In Search of the Black “Ghetto:” Racial and Spatial Stigma in Tunisia

Shreya Parikh, UNC Chapel-Hill  & Sciences Po Paris

 

In a blog post published in French in 2013, blogger Ahmed Amri described Gabès governorate, which lies around 400 kilometers south of Tunis, as one of “the most colored zone[s] in Tunisia.”[1] He noted the social marginalization faced by Black minorities in Tunisia and went on to call the neighborhood of Gahbaya in Gabès city, the capital of Gabès governorate, a “ghetto” where “a high density of Blacks” live.[2] Amri’s description of Gahbaya neighborhood reflects a larger discourse in Tunisia, including among the inhabitants of Gabès city, that constructs Gahbaya as a Black “ghetto.” During my fieldwork over 2021–2022, many residents of Gabès city portrayed Gahbaya and its people as uniformly Black, poor, dangerous, aggressive, and lacking in morality. Both the place and its people were spoken about interchangeably as if they formed the same denigrated urban object.

When I set out to look for Gahbaya in June 2021, however, I found no place that corresponded to my preconceived ideas about a so-called Black ghetto, which derived from popular descriptions of what Gahbaya looks like as well as my readings on “ghettos” in the American context. After my first visit in Gahbaya, I falsely concluded that I had failed to find it. During the afternoon that I spent asking people on the streets where “a lot of soumour [brown people, a Tunisian vernacular term used to refer to people racialized as Black] live,” I was told to cross a street and go ghadi (to the other side).[3] I spent the entire afternoon walking in circles towards this ghadi, and never found it.

During my subsequent visits, the Tunisian social imagination of Gahbaya as a clearly defined space and people with unique socio-spatial characteristics began to fall apart. For example, the question of where exactly Gahbaya is located generated a contested response among Gahbaya’s residents. While there was agreement over where Gahbaya is located in relation to other neighborhoods of Gabès city, there is no agreement over the boundaries of the neighborhood.

This essay interrogates the discrepancy between the descriptions of Gahbaya and its people as a Black “ghetto,” and the notes gathered from observations and interviews in Gahbaya that destabilize this description. In order to understand this discrepancy, I use semi-structured interviews with Black and non-Black inhabitants of Gabès city that I collected over 2021 and 2022 during field visits totaling around four weeks. I look specifically for anecdotes that reflect the discursive construction of Gahbaya among Gabès city’s inhabitants.[4] While conducting interviews and field observations in Gabès governorate, I categorized those I interviewed and observed as Black and non-Black because my question of whether they self-identified as Black was met with incomprehension.

I supplement the interviews with observations on urban structures in Gahbaya to argue that the discursive construction of Gahbaya as a space-people amalgam, as reflected in its description as a “ghetto” (where its characterization as Black is made explicitly or implicitly), represents a combination of racial and spatial stigma. I examine how this construction is the result of historical and contemporary processes that categorize and stigmatize the space and its people based on overlapping factors that include race, socio-economic class, and land quality.

Where is Gahbaya?

Gabès city, the capital of Gabès governorate, lies on the southern coast of Tunisia and faces the Mediterranean Sea. According to the last census, conducted in 2014, its population is around 153,000. Traditionally, most of Gabès’ economy has depended on its land and water in the form of agricultural products from its oasis and fish from the sea. With the establishment of chemical industries, including phosphate-treating factories that release toxic waste into Gabès’ land, water, and air, the traditional sites of livelihood have become polluted, forcing Gabès’ inhabitants to find work in other sectors.[5]

Gahbaya neighborhood, located around two kilometers inland from the sea, was one of the first urban extensions of the city of Gabès after Tunisia’s independence in 1956. The neighborhoods of El Menzel and Jara, which lie to the north of Gahbaya and closer to the large oasis, were the traditional centers of habitation and commerce. Later, during the period of French colonization (1881–1956), the neighborhood of Bab Bhar, which lies to the northeast of Gahbaya, developed as Gabès’ administrative and commercial center.

