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GET REAL: No credit for African society


GET REAL: No credit for African society

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A FEW YEARS AGO, after returning from a trip to Africa, I found myself in conversation with a young man who was adamant he would never want to go there. I tried to change his mind. He was not budging. Finally, as if to deliver the ultimate blow to my argument, he said: “Tell me dis hey, which you wuh rather, to go to the supermarket and buy you food, or gotta go in de bush and kill it?”

From what he knew, Africa was the Dark Continent, a land of savagery and savages. This is what he knew of Africa. But simply looking in the mirror would be a reminder of his African roots. So it had to also be a large part of what he knew of himself; even if subconsciously.

“Know thyself” is a statement of advice attributed to the Greek philosopher Socrates. However, it was a common proverb in ancient Egypt before the time of Socrates.

Ancient Egypt and modern Barbados have something in common. People have also debated whether or not Egypt was a black country. 

Egyptologist Stuart Tyson Smith has acknowledged what black scholars have fought for decades to prove. He says: “By modern American standards it is reasonable to characterise the (ancient) Egyptians as black.”

In other words, drop the average ancient Egyptian from 4000 B.C. in Swan Street and he would look like the average Bajan, except, dressed in a white gown. Centuries of Arab and European invasion have changed the complexion of Egypt today. But in the south, you still see evidence of its Nubian roots.

To “know thyself” is the purpose of African history month, considering the lengths taken to ensure that descendants of slaves would not know themselves.  

Not only were humans taken out of Africa; they also attempted to tear Africa out of the humans. There is a scene in the television series Roots: Kunta Kinte has recently arrived in America from the coast of Ghana, and the slave master is attempting to make him accept a new name.

With every stroke of the whip the enslaver asks Kunta: “What’s your name boy?” to which he is expected to reply: “Toby.” Kunta Kinte continually defies the whip by repeating his African name, until he can no longer take the pain. He eventually gives in and says: “Toby.”

It is a miracle of the human spirit that in 2016, descendants of slaves are choosing to give their children African names. It was not meant to be so. Slavery and colonisation were meant to break off the African self completely and impose a new self, so you would never know yourself again.

Some argue the notion of an African or Black History Month is unfair. They ask how black people would feel about a White History month, forgetting that European history is celebrated heavily year round. In fact, there is an entire television station dedicated almost entirely to European history. It’s called The History Channel.

Africa was written out of history to the point that German philosopher of the Enlightenment period, George Hegel proclaimed: “Africa is no historical part of the world.” This belief that Africans contributed nothing to humankind led Scottish Enlightenment philosopher David Hume to argue: “I am apt to suspect the Negroes to be naturally inferior to the Whites. There scarcely ever was a civilised nation of that complexion, nor even any individual, eminent either in action or in speculation. No ingenious manufacture among them, no arts, no sciences.”

Even if you’ve never heard of Hume or Hegel, they’ve influenced you. Their thinking and the thinking of men like them, are at the core of the modern Western world. So overwhelming is this Eurocentric version of history, that to some, other perspectives sound like fantasy. 

A friend recounted to me the story of a Greek man, living in Barbados, who laughed at her when she told him that the Ancient Greeks got their philosophy, science and culture from Africa. He laughed out loud and jeeringly asked where she got her information from. He was offended on behalf of his cultural heritage, in which he took pride.

It is good to be aware and proud of your ancestral heritage. It can be a source of strength, confidence and inspiration. The Greek-Bajan man was probably aware of Socrates who is credited with helping to lay the foundation for all modern Western thought.

My friend left the conversation a little upset that she was unable to show the proud Greek how his cultural heritage was connected to hers. 

She would not have had a problem convincing a Greek from the time of Socrates of this fact. The Greeks sentenced Socrates to death.  He was ordered to commit suicide by drinking poison. The charge against Socrates was, “corrupting the youth with foreign doctrines”.

The ideas of Socrates, which went on to influence all of European society, were known at the time, to be foreign to Europe. Where then did they come from?

Pythagoras is another great mind of ancient Greece. Math students today are taught the Pythagorean theorem. Yet it was not Pythagoras who discovered the formula. It was known in Egypt thousands of years before Pythagoras.

Pythagoras, Socrates and many, if not most of the notable ancient Greek thinkers, received their education from Egypt. Egypt is in Africa. But this African society does not get the credit for the knowledge it gifted the rest of the world. 

“No arts, no sciences,” says Hume. No wonder so many African descended students become prey to the stereotype that education is uncool, unblack.  Students might be inspired if they connected themselves to the engineering tradition that built the Great Pyramids. 

They may not know Hume and Hegel, but they should know Cheik Anta Diop, John Henrik Clarke and Ivan Van Sertima. Scholars like these dedicated their lives to fighting the lies perpetrated against Africa; so that Africans may one day know themselves.

Adrian Green is a researcher, writer, speaker, performer. Email: [email protected]