History Whitened Out: Part II - How High School World History Classes Continue To Get It Wrong
"Where have any other subgroup of people contributed more to civilization?"
Rep. Steve King
Iowa Congressman Steve King was definitely misinformed when he made the above statement about how whites were the only group that contributed to Western Civilization. He was definitely wrong, but not alone. He is only inheriting his beliefs from a long legacy of deeply ingrained racism. In fact this perception has been shared by many famous personalities throughout the centuries. Anthony Browder in his book Nile Valley Contributions to Civilization highlights the problem. Our nations third President and slave owner Thomas Jefferson said this "blacks....are inferior to the whites in the endowments of both body and mind."
Philosopher David Hume stated " I am apt to suspect the Negroes....to be naturally inferior to the white. There never was a civilized nation of any other complexion than white." Here David Hume sounds exactly like Congressman King, or maybe Congressman King is lifting from Hume. Harlem Renaissance historian J.A Rogers pointed out in his book Nature Knows No Color-Line that the French philosopher Montesquieu's vision must have been rendered blurry by racism when he said "It is hardly to be believed that God, who is a wise Being, should place a soul, especially a good soul, in such a black ugly body." Let us not forget that Montesquieu and his idea for a separation of powers is where the United States Constitution finds its inspiration.
To solely single out conservative Steve King for his racial biases would be extremely naïve, to believe that this kind of thinking is determined by a persons political affiliation. Eurocentrism has no bounds it can equally affect a "progressive" minded person just as easily as it does a conservative minded one.
So let us look at Western Civilization and see for ourselves the relationship if any that Africa and the Middle East played in impacting its development. The oldest strictly European civilization would have to be the early Greek civilization known as Crete located on an island in the Mediterranean Sea. British scholar Martin Bernal author of the controversial Black Athena always found it curious that when European Civilization first begins it does so not in Northern Europe but conveniently in the very south of Europe right near the shores of Africa and the Middle East.
Bernal along with British anthropologist Sir Arthur Evans find the southern location for Europe's first civilization to be more than a coincidence. Sir Arthur Evans believed that the people of Crete originally came from Libya or North Africa based on their architecture and artwork.
Today scholars from the University of Washington link the early Cretans to Neolithic Europeans and people from Turkey based on a 2013 study based on DNA taken from skeletal finds from a cave in Crete. The study must not forget to take into account prior DNA studies that show at least part of Crete's population also came from the Middle East. DNA evidence also does not rule out cultural influence that may have come from North Africa places like Libya and Egypt as Sir Arthur Evans believes. Geneticist like Howard Universities Shomarka Keita have constantly reminded us that DNA though useful is not always the smoking gun. Many things need to be taken into account not just genetics there is language, material culture, and what the ancient sources and records might say about a people before one can draw a definitive conclusion.
Also it is always important to note that more skeletal remains are yet to be unearthed and tested, for example you cant take DNA from a few skeletons in modern day Portland and come to the conclusion that this is a true reflection of the United States. Based on the wall paintings at the palace of Knossos some of the Cretans clearly bare skin tones that range from white to a deep brown hinting at the diversity in the early Greek population. In fact recently classical scholar Sarah Bond from the University of Iowa made this exact point "Although we often romanticize the bare marble of ancient sculpture today, most of these specimens were in fact painted in bright shades of blue, red, yellow, brown and many other hues."
The "all white" statues serve as a misrepresentation because in ancient times they would have been painted in color. Undoubtedly some of these colors would have been used to represent the black and brown Libyans, Ethiopians and Egyptians who lived and traded among them.
Let us now look at Greece's neighbor to the south the much older and Ancient Egyptian Civilization. At this point it must be said that Ancient Egypt is one of the most contested subjects on the internet sometimes reaching a fever pitch with no side gaining or giving much ground. Often times arguments break into full out wars with memes and insults now replacing swords and fist. Hollywood has recently been dragged for its poor casting decisions of placing white actors in films which clearly take place in Africa or the Middle East. The phenomenon has been known as whitewashing and people seem to be feed up as Hollywood has been considerably hurt financially as trends have shown people turning away from movies like this.
So just who were the Egyptians exactly? Were they an African Civilization or do their origins lie elsewhere? Recent ill conceived DNA studies shed very little light and only increase the controversy. A 2013 study from a company called DNA Tribes linked Ancient Egyptians from the Amarna Period and Pharaoh Ramesses III to Sub-Saharan Africa; however, the study is not without its flaws in that the particular DNA test that was used is very susceptible to contamination. Recently in 2017 another more reliable study that came out of Germany from the Institute for Archaeological Sciences at Germany’s University of Tubingen shows a link between the Ancient Egyptians and people from Asia Minor; however, this study is not without its flaws either. The German team used a very small data set of mummies to test. They tested only three mummies, and not only that the mummies that were tested were far from ancient they come from a period of time known as the New Kingdom.
The pyramids and Sphinx were built around the time of the Old Kingdom and beyond. Testing skeletons from the New Kingdom after so many subsequent invasions by outsiders will tell you very little about who the original Egyptians were. To their credit the German scientist at Tubingen all but acknowledged this, it was the media who rushed to pick up the story drawing their own conclusions in misleading headlines. Once again this is a reminder that DNA is far from a smoking gun and what one considers a so-called "exact science" can easily try to make square pegs fit into round holes. The current consensus seems to be that the original Egyptians were indigenous Africans who came not from Europe or Asia, but right from the African continent. They most likely were pastoralist who migrated out of the Sahara once it dried up and became a desert. Upon leaving the Sahara they settled around the lush Nile River and created a civilization there. It would be this civilization of early Africans that would be in contact with a civilization of early Europeans from Greece. The extent to which Ancient Greece would be influenced by this contact with Africa will be examined later.
James W. Loewen. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. 1995. Touchstone.
Cheikh Anta Diop. The African Origin Of Civilization: Myth Or Reality. 1974. Lawrence Hill Books.
Martin Bernal. Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots Of Classical Civilization. 1987. Rutgers University Press.
Toby Wilkinson. Genesis Of The Pharaohs: Dramatic New Discoveries Rewrite The Origins Of Ancient Egypt. 2003. Thames and Hudson.
Ivan Van Sertima. Golden Age Of The Moor. 1996. Transaction Publishers.
John M. Hobson. The Eastern Origins Of Western Civilization. 2004. Cambridge University Press.
Jonathan Lyons. The House Of Wisdom: How The Arabs Transformed Western Civilization. 2009. Bloomsbury Press.