Many of Gabès city’s residents noted that Gahbaya was not inhabited prior to the 1950s because the land is saline and hence not useful for agricultural production, unlike the fertile oases surrounding Gabès city. The salinity of the land is linked to the (now dry) oued or riverbed that borders Gahbaya to its south and empties into the Mediterranean Sea. This riverbed also makes Gahbaya prone to flooding, despite the canal that was constructed to contain the water. It was onto these “insalubrious grounds” that a “spontaneous” neighborhood of “poor construction” was built, according to scholars Alioua et al.[6]  Hence, prior to becoming an inhabited space, Gahbaya’s value as a physical space was already categorized as low.

Gahbaya’s Foundation as a Black “Ghetto”

Gahbaya, an undervalued physical space, came to host a population that is marginalized both racially and socio-economically and collectively carries the taint of the history of enslavement of Black populations in the region. Over time, both the undervalued land and the poor Black populations came to justify the relegation of the other, hence naturalizing the socio-spatial marginalization of the urban space of Gahbaya as well as its people.

According to anecdotal histories about the neighborhood that circulate in Gabès city, Gahbaya has been a Black neighborhood since its inception in the 1950s. Using these anecdotal histories, scholar Moutaa Amin El Waer writes that the first families who came to live in Gahbaya were exclusively Black; they constructed “anarchic” houses that became a slum, separated from the rest of the city by empty saline lands and a cemetery.[7] Anis*, a non-Black resident of Gahbaya in his mid-30s who does construction and painting work, told me that the Black Hamaida tribe from neighboring Arram village was the first to settle in Gahbaya in the 1950s and 1960s.[8] According to him, the soud (Black) families also came from other towns and villages in Gabès governorate as well as from neighboring governorates like Kébili, Médenine, and Gafsa in southern Tunisia.

Through informal conversations with Gahbaya’s residents whom I identified as Black, I sought to verify this anecdotal history recounted by non-Black residents of Gabès. Many told me that their families had indeed arrived in Gahbaya from neighboring towns like Arram, Hamma, and Mareth or from Kébili governorate, all of which have a high proportion of Black Tunisian families. For example, Souad* (27 years old) and Fatma* (in her 40s)—two women who married into a Gahbaya-based Black family—are from Hamma and Mareth respectively. Black Tunisian scholar and activist Maha Abdelhamid’s family, whom I met in Gahbaya, trace their origins to Arram. M’hamed*, a Black taxi driver in his 40s, told me that his paternal grandfather moved to Gahbaya from Kébili governorate to work as a khadim (meaning servant and used to refer to Black day workers) on local farms and saved enough money to buy land in Gahbaya like many other migrants. With his parents, siblings, wife, and children, M’hamed continues to live in the house built by his grandfather. I suspect that the land prices in Gahbaya were comparatively cheaper (in relation to other neighborhoods like Bab Bhar or Jara) given the salinity and flood prone nature of the land in Gahbaya. Hence, Black families who migrated to Gabès city and who were poorer compared to land-owning non-Black residents of Gabès city bought land or settled in Gahbaya.

Where do the Black families in towns like Arram, Hamma, and Mareth come from? Abdel Jabbar Rguigui, a non-Black 60-year-old retired school teacher who serves as Gabès governorate’s head of the Tunisian League of Human Rights (LTDH), said that the presence of Black families in Gabès is “linked to the histories of sub-Saharans who came [to Gabès] as slaves.”[9] He pointed out that the port in Gabès served as a transit point for the slave trade, which Tunisia participated in until its abolition over the 19th century.[10]

