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Sub-Saharan Africa

The Naming of Africa

Steven Black, UCSD

This morning (Sept. 20, 2010) while drinking my coffee I did a perfunctory survey of the news on Africa, only to be jolted out of my pre-coffee stupor by an article on with the title, “Group: Use of ‘Sub-Saharan Africa’ Disparaging.” This immediately concerned me. While I prefer to describe ‘southern Africa’ generally or ‘South Africa’ specifically, I myself have unquestioningly used the term ‘sub-Saharan’ in past work in order to indicate the boundary of Arabic-dominant cultural practices. Some academics prefer the (inevitably more bulky) phrase, “Africa south of the Sahara,” but I wonder if this shift in terminology is really enough for the phrase to point to a different set of indexical meanings.