Race and the Middle East/North Africa Mellon Sawyer Seminar

About Us

Building on earlier workshops and research sponsored by the Middle East and Middle East American center at the CUNY Graduate Center, the Mellon Sawyer seminar on Race and the Middle East/North Africa addresses a set of critical historical and contemporary questions about power and identity formation. Rather than presuming either the stability of notions of race or their irrelevance (as it has often been argued) for the MENA region, this seminar highlights the specific ways that hierarchies and inequalities have been understood, used, and reproduced in the Middle East and North Africa; among Middle Easterners and North Africans in Sub-Saharan Africa; in confrontations and conversations with Europeans; and among diaspora populations in the United States. In particular, the seminar addresses practices, policies, and beliefs about blood, biology, and marriage, appearance and regulation, exclusion and inclusion. We recognize that, in Arabic, the word for “race,” jins, literally means “type” or “kind” and is regularly also applied to sex, gender, race, or nationality. The Arabic `unsur is also used to connote “race,” but has a slightly different resonance, as it also can mean “origin,” “breed,” or “ethnic element.” This Sawyer Seminar explores how processes of racialization and notions of race (jins or `unsur and similar terms in Turkish, Persian, and other Middle Eastern languages) are formed, experienced, and contested.​