The Black families that settled in Gahbaya were previously landless, a mark of their poverty in a region where land ownership is key to economic sustenance. Many Black families that live in Gahbaya today worked as agricultural workers or khammas in the mid-20th century. For example, the Gbellaoui family in Gabès, which traces their origins to Kébili (like M’hamed’s family mentioned earlier), worked as khammas.[11] The term khammas derives from the term khamsa (five in Arabic) and refers to those who are paid with a fifth of what is produced; in the case of agricultural workers, labor is paid for in the form of a fifth of the crop. As Maha Abdelhamid points out, the work of khammas in the oases of south Tunisia (including Gabès) was “for a long time undertaken by Black men, most of whom originated from slavery.”[12] The khammas system is a continuation of the social structure that enforced the economic dependence of the enslaved on their enslavers; for example, the owners of the land they worked would fix marriages of the daughters of the khammas families. While some khammas inherited plots of land from those who dominated them, they have no official papers detailing the transfer of land ownership. Overall, this socio-economic structure has guaranteed the intergenerational reproduction of poverty among many Black Tunisian families across Gabès.[13]

Gahbaya became synonymous with these Black families even though over the years Gahbaya has become racially mixed. Starting in the 1970s, non-Black Tunisians belonging to lower social classes, many of them migrants from surrounding villages and towns, progressively moved into Gahbaya, creating a racially mixed working-class neighborhood.[14]Starting in 1972, the industrial zone developed on the coast of Gabès city, providing employment opportunities and bringing in families from across the south of Tunisia. But, according to El Waer, the inhabitants of Gahbaya did not benefit from the economic opportunities created by these industries. Instead, most locals continued to work in so-called informal jobs in construction or as manual workers. At the same time, newer neighborhoods (like Hay Amel where Abdel Jabbar Rguigui and his family lives) developed to host socio-economically privileged migrants who took up stable jobs in the industrial zone and became the middle class of Gabès city.

Present-Day Gahbaya as a Black “Ghetto”

That Gahbaya is racially mixed is apparent when walking around the neighborhood. At the same time, the proportion of Black population in Gahbaya is higher compared to the national average.[15] El Waer estimates that around 50 percent of Gahbaya’s population is Black; according to estimates cited by Black activists, between 10 to 15 percent of the Tunisian population is Black.[16] This comparatively high concentration of and visibility of Black populations in Gahbaya may explain why the popular image of Gahbaya as a Black “ghetto” has persisted.

The contemporary globalized understanding of the term ghetto as inner-city neighborhoods where poor Black people live derives from the descriptions of majority African-American neighborhoods in cities across the United States.[17] Like in the United States, ghetto—a term used in the Tunisian Franco-Arabic vernacular—designates “those stigmatized neighborhoods situated at the very bottom of the hierarchical system of places that compose the metropolis.”[18] While many neighborhoods across Tunisia’s urban centers face stigmatization, it is the neighborhoods that are imagined as uniformly Black that come to be described as a ghetto.[19]

Gahbaya continues to be talked about as a Black “ghetto” as reflected in Amri’s blog post as well as in descriptions of Gahbaya by Gabès city’s residents who do not live in Gahbaya. For example, many Black and non-Black residents of Gabès city not living in Gahbaya told me that they had grown up hearing stories of danger and criminality in an all-Black Gahbaya, and that they would always avoid walking or driving past the neighborhood.[20] During a conversation about Gahbaya with Mabrouka*, a 34-year-old Black Tunisian woman living in the middle-class neighborhood of Mtorrech in Gabès city, she remarked that:

People in Gahbaya are very aggressive. There used to be lots of fights there, not between whites and Blacks but among Blacks. My mother told my brother not to be friends with kids from Gahbaya. When he was in school, he had Black friends from Gahbaya in his class and my mother asked him to stop being friends because they [from Gahbaya] are aggressive.[21]

These discourses of aggressiveness attributed to the Black residents (especially to young Black men) of Gahbaya are used to police them disproportionately compared to the non-Black residents. Seif*, a Black Tunisian in his 30s who is an active member of Gabès’ civil society, recounted that a group of young Black boys who were drinking alcohol in a public space in Gahbaya were arrested by the police and accused of a fabricated list of crimes.[22] Seif* explained that while there is a legal interdiction on consumption of alcohol in public spaces in Tunisa, it is common to see men drinking in public and the practice is tolerated by the state. But according to Seif* the boys in Gahbaya were harassed and arrested by the police because they are Black and they fall into the stereotype of a clochard or derelict.

