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reader comments: Afrocentrism

22 Apr 2000
While examining your site, I came across the entries on Afrocentrism. While some of the claims made by Afrocentrists are demonstrably false, the ancient Egyptians were dark skinned Africans, as the Arabs didn't arrive until the 7th century. Documentation follows.

First, are several quotes from Compton's encyclopedia, obtained by searches for "Hamite"

"Most Egyptians are Hamitic Arabs. They are descendants of the Hamites of ancient Egypt and of the Arabs who migrated to Egypt after the Muslim conquests of the 7th century. The Nubians, who are related to the Berber tribes of North Africa, are located south of Aswan. They were resettled in new villages near Kom Ombo when Lake Nasser flooded their homeland. A few Europeans, primarily Armenians and Greeks, live in cities. Most are in Alexandria. "

"Ham, son of Noah; biblical ancestor of Hamites, who included the Cushites, the Phoenicians, and the Egyptians (Bible, Gen. vi, ix). "

"Kush (or Cush), the ancient name for a region of what is now part of the Sudan, in Africa, and for two powerful kingdoms that extended their influence into Egypt; first kingdom of Kush raided Upper Egypt in about 1650 BC; destroyed by Egyptian Pharoah Amenhotep; new kingdom appeared about 750 BC; conquered all Egypt about 715 BC and founded 25th dynasty of ancient Egypt, with capital at Memphis; driven out by Assyrians under Ashurbanipal in 663 BC; Egypt destroyed the Cushite capital in 590 BC, but the kingdom survived another 900 years."

"Cushite (716-656 BC), 25th dynasty of Egypt, founded by Shabaka "

"Sudan is the Arab word for "land of the blacks," but only the southern part of the country is heavily populated by black Africans. Of a total population of nearly 30 million in the mid-1990s, more than half were Arabic-speaking adherents of the Sunnah branch of the Islam living in the north and central areas. Most black Africans living in the south are Christians or animists. Som e non-Arab groups in the north have converted to Islam. Among these tribes are the Nubians, who live along the Nile; the Beja of the Red Sea Hills; and the Fur, who are settled farmers living in the Jebel Marra region in the far west."

Other information follows from a usenet discussion I was involved in at alt.fan.cecil-adams.

 I wrote this: "Yeah, this looks like a white person. http://mcclungmuseum.utk.edu/permex/egypt/eg-mumc1.jpg And this Ba Bird does, too, huh? http://mcclungmuseum.utk.edu/permex/egypt/eg-mumc1.jpg Not to mention the skin color of these guys: http://mcclungmuseum.utk.edu/permex/egypt/egb-text.htm This is a picture of AMENOPHIS. http://www.tourism.egnet.net/culture/images/3g159.jpg He looks uncannily like Elden Campbell, don't he? http://cbs.sportsline.com/u/reuters/bldphoto.cgi?CHC101041221 http://www.tourism.egnet.net/culture/images/11g129.jpg shows Hatsepshut. Looks like Eartha Kitt, doesn't she? http://www.tourism.egnet.net/culture/images/22g87.jpg is Sesostris I. Looks like Patrick Ewing with a beard. http://cbs.sportsline.com/u/reuters/bldphoto.cgi?XMSG105041821" And some other guy wrote this: iknowso@my-deja.com

Not only were Ancient Egyptians not Arabs, they were not related (linguistically, culturally, phenotypically or religiously) to any of the western Asiatic peoples. Their roots were in Africa. They traced their origins (Papyrus of Henefu) to the Mountains of the Moon which is at the source of the White Nile in Uganda. Their legends always referred to the land south of them as Ta-Meri (land of the ancestors/fathers).

