to Egypt a few years back.
The irony is that he was in Egypt as part of the
Nigerian delegation to an "African" trade fair.

So instead of arguing that the populations of the Sudan and North Africans have remote African ancestry, which we all know they do, we should ask why people
who are of mixed stock and who themselves are victims
of white racism could become so socialized into an
Arab racial consciousness as to begin to perceive
blacks as their inferiors.