Black populations who live outside Gahbaya also have a nostalgic imagination of solidarities among the working-class Black residents of Gahbaya. For example, Hamid* (a Black Tunisian in his 30s, contractual worker at a pharmacy in Tunis) who traces his origins to Gabès, told me that “no one touches the Black people in Gahbaya…[and] if there is something that happens, then everyone comes together to fight against the whites.”[23] While Mabrouka*’s and Hamid*’s descriptions of Gahbaya may seem contrasting, they co-exist. Overall, in discourses that portray Black populations in Gabès as aggressive or possessing solidarity, the assumption of a race-based homogenous group remains. Yet, the heterogeneity of socio-economic class as well as migration trajectory produces social tensions across the population racialized as Black.

In addition to the stereotypes about the aggressive nature of Black residents in Gahbaya, the “spontaneous” or non-formalized construction of residences in Gahbaya is described as an anomaly specific to that neighborhood. While walking around Gahbaya, I noticed both working-class and middle-class residences, depending on the lane I chose to walk on. Most residences are brick houses and a majority are in the perpetual state of being under construction with additional one or two floors built over time by families to accommodate their children and grandchildren.[24] Most residences and their extensions have been built without government licenses. But this type of residential structure is not specific to Gahbaya, nor is it an anomaly. Rather, most residential spaces in cities and towns across Tunisia are structured in this fashion as a result of high demand for housing, low availability of affordable housing, and the recourse to semi-formalized or non-formalized methods of obtaining land for constructing residences.[25]

At the same time, there are visible differences between Tunis and Gabès city, reflected in the comparative lack of public goods and services in the latter. For example, I was repeatedly advised by Gabès’ residents to avoid drinking tap water (unlike in Tunis). The urban landscape is devoid of parks (or similar green spaces) and the air is filled with smoke from the industrial complex on Gabès’ coast. During summer, the temperature reaches above 45 degrees Celsius, making it difficult to breathe for those living in the city. The sand and the sea water on the beach, which is the only public leisure space in the city, are polluted.

The challenges of accessing clean water and air are worse in Gahbaya compared to other neighborhoods in the city. For example, during my fieldwork in November 2022, I saw private water tanks brought in by the residents of Gahbaya because of persistent cuts in state-run water. Ahlem*, a 65-year-old Black resident of a comparatively privileged neighborhood of Gabès, said that while water cuts are frequent across Gabès, it is worse in marginalized neighborhoods like Gahbaya.[26] In addition, the air is polluted by foul smells from the heaps of garbage accumulating around the dry riverbed, the fumes from mazout (combustible remains produced from the distillation of petrol that is smuggled from Libya), and exhaust from the industrial complex.

While the practice of slavery and khammas may have ended, the stigma that essentialized Blackness, poverty, and descent from slavery continues. In Gabès, like elsewhere in Tunisia, there is an assumption that all Black Tunisians trace their ancestry to enslaved Black families even though some arrived through other types of migration, including voluntary migrations.[27] This assumption of homogenous ancestry is used by outsiders to justify the use of status terms to designate skin color. For example, when referring to Black people, Anis* would use the terms soud (a neutral term for Black that I had employed in my questions to him) and ’abid (a term that means slave in Arabic) interchangeably. As Black Tunisian scholar Afifa Ltifi writes, terms like ‘abid and khadim (used by M’hamed* earlier) that indicate servitude have become “synonymous with a phenotypical and a genealogical blackness, where new biological racial meanings and an ahistorical blackness-slavery-nexus are maintained.”[28] At the same time, the term hurr—an Arabic term which means “free” or those who were not enslaved—is used to designate those who are seen as abyadh (white) in Gabès.[29]

But Where Exactly Is Gahbaya?

