[-empyre-] week 4

Parisa Vaziri pv248 at cornell.edu
Mon Feb 24 03:46:02 AEDT 2020

Thanks for the introduction, Dale. Before addressing this week's prompt directly, in this post I'd like to respond more generally to the question formulated in the discussion proposal, regarding the ideological politics underlying the term "Middle East." I am currently situated at the crossroads between two academic departments, Comparative Literature, and Near Eastern Studies. As long as I've been working at the university, I've never once heard the suggestion that we might consider changing our departmental name from Near Eastern Studies to something else, nor that the term itself might be problematic. This might simply be due to the conservativism of the field-inextricably bound with the cold war politics that undergirded area studies programs in the U.S. and that was the condition of possibility for their development and expansion throughout the North American academy. I bring this up only because it's been striking to me that the place where I've noticed actual movement and critique of the term "Middle East" is not in academic settings, but in youth grassroots political activism. In Los Angeles, where I lived as a graduate student before moving to central upstate NY last Fall, I participated in a collective called SWANA (acronym for Southwest Asia and North Afrika). As a group, SWANA's mission is to advocate for Southwest Asian and North Afrikan communities on both local and global scales. They stage educational events, action-oriented campaigns and spaces for healing.

One of the things I was involved in toward the end of my time in LA and involvement with SWANA (and which dovetails with my past and current academic research) was the presence of anti-blackness in SWANA communities. In my own research I am interested in the forms of representations and of erasures of blackness in Iranian cultural history. At the activist level in SWANA, I was part of conversations about how to deal with forms of anti-blackness that surface consistently-violently or invisibly-- in our own communities in diaspora.

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