Black Algerians, indigenous to southern Algeria, account for an estimated 10 per cent of the country’s total population as per a 2009 academic estimate. However, no official statistics exist. These Algerian citizens face deeply structural racial discrimination, which is reinforced by the state’s institutionalisation of a ‘white Arab and Muslim only’ identity.
The Preamble of the Algerian Constitution states that the fundamental components of the identity of the Algerian people are ‘Islam, Arabity and Amazighity’. Article 37 of the Algerian Constitution of 2020 guarantees equality among all Algerian citizens, prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of ‘birth, race, gender, opinion or any other personal or social condition or situation’. Although race is mentioned as a ground of discrimination in the Constitution, the fact that the components of Algerian identity do not make any reference to its Black community or African roots can attest to the complete disregard or invisibility faced by this group.
Although each country in North Africa has its own unique context, similar patterns in terms of racial discrimination can be observed throughout the region, which are due to the long history of the trans-Saharan slave trade and its ongoing legacy. With the trans-Saharan slave trade having lasted some 1,300 years, from the seventh to the twentieth centuries, North Africa not only contributed to the transit of slaves elsewhere but also relied on slavery internally for fieldwork, domestic work and concubinage. Although some Black communities are indigenous to the region (such as Saharan communities in southern Algeria and Tuareg and Tebu in Libya) or had migrated to study in the region’s Islamic institutions, most Black Algerians are believed to be the descendants of slaves.
Continuously marginalised, Black Algerians suffer from endemic day-to-day racism, which includes facing questioning when presenting their national identity documents at police roadblocks or airports, or being victims of racial slurs, such as kahlouche (‘blackie’) and abd (‘slave’). The absence of Black Algerians in the Hirak movement and the ongoing debates about democratization, national identity and belonging in Algeria is evident and further worsened by the concentration of this population in the Saharan south of the country, which makes them invisible to other Algerian citizens mostly located in the Mediterranean shores.
Black Algerian women appear to be particularly vulnerable to such acts of racial discrimination, as evidenced by the election of Khadija Benhamou as Miss Algeria in January 2019. Indeed, the scale and magnitude of the attacks faced by Benhamou on social media following her nomination, notably claiming that she did not represent the beauty and identity of the country, bears witness to the prevalence of anti-Black racism in Algeria.
Updated January 2023
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