Crown Center for Middle East Studies

On Origin Myths and Genealogical Imagination: The Marginalization of Yemen’s Black Community

A Crown Seminar with Gokh Amin Alshaif

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The 1960s was a decade of global revolution. In Southern Arabia, the 1962 revolution in North Yemen and the emergence of the People's Republic of Southern Yemen in 1967 ushered in a time of transformation and hope. But revolutionary promise did not extend to all Yemenis: Black Yemenis known as Muhamasheen (“the marginalized” in Arabic) remained trapped at the bottom of both states’ social ladders. To this day, this marginalized community occupies the position of untouchables in the Yemeni social landscape. The ongoing war in Yemen and the resulting famine have exacerbated this situation. In this talk, Gokh Amin Alshaif will examine the origin myths and racialized genealogical imagination at the root of the Muhamasheen’s marginalization. She will discuss the ways in which some Yemenis deploy imagined genealogies to justify the Muhamasheen’s status and construct the categories of “Arab” and “Black” as mutually exclusive. Finally, she will explore acts of resistance by Muhamasheen activists today and their struggle to reclaim power over naming and genealogy.

Gokh Amin Alshaif is a PhD candidate in the Department of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Stacey Philbrick Yadav, discussant, is a non-resident fellow at the Crown Center and chair of the Department of Political Science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

Co-sponsored by the Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies program and the Department of History at Brandeis.