For those who look at Gahbaya from the position of either spatial or racial outsider, Gahbaya is a clearly defined and bordered space, with homogenously Black and poor residents. For example, according to Anis*, a non-Black resident of Gahbaya (mentioned earlier) and racial-outsider to Gahbaya (as constructed discursively), Gahbaya forms a rectangle that is around 800 meters wide and 1.5 kilometers long—Boulevard Mohamed Ali runs parallel to the oued (riverbed) andmarks the northern boundary, Avenue Jamal Abd el Nasser is to the west and Avenue Abou el Kacem Chebbi is to the east.[30] To Gahbaya’s south, on the other side of the oued, lies the neighborhood of Essobkha, whose name means marshland and is derived from its location on saline coastal plains like the ones on which Gahbaya sits.

Yet, Gahbaya’s Black residents contest these commonly attributed borders. Fairouz*, a Black retired social worker in her 80s, owns a family house in the more middle-class section of Gahbaya. She told me that while most people “call [her] neighborhood Gahbaya, it is actually Hay Mohamed Ali!”[31] She told me repeatedly that Hay Mohamed Ali is considered a respectable neighborhood, unlike Gahbaya on the other side of the street. She pointed in the direction of Rue de Paris, a few meters away from her home, and indicated that the neighborhood that lies on the other side of the street is Gahbaya. She explained that Hay Mohamed Ali houses many public-sector employees and institutions (unlike Gahbaya). Like Mabrouka*, she recounted stories of avoiding Gahbaya because, according to her, Black families there were aggressive and did not have enough education and culture. What Faizouz*’s relationship with Gahbaya reveals is that, despite being Black, she can distance herself from Gahbaya (which is synonymous with racial and spatial stigma) because of her relative socio-economic privilege.

The social imagination of constant interracial tension and aggressiveness attributed to Gahbaya by those who are spatial outsiders destabilizes when in Gahbaya. My attempts at finding manifestations of “aggressiveness” and racial tensions in the public spaces yielded no data during my fieldwork in Gahbaya. Furthermore, I was told repeatedly by most residents of Gahbaya that both racial groups co-habit without tensions. According to Amel El Fargi, a non-Black anthropologist, both racial groups share a friendly relationship based on regular interactions and linked familiarity with each other.[32] At the same time, El Fargi pointed out that there are two sites where racial tensions remain: in everyday language when it comes to naming Black and non-Black populations (through the use of terms like ‘abid to refer to Black individuals, for example) and in the taboo linked to interracial marriage.

The Black residents of Gahbaya also contest the claim that the high concentration of Black people in the neighborhood’s population is unique to Gahbaya. When asked whether there are many Black families living in Gahbaya, Souad* (27 years old) and Fatma* (40 years old)—both Black inhabitants of Gahbaya who run a corner grocery store—told me that while there are a few Black families in their neighborhood, most live in the Essobkha neighborhood on the opposite side of the dry riverbed.[33] When walking from Gahbaya to Essobkha, I noticed no difference in the urban structures or the visible demographic characteristics (racial and socio-economic) between the two neighborhoods. Yet, the spatial and racial stigma carried by Gahbaya is heavier than that carried by Essobkha. It is Gahbaya that has come to represent the Black “ghetto” in the Gabesian (and Tunisian) social imagination.

Black “Ghetto” as a Marker of Racial and Spatial Stigma

The discrepancy between Gahbaya’s description as a Black “ghetto” with fixed borders and a homogenously Black and poor population, and the interviews and observations with the Black population in Gahbaya reveal that the neighborhood itself has become a marker of racial and spatial stigma carried by the Black residents. The presence of a Black population has come to be naturalized into the space denoted by Gahbaya. Outsiders assume that the residents trace their ancestry to slavery, not to Gabès city or elsewhere in Tunisia, hence marking them as perpetual non-citizens in the social sense. This construction of a homogenous popular image of Gahbaya’s inhabitants is generated in relation (and opposition) to an unnamed “us” that represents Gabès city’s so-called authentic inhabitants.

The designation of Gahbaya as a Black “ghetto” is not about the fact of the neighborhood being peopled by those who are Black. Rather, through the dialectic processes of racialization of space and spacialization of race, the fact of living in Gahbaya (itself is a marker of socio-economic class) and having black skin have been made synonymous.

 

 

[1] Translation of “la zone la plus colorée en Tunisie.

