Most Africans today would agree with Aime Cesaire’s famous description of Africans as those who never explored anything, those who never tamed anything, those who give themselves up to the essence of things.
To such Africans, talk of an African Renaissance is just nonsense, hot air! But they are simply victims of a racist/white-supremacist, Eurocentric education foisted on us by the European colonizers. As Cheikh Anta Diop correctly pointed out:
“The philosophy of the colonizer was to make it very clear that the colonized people could do nothing for themselves without the assistance of the colonizing people.”
—Diop, Great African Thinkers, p. 349
One of the ways in which white supremacists have instilled this idea has been to demand to know: What has Black Africa contributed to civilization, or to world progress?
“In every country that one visits and where one is drawn into conversation about Africa, the question is regularly asked by people who should know better:
‘But what has Africa contributed to world progress? . . . not the wheel, not
writing, not mathematics, not art . . . not this, not that and not the other thing. . .’
—L. S. Leakey, 1961, in his Herbert Spencer Lecture at Oxford University. Quoted in Kwesi Prah, The African Nation, p.283
The presumption was that Black Africans have contributed nothing. This presumption is false. But it was given an appearance of truth by two falsifications of history: (1) the denial of what Ancient Egypt had contributed to the cultures of the Greeks and the Hebrews, and through them to European civilization, and (2) the exclusion of Pharaonic Egypt from Black Africa.
Egyptology, in the early 19th century, had accomplished the remarkable feat of taking Egypt out of Africa, and Black Africans (Negroes) out of Egypt. Academically, Egypt was made an extension of Europe. Egyptology was habitually either silent on the race of the Pharaonic Egyptians or presented them as whites. One of the ways of doing that was through what Amos Wilson described as the ‘unwritten rule which says that if ethnicity [or race] is not mentioned, then we are talking about white-folks.’
The dogma that the Ancient Egyptians were not Black Africans
[Negroes] was a major falsification of history, and it served to justify the
enslavement and colonization of blacks as a project to civilize the black primitives who have been unable to create any civilization.
In order not to be intimidated by this question, we need to remind ourselves that
we, Black Africans, are not on earth to contribute to their White European civilization. Our business is to build our own civilization and take care of our own interests. That said, we can, nevertheless show that we have, through Black Egypt, contributed much to their white civilization, even though that is not our job.
Europe’s denial of Egypt’s seminal contributions to the foundations of Greek and
Hebrew cultures, and its conjoined denial that the Ancient Egyptians were black, served as justification for the racist contempt that Blacks have been subjected to since the days of the trans-Atlantic chattel-enslavement of Negroes, and as part justification for colonialism.
Given the adverse consequences of this gross falsification, the race of the Ancient
Egyptians is a vital question for Black Africans. Which was why Cheikh Anta Diop made it his life’s work to scientifically and rigorously demonstrate the Black identity of the ancient Egyptians, the Pharaonic Egyptians who built the pyramids on the Nile; and to show that Pharaonic Egyptian civilization played a major role in shaping the classical civilizations of the Mediterranean zone, including the Greek civilization, and therefore was the foundation for European civilization. As he put it:
“For us the new, important fact is less to have stated that the Egyptians were Blacks, as one of our principal sources, the ancient writers, already did, than to have contributed to making this idea a conscious historical fact for Africans and the world, and especially to making it an operational scientific concept: this is where our predecessors did not succeed.” --[Diop, Civilization or Barbarism, p.2]
In 1974, at the Cairo Symposium on the Peopling of Ancient Egypt and the
Deciphering of the Meroitic Script, which UNESCO organized, Diop, ably assisted by his
disciple Theophile Obenga, faced the cream of the world’s Eurocentric scholars who claimed that the Ancient Egyptians were not black. Diop carried the day by presenting eleven categories of evidence to support his argument for the blackness of the Ancient Egyptians: these categories included the contemporary eyewitness testimony of classical European writers; melanin levels in the skins of mummies; testimony from the Bible; linguistic and cultural comparisons with the rest of Black Africa; Pharaonic self-descriptions; data from physical anthropology, blood type studies, carvings and paintings; etc.
