Racism Matters,But to Whom?
The killing of George Floyd has recently brought racism back into the headlines. It is not easy to distinguish opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement from anti-black sentiment, but the public and mainstream media have tended to combine these views, with discourse concentrated on the idea that racial injustice has been at the core of Western society since the European colonization of the Americas and the Western perpetration of slavery.
For those who may have forgotten, Greece and Serbia abolished slavery in 1832 and 1835, the United Kingdom and France in 1833 and 1848, and the US in 1865, although Ohio, New Jersey, Michigan, Indiana, New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania had all abolished slavery at various times over the preceding decades, starting with Ohio in 1802. The abolishment of slavery did not happen all at once, neither worldwide nor within countries.
It was the non-Western countries — Cameroon, Siam, Morocco, Afghanistan, Turkey, Nigeria, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and others whose natives and descendants are now mostly treated as victims of racism in the West — who did not abolish slavery until the 20th century. Same with Iran, where black people served as (castrated) servants for wives in the harems of high-ranking officials in the Qajar empire. In contrast to Western slavery, the Qajar harems also contained Christian women who were abducted in wars with Russia and Georgia. Take for example the case of “Gul-Pirhan” Khanum, the Armenian captive from Tiflis who was forced to become one of the 165 wives of Fath-Ali Shah Qajar.
Nine years after the US Civil War, the Armenian novelist and Iranian native Raffi (Hakob Melik-Hakobian) published his novella Harem, a story about black, female and Armenian liberation from Qajar captivity that I recently co-translated to English. The book was published in Tiflis (then part of the Russian Empire), but as a result of its
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