For decades, African Americans’ still unfinished fights for equality were in varied organizational and ideological ways intertwined with decolonization struggles abroad and linked to the question of US power in the world; an early analysis of this history was Penny von Eschen’s Race Against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937–1957 (1997).
The case of Arab Americans somewhat differed. As Salim Yacub’s Imperfect Strangers: Americans, Arabs, and U.S.-Middle East Relations in the 1970s (2016) has argued, they fully developed political demands about U.S.-Arab relations only after the 1967 Six-Day-War, in groups like the Association of Arab American University Graduates; previously founded bodies like the Organisation of Arab Students became political in the later 1960s, too. Earlier, such demands were quieter, except lobbying for Arab Palestine in the 1940s. Yet earlier, it was Arab migrants’ acceptance within the US racial order that required political (and especially legal and social) activity, as Sarah Gualtieri’s Between Arab and White: Race and Ethnicity in the Early Syrian American Diaspora (2009) has shown—and this activity manifested a wish to be counted as white more than solidarity with African Americans. Again different was the case of nationalist Arabs living in the early postcolonial Arab world. As Alex Lubin’s Geographies of Liberation: The Making of an Afro-Arab Political Imaginary (2014) shows, they saw African American struggles and decolonization struggles as linked, like many African Americans, Asians, Africans, and Latin Americans who were critical of the United States and its role in the postwar world.
The text printed here is a case in point. It is a series of excerpts, in English translation, from an Arabic-language book written around 1961 by Lam‘i al-Muti‘i (1927-2003), an Egyptian author, translator, and travel writer. He also published texts on African decolonization movements, e.g. in Rhodesia, in the same Cairo publishing house and series as this book. Here, he did not talk about “African Americans,” a term that became popular in the 1980s. Rather, he spoke of zunuj fi Amrikā, zunuj (sg.: zanj or zinj) being Arabic for Negros as per the Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic. In the below translation, I use the term Negros (in America—fi Amrikā) in order to distinguish zunuj from ifriqi (African) in al-Muti‘i’s book, and because many African Americans used the term at the time al-Muti‘i wrote his book, though some, like Malcolm X, already objected to its use, associating it with oppression.