Putting today’s conversation about race into perspective with a look back at what it was a quarter century ago
The following articles from a 1994 issue of Skeptic magazine (2.4) capture a moment in time, not of ancient African cultures but of 1990s America, obsessed as we were — and still are — with race, in which everything is seemingly assessed by race. People in those times would have been baffled by the very question of what race everyone was. That is a question of our time, not their’s. We present these articles as a reminder that the current cultural climate of race following the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement is not new.
Stolen Legacy (or Mythical History?) — Did the Greeks Steal Philosophy From the Egyptians?
Since its publication in 1954 Stolen Legacy, by George G. M. James, has been a best-seller among peoples of African descent in this country. James was an African-American teacher of Greek, whose other writings deal explicitly with racial issues. Stolen Legacy also deals with the status of Black people, but in ancient history rather than in modern times. The message of the book is sensational and revolutionary: “The Greeks were not the authors of Greek philosophy, but the Black people of North Africa, the Egyptians” (p. 158). This novel thesis explains “the erroneous world opinion that the African continent has made no contribution to civilization, and that its people are naturally backward;” “the misrepresentation that has become the basis of race prejudice, which has affected all people of color.” Instead, James offers a “New Philosophy of Redemption for Black peoples.”
Beyond Race Fallacies of Reactive Afrocentrism
In the last few years, there has been a stream of publications, especially in the United States, aimed at establishing a new basis for the study and teaching of African and African-American culture. Whether or not they actually use the word “Afrocentric” on their packaging, these books — which differ enormously in the quality of their thought and writing, as well as in their factual reliability — have a certain common set of pre-occupations, whose persistence entitles one now to speak of an Afrocentric paradigm. Since one of the themes of Skeptic is the study of the power of belief systems to shape our interpretation of nature and history, the Afrocentric paradigm should be treated no different from others. That is, a healthy dollop of skepticism and critical thinking is appropriate. […]
Afrocentric Pseudoscience & Pseudohistory
There is a lot of high-quality, constructive Afrocentric scholarship. As in most fields, however, there are fringe groups and extraordinary claims that grab our attention because of their extremism, and, occasionally, their absurdity. Since it is our job at Skeptic magazine to track these groups and claims, we bring them to our reader’s attention. This is not to imply that all or most African-American scientists and historians believe such claims. The recent surge of these beliefs, however, especially when supported by such recognizable names as Louis Farrakhan, is alarming. Here are just a few quotations emblematic of this extreme.
Was Cleopatra Black?
From Frank Snowden’s essay entitled “Bernal’s ‘Black’s’ and the Afrocentrists,” in Black Athena Revisited, edited by Mary Lefkowitz and Guy Rogers, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.