All ancient travelers to Egypt who bothered to describe the local inhabitants, described them, without exception, as having black or dark skin and wooly hair. Here are a few quotes from ancient Greeks and Romans:

1.) Danaos (describing the Aegyptiads): 'I can see the crew with their black limbs and white tunics.' (Aeschylus, _The Suppliants_, vv. 719- 20, 745)

2.) "Aegyptos conquered the country of the black-footed ones and called it Egypt after himself" (Apollodorus, Book II, paras 3 and 4)

3.) Lycinus (describing an Egyptian): 'this boy is not merely black; he has thick lips and his legs are too thin...his hair worn in a plait shows that he is not a freeman.' (Lucian, _Navigations_, paras 2-3)

4.) "Those who are too black are cowards, like for instance, the Egyptians and Ethiopians. But those who are excessively white are also cowards as we can see from the example of women, the complexion of courage is between the two." (?) (Aristotle, _Physiognomy, 6)

Some have suggested that the paintings on the walls of the temples and tombs prove that AE's weren't "black". It's understandable why this statement is made when one peruses a book written by an American or European. It almost seems as if a conscious effort is made to select the most Caucasian looking sculptures and paintings. However, one gets a different impression of the people of AE when they actually go to Egypt and witness the many artifacts for themselves. Here are a few of the pictures that you never see in western books:

 http://www.tulane.edu/lester/images/Ancient.World/Egypt/A81.gif --- http://www.tulane.edu/lester/text/Ancient.World/Egypt/Egypt45.html --- http://www.tulane.edu/lester/images/Ancient.World/Egypt/A46.jpg --- http://www.tulane.edu/lester/text/Ancient.World/Egypt/Egypt52.html --- http://www.tulane.edu/lester/text/Ancient.World/Egypt/Egypt58.html --- http://www.tulane.edu/lester/text/Ancient.World/Egypt/Egypt62.html --- http://www.tulane.edu/lester/text/Ancient.World/Egypt/Egypt63.html --- http://www.tulane.edu/lester/text/Ancient.World/Egypt/Egypt65.html --- http://www.tulane.edu/lester/text/Ancient.World/Egypt/Egypt67.html --- http://www.tulane.edu/lester/text/Ancient.World/Egypt/Egypt71.html --- http://www.tulane.edu/lester/text/Ancient.World/Egypt/Egypt74.html --- http://www.tulane.edu/lester/text/Ancient.World/Egypt/Egypt53.html --- http://www.tulane.edu/lester/text/Ancient.World/Egypt/Egypt46.html

Here are a few of the pictures that you never see in western books: Here, on the right, is a picture of a Priestess of Amun: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Olympus/8192/nodjmetawi.jpg and here, on the left, is a picture of the mummy of Masharta, son of Pinedjem I of Dynasty XXI: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Olympus/8192/Hamitic.jpg 

I don't believe the AE's were a completely homogeneous culture all throughout their 2500 yr. long history of successive dynasties. However, in the face of all the evidence, many scholars are beginning to realize that AE was a fundamentally African civilization that encompassed the full range of physical characteristics present in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and all throughout the Nile Valley.

Please make the appropriate corrections to your cite.

Thank you, and good day,
George Haley

reply: Right. Well, the entry on Afrocentrism doesn't claim that the ancient Egyptians were a pure Semitic race with no contact with the rest of Africa, including trading, intermarriage, interbreeding, slavery, etc. What is claimed is that the ancient Egyptians were not a black African race of people and the rest of European civilization did not steal their culture from this alleged black African race. Both points seem consistent with what you and your scholarly colleagues have written.

In any case, we're all one race. I pity any Greek or African-American whose main source of pride is what some ancestors did thousands of years ago.

I hope my readers understand that the fact that I post a letter does not mean I agree with it or that it is accurate. This is not the place to correct all the errors made by Mr. Haley. But I will note that even if all ancient Egyptians "traced their origins (Papyrus of Henefu) to the Mountains of the Moon which is at the source of the White Nile in Uganda," it wouldn't follow that Egyptians came from Uganda. Just about everybody but Mr. Haley and his fellow travelers knows that the Egyptian language is a Semitic language.