[2] Translation of “où se concentre une forte densité de Noirs.” See Ahmed Amri, “Tunisie: Justice pour tes enfants mal-aimés!” Tunisie: politique et culture, April 22, 2013. http://amriahmed.blogspot.com/2013/04/tunisie-justice-pour-tes-enfants-mal_22.html (Accessed March 13, 2023.)

[3] I used soud (plural of asouad or Black) earlier in my conversations since it is the least pejorative term to refer to Black populations in my understanding of Arabic. But this term did not make sense to Gabesians, who would repeat my question and use the term soumour instead. So I began to use soumour (plural of asmar or brown) as well.

[4] Both Black and non-Black inhabitants whose interviews I use for this article are Tunisian citizens. Gabès city hosts a small group of Sub-Saharan migrants, including students and transiting guest workers. Like in the case of Black Tunisians, these migrants are also racialized and marginalized as Black. Yet, given the different histories of the two groups, the mechanisms and manifestations of the racialization and stigmatization of these two groups are significantly different.

[5] See Adel Azouni, “Gabès, a Victim of Industrial Pollution in Tunisia,” Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP), October 27, 2022. https://timep.org/2022/10/27/gabes-a-victim-of-industrial-pollution-in-tunisia/

[6] K. Alioua, M. Berriane, J. Charmes, A. Hakik, R. Lamine, and B. Moktar, Pôles industriels et développement urbain au Maghreb (articulation ou désarticulation ?) : les cas de Gabès (Tunisie) et de Mohammedia (Maroc) : rapport intermédiaire (Paris, France: Ministry of Research and Higher Education, 1987) 112.

[7] Moutaa Amin El Waer, “Les noir.e.s du quartier Gahbaya à Gabès: racisme méthodique et résistance difficile,” in Etre noir, ce n’est pas une question de couleur : Rapport d’enquête : les représentations du racisme chez les noirs de Tunisie(Ariana, Tunisia: Nirvana, 2017) 13–42.

[8] This conversation was recorded in Arabic in November 2022 during a field visit to Gabès. All names followed by an asterisk indicate use of pseudonyms. The story recounted by Anis* is also the story recounted by Aicha, a Black inhabitant of Gahbaya interviewed by Maha Abdelhamid. See Abdelhamid in Stéphanie Pouessel, editor, Noirs Au Maghreb: Enjeux Identitaires. (Paris, France et Tunis, Tunisie: IRMC et Karthala, 2012) 108.

[9] Interview recorded in French in November 2022 in Gabès. Gabès indeed served as an important transit point in the trans-Saharan and trans-Mediterranean trading of goods as well as of enslaved people. See Salah Trabelsi, “Réseaux et circuits de la traite des esclaves aux temps de la suprématie des empires d’Orient : Méditerranée, Afrique noire et Maghreb, VIIIe-XIe siècles,” 47–62, in Esclavages en Méditerranée : espaces et dynamiques économiques (Madrid: Casa de Velázquez, 2012).

[10] Slavery in Tunisia was formally abolished in 1846 by Ahmed Bey and in 1890 under the French Protectorate. Yet, the trade in and practice of slavery would continue until early 20th century. See Inès Mrad Dali, “De l’esclavage à la servitude: Le cas des Noirs de Tunisie,” Cahiers d’Études Africaines 45, 179/180 (2005): 935–955.

[11] Gbellaoui is a last name derived from the name of the region Kébili, which is pronounced Gebili in the southern Tunisian accent. See Maha Abdelhamid, “Les Transformations Socio-Spatiales Des Oasis de Gabès (Tunisie) : Déclin Des Activités Agricoles, Urbanisation Informelle et Dégradation de l’environnement à Zrig, Des Années 1970 à Nos Jours” (Doctoral thesis, Université Paris Nanterre, 2018) 149.

[12] Ibid, p.68.

[13] See Mrad Dali (2005).

[14] See El Waer (2017) p.17.

[15] There are no official statistics enumerating the Black population across Tunisia, including in Gahbaya neighborhood. Hence, most of the numbers that are cited by scholars and journalists are estimates.