Having demonstrated scientifically that the Ancient Egyptians were Blacks, Diop argued that “the moral fruit of their civilization is to be counted among the assets of the Black world. Instead of presenting itself to history as an insolvent debtor, that Black world is the very initiator of the ‘western’ civilization flaunted before our eyes today. Pythagorean mathematics, the theory of the four elements of Thales of Miletus, Epicurean materialism, Platonic idealism, Judaism, Islam, and modern science are rooted in Egyptian cosmogony and science. One needs only to meditate on Osiris, the redeemer god, who sacrifices himself, dies, and is resurrected to save mankind, a figure essentially identifiable with Christ.” --[Diop, The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality, p. xiv]
“The oneness of Egyptian and Black culture could not be stated more clearly. Because of this essential identity of genius, culture and race, today all Negroes can legitimately trace their culture to ancient Egypt and build a modern culture on that foundation. A dynamic modern contact with Egyptian antiquity would enable Blacks to discover increasingly each day the intimate relationship between all Blacks of the continent and mother Nile Valley. By this dynamic contact the Negro will be convinced
that these [Ancient Egyptian] temples, these forests of columns, these pyramids, these colossi, these bas reliefs, mathematics, medicine, and all this science are indeed the work of his ancestors and that he had a right and a duty to claim this heritage.”—[Diop, The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality? p. 140]
Diop furthermore declared, in his last major book, Civilization or Barbarism, that:
“Insofar as Egypt is the distant mother of Western cultures and sciences, as will
emerge from the reading of this book, most of the ideas that we call foreign are oftentimes nothing but mixed up, reversed, modified, elaborated images of the creations of our African ancestors, such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, dialectics, the theory of being, the exact sciences, arithmetic, geometry, mechanical engineering, astronomy, medicine, literature (novel, poetry, drama), architecture, the arts, etc. . . . Consequently, no thought, no ideology is, in essence, foreign to Africa, which was their birthplace. It is therefore with total liberty that Africans can draw from the common intellectual heritage of humanity, letting themselves be guided only by the notions of utility and efficiency.
--[Civilization or Barbarism, pp. 3, 4]
Since Diop’s death in 1986, a major European scholar, Martin Bernal, has published detailed research to show that Greek civilization was an heir to Egyptian civilization, and has also documented how, beginning in the early 19th century, European scholarship, motivated by racist/white supremacist pride, denied that anciently accepted fact. (The book to read is Black Athena, Vol. I by Martin Bernal).
Diop’s life’s work challenged and overthrew the Eurocentric and Eurochauvinist history of the world, with its legend of the primitive Negro. It removed the intellectual basis for the racist contempt that European imperialists had instigated towards Blacks.
But why the legend of the primitive Negro? Why did it arise? According to
“The desire to legitimize colonization and the slave trade—in other words, the social condition of the Negro in the modern world—engendered an entire literature to describe the so-called inferior traits of the Black. The mind of several generations of Europeans would thus be gradually indoctrinated, Western opinion would crystallize and instinctively accept as revealed truth the equation: Negro=inferior humanity.
“To crown this cynicism, colonization would be depicted as a duty of humanity.
They invoked ‘the civilizing mission’ of the West charged with the responsibility to raise the African to the level of other men [known to us as ‘the white man’s burden’]. From then on, capitalism had clear sailing to practice the most ferocious exploitation under the cloak of moral pretexts. . . . The memory of the recent slavery to which the Black race has been subjected, cleverly kept alive in men’s minds and especially in Black minds, often affects Black consciousness negatively. From the recent slavery an attempt has been made to construct—despite all historical truth—a legend that the Black has always been reduced to slavery by the superior white race with which he has lived, wherever it may have been. This enables Whites easily to justify the presence of Negroes in Egypt or in Mesopotamia or Arabia, by decreeing that they were enslaved. Although such an affirmation is nothing but dogma designed to falsify history—those who advance it are fully aware that it is erroneous— it nonetheless contributes to alienating Black consciousness. [Diop, The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality? pp. 25, 26]
- Next >>