31 Mar 2000 
Living in the central New York region, I am essentially limited in the media outlets that are available. Syracuse, New York has two newspapers the Post Standard and the Herald Journal although both papers are basically part of the same larger entity.

Anyway the reason that I am composing this email is in regard to one of the topics that was listed in the skeptics dictionary. That topic is Afrocentrism. It was interesting to me that the dictionary had listed this pseudoscience (what it truly is) and equally compelling in light of the fact that approximately one month ago the aforementioned newspapers devoted an entire week to an editorial series which espoused these odd theories and twisted history. Without offering divergent viewpoints or listing any genuine historical references the series gave credence to the ideas that the European civilizations of Greece and Rome had taken and used accumulated knowledge in all academic fields from the Egyptians.

While it is true that the Egyptian civilization made many contributions to the world progress, the editorial provided no context for such contributions and did not highlight exactly what the contributions specifically were, in comparison to those made by the Greeks, Romans and others. It is especially interesting to note that the title of the series was "Stolen Legacy", and the work relied heavily upon pseudo scientific writer Martin Bernal. Mary Lefkowitz or others with opposing viewpoints were entirely absent in the piece.

The editorial sections of newspapers are vehicles for the free expression of ideas, but when the editorial staff of a paper begins printing highly questionable stories, without regard to reference, opposing viewpoints, traditional historical methods, and instead gives us George James as a voice of truth, worthy of the press, I submit that we have disaster in the making. As a student of Roman history, beginning with the Etruscans and continuing to the fall of Romulus Augustulus, the Barbarian invasions, the Eastern empire, and the crowning of Charlemagne, I couldn't believe that a professional media organization would print such nonsense.

Well, maybe it was really the long ago relatives of Mr. Bernal that measured the height of the great pyramids. Thales probably ripped them off and and a lawsuit is in the making.
Edna Supley

reply: Nothing the mass media present should surprise anymore.

14 Jul 1999
This is another example of white racism trying to discredit any potential successes or positivity from black people past or present. We don't even have to go back as far as Egypt. No history books mention the fact that a black man performed the first open heart surgery in the United States, or that a black man performed [sic] the traffic light, or the walkie talkie, or that a black man invented the light bulb itself used by Edison, or who the statue of liberty really is. White America is not ready for the truth, black people are not trying to take over the schools with Afrocentric teachings but inform students of the great accomplishments of the past of people of color as well as everyone else. Speaking of Egypt, the first 5 dynasties were 100% African in origin, much like the first 5 generations of slaves brought to the United States were.
(The anonymous writer recommends THE AFRICAN PRESENCE IN THE ANCIENT FAR EAST By RUNOKO RASHIDI. Rashidi identifies anything "black" with African, including the "black blood" of a true samurai.)

reply: Nothing positive is gained that isn't outweighed by the negative when we reconstruct history to our political wishes.

3 Dec 1996
Everybody knows that Cleopatra wasn't black--she was from Mars.

Keep up the good work,
Aaron Ramson White

10 Dec 1996
I realize that this is the skeptic's dictionary and all, meaning it is a dictionary for people who are skeptical about various topics, beliefs, etc. However I have a comment on the tone of your entry on Afrocentrism. You are saying in essence that the belief that the inhabitants of ancient Egypt were black is unfounded and therefore untrue. However no one has proved that the inhabitants of Ancient Egypt were not black either. I am not saying that they were nor am I saying that they weren't. See, it can go both ways. It can be noted though that they definitely weren't of White or European descent. They were definitely people of color as is proved by Ancient Egyptian art which depicts people are a darker skin tone.


reply: The Egyptians of 5,000 years ago were probably similar in skin tone to modern Egyptians, as today's Ethiopians are probably similar in skin tone to their ancestors. Egyptians and Ethiopians are quite distinct in skin color; you are quite right: neither is white or European. Neither ancient Egyptians nor Ethiopians apparently made as much fuss about skin color as we do, except within their own societies. In Egyptian painted sculpture, for example, males are depicted as dark, and females as light. We probably make much more of this fact than the ancient Egyptians did.

