Afrocentrism and Black consciousness are necessary as correctives to white myth-making ventures and as means of enlightenment for Blacks though, at times, there needs to be greater linguistic care in some of the assertions made during the corrective project. We illustrate now this need for a corrective project and as well the need for care during such a project as we explore the ethnic stock of the ancient Egyptians.
“No matter how low (in a socioeconomic sense) an American white may be, his ancestors built the civilizations of Europe; and no matter how high (again in a socioeconomic sense) a Negro may be, his ancestors were (and his kinsmen still are) savages in an African jungle.”
The obnoxious contentions of Henry E. Garrett, written while he was on staff at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, USA. The racial pride and arrogance are as evident as the admixture of truth and myth. Consider now a lengthy quotation from that esteemed Senegalese scholar, Cheikh Anta Diop.
“[The ancients, Herodotus, Diodorus, Pliny, Tacitus, et al] have unanimously informed us about one fact which had come to their attention and about which they could not be mistaken: the race of the Egyptians. They all tell us that the Egyptians were Negroes, like the Ethiopians and the other Africans, and that Egypt civilized the world . . .
“[Negroes] were the first to invent mathematics, astronomy, the calendar, science, the arts, religion, agriculture, social organization, medicine, writing, technology, architecture . . . In saying all this one simply asserts that which is, in all modesty, strictly true and which no one, at this time, can refute by arguments worthy of the name.”
The racial pride and arrogance are as evident as the admixture of truth and myth. Henry Garrett wrote in 1962 and Cheikh Anta Diop in 1955 but to this day there are Eurocentric folk who share Garret’s views and Afrocentric folk who subscribe to Diop’s views. I have two basic problems with quotations of the kind that I used from Garret and Diop: the problem of linguistic carelessness and the problem of flawed arguments.
We could call it one basic problem; failing to prove what you have proudly and arrogantly asserted. Every person, like every group of persons, needs to take pride in self or one’s kind but not at the expense of truth or of respect for others.
It is my considered opinion that if the world is to experience genuine harmony of peoples and groups then pride in ‘who we are’ must be married to respect for, ‘who others are’.
Indeed, if we reckon with the fact of miscegenation or interbreeding over millennia and therefore the relative rarity of any ‘pure race’ today, racial pride would be tempered with humility and ethnocentric arrogance would be seen as an exhibition of vanity.
The accident of what we have done or achieved, personally or ancestrally, can ground our pride but should be seen as secondary to the fact that all of us in the human family are alike human persons created by, and in the image of, God. The recognition of our common God-connection, if taken seriously, can foster genuine respect for all peoples.
I am not significant simply and solely because my ancestors were great builders of Dynastic Egypt or of ancient Mediterranean societies. I am human—in the image of God—therefore I am significant.
The denigration of people of African or any other ancestry by tying individual worth to collective accomplishments is just as indefensible as the assumption that ‘civilization’ has anything whatsoever to do with the biological differences of its creators.
On the other hand, it is no more justifiable, however understandable it might be, for the positions to be reversed and for people of Black African origins to lay claims to status by virtue of a putative relationship with the creators of the ancient cultural achievements in the Valley of the Nile.
Both Garret and Diop need to be probed and questioned somewhat, because, as Frank M. Snowden, Jr. correctly says, “The time has come for scholars and educators to insist upon truth, scholarly rigor, and accuracy in the reconstruction of the history of blacks in the ancient Mediterranean world.”
I probe Black myths (Diop) and white myths (Garret) in a future article.
(excerpted from my book Revelations on Ras Tafari, 2008)