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Black orientalism is an intellectual and cultural movement found primarily within African-American circles. While similar to the general movement of Orientalism in its negative outlook upon Western Asian - especially Arab - culture and religion, it differs in both its emphasis upon the role of the Arab slave trade and the Coolie slave trade in the historic dialogue between sub-Saharan Africa and the Arab - and greater Muslim - world, as well as a lack of colonial promotion over the Middle East region as was promoted by European orientalism in the same region. The term "black orientalism" was first used by Kenyan academic Ali Mazrui in his critique of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s documentary Wonders of the African World. Supporters of this movement include writers such as Chinweizu.
Black orientalism and Afrocentrism
Black orientalism, prior to its appropriation by religious Christian black nationalists, was formulated within the context of Afrocentrism; Jackson later wrote that it was Molefi Kete Asante who formed the base of its black orientalism:
"Adoption of Islam is as contradictory to the Diasporan Afrocentricity as Christianity has been. Christianity has been dealt with admirably by other writers, notably Karenga; but Islam within the African- American community ha [sic] yet to come under Afrocentric scrutiny. Understand that this oversight is due more to a sympathetic audience than it is to the perfection of Islam for African-Americans. While the Nation of Islam under the leadership of Elijah Muhammad was a transitional nationalist movement, the present emphasis of Islam in America is more cultural and religious." --Molefi Kete Asante, Afrocentricity (1988)
Reaction by Muslim writers
The term "black orientalism" was first used by Kenyan academic Ali Mazrui in his Internet critique of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s documentary Wonders of the African World. Mazrui had criticized the film for having markedly deemphasized the history of Islam in Africa, to the point where the history of Nigeria - half of which population is Muslim - was all but absent from the general coverage by the documentary. The term was later used by Sherman Jackson in an article for Islamica Magazine, which criticized Black orientalism as a backlash from the oft-conservative Christian African studies scholars who have seen Black Islam as a political threat of sorts. The article was later included in his book Islam and the Blackamerican. Cultural writer Alik Shahadah states that:
In dealing with religion Afrocentrism/Black orientalism reveals its pseudo-intellectual narrow-minded foundation. It treats age old historical relationships by superimposing the African-American bias into ancient African history. Complex relationship in both African Christianity and especially Islam are washed away in monolithic, oversimplified, unsubstantiated, diatribes. In an attempt to forced concepts of "pure" and "foreign," Africa is reduced to "foreign", "invaded", and ultimately "victim".
— Alik Shahadah, African Agency
- Black Orientalism? Further Reflections on "Wonders of the African World" by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., by Ali Mazrui, November 11, 1999.
- "Arab Slave Trade: Owen Alik Shahadah". African Holocaust Society. Retrieved 2007-01-04.
- Pambazuka African Agency
- All Africa