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CBI x BWR Transnational Blackness Series: Iran

CBI x BWR Transnational Blackness Series: Iran

#BecauseWe’veRead is incredibly honored to be collaborating with the Collective for Black Iranians to kick off a year-long series on Transnational Blackness! For the past six months, the Collective, a non-profit organization, has embarked on a trailblazing effort towards centering stories and histories of Black and Afro-Iranians from Iran and throughout its diaspora. The effort is a vital reminder of the importance of reading about the parts of history that we may have ignored, the necessity of listening to the voices that we may not have known existed and the urgency to find the intellectual courage to then create conversations about who we are. 

In this series we have tasked ourselves with uplifting and sharing these erased, and overlooked stories of Blackness as it exists, thrives, survives, and blooms around the world, from Tehran to Hebron. The series will comprise three separate reads spaced out over the course of the year and in collaboration with communities on the ground to curate and develop content, join our live discussions, and lead the development of each unit. 

Considering the constant erasure of Black narratives throughout our societies, this series is exceptionally important and through this unit we hope to build deep and lasting relationships of global understanding in a way that is intentional, informed, directive, and liberating. 

With this year-long series, we have four main objectives:

  1. To listen to the history of people of Black African descent in the MENA region
  2. To understand the transnationality of Blackness and its presence throughout the world and integrate the racial dynamics that have been existing yet often left ignored within immigrant communities
  3. To teach our people (Black and non-Black people of color) of our histories through the histories of Blackness
  4. And, as always, to uplift stories that have been erased, ignored, and silenced


Artist: Kimia Fatehi | Collective for Black Iranians 


To kick off this Transnational Blackness series, we’re starting with Iran: as the month of March represents a new year and new growth for Iranians and others, we hope this conversation too will help plant the seeds for our community to reflect, heal, and grow. 

We’ve pulled together two incredible selections that are being published online for the first time exclusively for this unit! The first piece, “Seeing Race,” is by Iranian-American historian Beeta Baghoolizadeh. “Seeing Race,” excerpted from Baghoolizadeh’s doctoral dissertation, provides a historical introduction to enslavement and racialization during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Iran. She is currently writing her book, The Color Black: Enslavement and Erasure in Iran. as well as an additional supplementary short article The Myths of Haji Firuz: The Racist Contours of the Iranian Minstrel (Lateral, Journal of the Cultural Studies Association, March 2020).

The second read is the first three chapters of In the Palace of Flowers (Cassava Republic, out in the UK Feb. 2021 and worldwide May 11th, 2021), a *just-released* novel by Victoria Princewill. Inspired by the only existing first-person narrative of an enslaved Abyssinian in Iran, Jamīla Habashī, In the Palace of Flowers recreates the opulent Persian royal court of the Qajars at the end of the nineteenth century. This is a precarious time of growing public dissent, foreign interference from the Russians and British, and the problem of an aging ruler and his unsuitable heir. Torn away from their families, Jamila, a concubine, and Abimelech, a eunuch, now serve at the whims of the royal family, only too aware of their own insignificance in the eyes of their masters. Abimelech and Jamila’s quest to take control over their lives and find meaning leads to them navigating the dangerous politics of the royal court, and to the radicals that lie beyond its walls. Richly textured and elegantly written, at its heart In The Palace of Flowers is a novel about the fear of being forgotten.

We also want to thank Cassava Republic for partnering with us on this unit! Cassava Republic Press is the oldest female-led publishing house in West Africa.

We’re incredibly excited to be joined by both Beeta Baghoolizadeh and Victoria Princewill, as well as members from the Collective for Black Iranians for a roundtable conversation at the end of the unit in April. Stay tuned as we release the details and RSVP in the coming weeks! 


— The Collective for Black Iranians & Because We’ve Read

Additional Resources

Head over to the Collective for Black Iranians’ Instagram page and website to follow the illustrated stories, voices, experiences, music, and beauty of Black and Afro Iranians around the world —