Words of Color in Other Languages: Constructing and Confronting Race in the Vocabularies of the Nile Valley and the Late Ottoman Empire

Sunday, January 7, 2018: 11:20 AM
Marriott Ballroom, Salon 1 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Eve M. Troutt Powell, University of Pennsylvania
This paper will explore how race, color and identities in the Middle East were created and constructed in the decades of the middle to late nineteenth century into the interwar period of the twentieth century. These were the decades in which slavery very much defined these identities, but in the Ottoman Empire and Egypt, this was a multicultural system of enslavement. In Sudan, it was those who raided particular communities in Dar Fur and the south who created racial identities for enslaved Africans. These enslaved people carried with them on their journeys to the north identities that may have made no sense to them, but because of their color and shape, bore racial identities quite familiar to others in cities like Cairo and Istanbul.

As the Empire turned into the Turkish Republic, as Egypt and Sudan became more independent from the British, everyone in these societies had to renegotiate their racial identities. To be a Turk became a mono-chromatic representation, as did being an Arab, a Kurd and a Sudanese. To be a Nubian or an Egyptian, a person bore many more colors, with independence and slavery complicating one’s view in their historical and cultural mirror.