One of the paradoxes of history is that it took Africa's contact with the Arab world to make the Black people of Africa realize that they were black in description, but not necessarily in status … On the other hand, it took European conceptualization and cartography to turn Africa into a continent.Ali A. Mazrui, “The Re-invention of Africa: Edward Said, V. Y. Mudimbe, and Beyond,” Research in African Literatures 36/3 (2005), 68–82, at 70
Historians of Africa can no longer overlook race. To scholars of African-diaspora studies (who often work under the rubric of Africana studies, black studies, and African American studies), the recognition of this fact is long overdue. With the rise of the area-studies paradigm in the 1950s, North American scholars of Africa became preoccupied with the rise of nationalism and the writing or critique of national histories. The future was defined by national development, while the study of the past was centered on the search for a pristine precolonial identity. Consequently, a world of nations took precedence in scholarly writing over concerns about the management of empires, colonies and, strikingly, races. Even as Africanist scholars came to reevaluate the successes and failures of the postcolonial experience across Africa in the 1970s, they frequently lamented the persistence of ethnic conflict, but not of ongoing forms of racial hierarchy. Race, insofar as it was treated at all, tended to be confined to the “colonial episode” and to settler states, like South Africa.