[16] See El Waer (2017) for proportion of Black population in Gahbaya. For estimates of Black Tunisian population, see Stephen J. King, “Democracy and Progress Towards Racial Equality in Tunisia: Interview with Zied Rouine,” Arab Reform Initiative, 2021. https://www.arab-reform.net/publication/democracy-and-progress-towards-racial-equality-in-tunisia-interview-with-zied-rouine/

[17] See Elijah Anderson, “The Iconic Ghetto,” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science642, 1 (2012): 8–24.

[18] See Loïc Wacquant, Urban Outcasts: A Comparative Sociology of Advanced Marginality (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2008) 1.

[19] The neighborhood of Bhar Lazreg in Tunis which hosts a significant number of Sub-Saharan migrants has also come to be descried as a “ghetto.” For more information on Bhar Lazreg, see Shreya Parikh, “Fieldnotes from Bhar Lazreg: Research Methods from the Margins of Tunis,” Jadaliyya, 2022. https://www.jadaliyya.com/Details/44515

[20] This type of description of and relationship to stigmatized neighborhoods (including neighborhoods described as a “Black ghetto”) is held by urban dwellers across the world. For example, White residents of Chicago avoid the use of urban greenways that pass through racially stigmatized neighborhoods. See Brandon Harris et al, “Fear of the Unknown: Examining Neighborhood Stigma’s Effect on Urban Greenway Use and Surrounding Communities,” Urban Affairs Review 57, 4 (2021): 1015–1048.

[21] Field notes from May 2022 in Gabès. Conversation recorded in English.

[22] Field notes from June 2021 in Gabès. Conversation recorded in French.

[23] Notes taken during my interview with Hamid in October 2022 in Tunis. Conversation recorded in French.

[24] Like in the case of most non-formalized housing across the Global South, residents of these houses that seem to be perpetually under construction are usually waiting to have enough resources to undertake the next step like building a new floor, painting the walls, or adding furniture to the rooms.

[25] See Morched Chabbi, “The Pirate Subdeveloper: A New Form of Land Developer in Tunis,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 12, 1 (1988): 8–21.

[26] Field notes from May 2022 in Gabès. Conversation recorded in a mix of Arabic and French.

[27] See Inès Mrad Dali, “Les Noirs tunisiens ont-ils droit à leurs propres histoires?” Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, 2021. https://tn.boell.org/fr/2021/09/22/les-noirs-tunisiens-ont-ils-droit-leurs-propres-histoires

[28] Afifa Ltifi, “Disarticulating Blackness or the Semantics of (Anti)Blackness in Tunisia,” Racial Formations in Africa and the Middle East: A Transregional Approach, POMEPS Studies 44 (2021).

[29] Maha Abdelhamid pointed out during Virtual Panel on Inequality and Racism in Tunisia (April 6, 2023), which I co-organized with The Center for Maghrebi Studies, that those who carry last names indicating descent from enslaved populations are racialized and stigmatized as Black even if they are not dark-skinned. Hence, “being Black is not a question of color.”

[30] This conversation was recorded in November 2022 in Gabès in Arabic.

[31] Notes from conversation recorded in November 2022 in Fairouz’s home in French. This type of distancing from the stigma of the neighborhood one lives in by claiming that one does not live in it is a common strategy employed by many, especially those who have comparative socio-economic privilege. For example, in the case of the stigmatized Bhar Lazreg neighborhood in Tunis, those who live in its newer middle-class residences claim that they live in Soukra rather than Bhar Lazreg. For a description of a similar strategy employed by French residents of stigmatized banlieue (urban peripheries), see Loïc Wacquant, “Territorial Stigmatization in the Age of Advanced Marginality,” Thesis Eleven 91, 1 (2007): 66–77.

[32] Amel El Fargi was teaching in Gabès at the time of our conversation, and alternated living between Gahbaya and Tunis. These notes are based on a conversation with El Fargi in May 2022 in Tunis.

[33] Field notes from November 2022 in Gabès.