The claim that "no one has proved that the inhabitants of Ancient Egypt were not black" is curious. If by 'prove' you mean demonstrate with absolute certainty, then that is true but trivial: no empirical claim can be proved with absolute certainty. On the other hand, if by 'prove' you mean, demonstrate to a high degree of probability, then you are also right but that is because it has not needed any proof, any more than say, one needs to prove that the modern Japanese are not black. I think it is unfortunate that because of the claims of Afrocentrists, historians such as Mary Lefkowitz have been diverted to the task of providing arguments in support of the claim that the ancient Egyptians were not black.

16 Jun 1997
Dear Prof. Carroll,

While we are not in disagreement on the nature of Afrocentrism as an ahistorical creation of a usable past applied to present ends, the subject matter and its treatment by the American public do merit further questioning in the eyes of this sceptic. Some questions I have asked myself are:

1. the fundamental epistemological problem of objectivity and subjectivity as applied to history. Does not (white) American and any other history give ample evidence of the fact that history is not an object but a function of societies legitimizing their values and actions, creating traditions and identity? One example: the image of Native Americans created by whites has consistently served to justify their killing, removal, the systematic destruction of their culture, appropriation of their land - today distorted "noble savages" carry eco-commercials. Only very recently has historical science even attempted to correct these images.

reply: bad historical work should be rejected not imitated. The standards to which historians today adhere are significantly higher than those of the past, excluding, of course, the propaganda and pap which is published as history for our children in their text books. Such stuff is no more real history than the texts which exclude mention of evolution are examples of real science. As for "noble savages" and eco-commercials....well, all I can say is you should see the ads which try to associate Indian casinos and gambling with the welfare of tribal nations. Again, these efforts at reconstruction and propaganda should not be imitated.

2. Is not the knee-jerk like panic reaction of whites towards Afrocentrism an indication of their need to preserve their own cherished myths?

reply: the reaction is neither knee-jerk nor a matter of self-preservation, but an honest concern for the truth. I don't see the concern as one regarding which tribal myths should dominate.

3. Would it not be more important to discover why Afrocentrism is gaining currency among blacks -and some whites - instead of just lambasting it for its inaccuracy? That might be a chance to enter into dialogue.

reply: before seeking explanations one must first establish that there is something which needs explaining. The critics of Afrocentrism have established that there is something which needs explaining. Now we can move on either to the question of why Afrocentism is so popular or we can ask another question: are history departments going to continue to tolerate Afrocentism or are they going to hold the Afrocentrists to the same standards as other faculty? I think the former question is one for sociologists to ponder; the latter is one all history departments must face. They're both important questions.

Scepticism is a good thing when universal, which means being particularly sceptical about one's own constructions of reality (Sorry for sounding so postmodern). Otherwise it degenerates into just another ideology.

I guess I am suggesting that you add an entry on perhaps not just Eurocentrism but ethnocentrism in general, even if this goes beyond the basic intention of the dictionary. Or perhaps I'm asking for a theoretical discussion on why it is that people believe things in the way they do.

Thomas Clark
Institut for English and American Studies,
J.W. Goethe Universitdt,
Frankfurt, Germany

reply: You are right that such issues go beyond the scope of the Skeptic's Dictionary. Ethnocentrism is a topic I cover in Becoming a Critical Thinker. There I write that "If we cannot master our egocentrism and our ethnocentrism--the tendency to think that we and our culture are the standards of truth and reality--we will never become critical thinkers. Every society, however, promotes ethnocentrism and discourages the disputing of traditional beliefs and values. Thus, critical thinking is likely to be more rare than common, more difficult than easy to achieve."

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