Friday, April 18, 2008


African-American Christian churches embracing the James Hal Cone inspired Black Theology, extreme Afrocentrists and many more members of that Community looking for any way to elevate the “Black Race” in the Pantheon of Man, are making increasingly absurd claims that when they are not laughable, prompt anger and sometimes even elicit pity. The frustrating thing is that there are so many laudable pinnacles of achievement in the annals of Black history that no one needs to invent or embrace some of the many ridiculous statements I have recently seen and heard.

Frustratingly, for many Friends and students of Black History and the African Diaspora, many of their claims are contrived, fashioned out of ignorance or a deliberate attempt to up the Black Man, no matter the cost. The fee in this case is the perpetuation of a faux history and the sacrifice of ultimate credibility especially in those communities which have long embraced diversity and sought to reward honest accomplishment in any quarter. It remains tragic that these radical Afrocentrists are trying to desperately rewrite, spin and interpret ancient African history, “through the anger of the modern Black experience” in order to impart upon themselves a genealogy and history and by extension the excuse for a new “Black Pride”. This unfortunately has diminished the real accomplishments and significance of Black Culture.

The distinguished African American scholar and author Eugene Stovall is a light in the darkness of ignorance that should allow all to see the truth of the matter. This writer feels that Stovall has helped put to rest the absurd claims that Cleopatra was a Black Woman by offering evidence in his 2006 essay, Why Cleopatra Definitely Is Not Black as follows. He further commented as follows.

"Watching a local television program recently, I heard Spike Lee express his belief that Queen Cleopatra of Egypt was Black. The African American hostess of the TV show agreed with Mr. Lee saying “Cleopatra certainly looked nothing like Elizabeth Taylor”. But the historical facts contradict Spike Lee’s belief. Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt [for indeed that was who Spike Lee was referring to] was definitely not Black. And since I have dared to follow in the footsteps of that literary genius, Frank Yerby who was known as ‘debunker of historical myth’, I realized that I had to marshal the proofs of Queen Cleopatra’s ancestry that would satisfy any reasonable person that she was a white European".

The proof that Cleopatra VII was not Black prompted this embarrassing response from a woefully ignorant Afrocentric. “Egypt is in Africa, the "dark" continent. They didn't call it "dark" for no reason. Its inhabitants were all dark-skinned people, mostly dark and black. Included in those black-colored inhabitants of Africa was also Egypt, where its original inhabitants at one time were ALL black. Egypt was later conquered by some European countries, as were nearly all the nations in the continent of Africa, but it's ancestral inhabitants back in Cleo's time were most definitely and without a doubt all dark-skinned people.”

Those opinions are rampant despite the scholarship of Edwyn Bevan, the distinguished historian of the Hellenistic world, Professor at King’s College, London and Fellow of the British Academy who was fairly straight forward with his research and analysis of Cleopatra’s genealogy.

“That Cleopatra had any native Egyptian blood is exceedingly improbable. The Seleucid blood in her veins was Macedonian, with a slight Persian admixture, not Syrian.”

There is little doubt that Cleopatra had no African (Black) blood in her veins. We know that her father was Ptolemy XII aka Auletes ("flute player" aka "Nothos" the Bastard). Most scholars agree that Cleopatra's mother was Auletes's sister, Cleopatra V aka Tryphaena. We need note that it was commonplace for members of the Ptolemaic dynasty (or any other Egyptian royal family) to marry their siblings creating all sorts of Machiavellian intrigue even to embracing Oedipal protocols. We have coins and statuary that depict Cleopatra with straight hair and a hooked nose though they give no hint as to her color.

The only question arises from the identity of her Father’s Mother (her grandmother) who was mistress to Ptolemy IX. Afrocentrists claim without a shred of proof that she was Black. In fact, the Ptolemys were highly suspicious of foreigners even to the degree of their well documented incestuous behaviors. Had Cleopatra been of a mixed race, that would have been well documented (as was everything else) by Roman writers and historians who were strongly allied with Cleopatra’s bitter rival, Octavian.

As for Hannibal, he was the son of Hamilcar Barca (Barcid) who according to scholars was of Phoenician origin. Hannibal’s Mother was from Iberia (Spain/Portugal). His Father may have been from Canaan or present day Lebanon. So, despite the best efforts of historians, researchers and archeologists, we really can’t conclusively state whether Hannibal was “Black” or “White”. We can speculate that because of environment he would probably look to be of Middle Eastern descent.

Hannibal’s likeness is still available on Carthaginian silver double shekels (c. 230 BCE) which now reside in the British Museum. The Romans who met with Hannibal and knew him well built many statues of Hannibal following his defeat in order to advertise their victory over such a worthy adversary. His likeness in all these offerings does not reflect that he was Black. The reality is that we just don’t know.

So, we have members of the Black (mostly American) Community who are trying desperately to spin history to make it fit their agenda. One frustrated Black historian recently speculated that this movement stems from attempts to characterize Africans as, “backwards” and not making valuable contributions to society prompting, “a yearning to claim the rights to parts of history that may not directly apply to us.”

So, that brings us to Jesus. Different societies have depicted Jesus on the basis of their own ethnicity with Europeans opting for a White Jesus, Latin-American cultures describing him as Mestizo, Japanese and Chinese depicting him as Asian and sub-Saharan cultures representing Jesus as Black. The honest truth is that none of these representations have any basis in history or reality. At the height of absurdity the incredibly gifted blond and blue eyed Swedish actor Max von Sydow portrayed Jesus in the 1965 George Stevens directed film, The Greatest Story Ever Told with a thick northern European accent.

Aside from those who would confuse the issue by exhorting a divine birth vs. biology of the day most everybody appears far from the mark. Where is the Naked Archeologist when you need him?

Comic relief: In 2004 the weekly British newspaper New Nation which is Britain’s number one selling Black newspaper voted Jesus as the "greatest black icon of all time." The journal rationalized (we hope jokingly) that, “he must have been Black because "he called everybody 'brother', liked Gospel, and couldn't get a fair trial". Come on down Johnnie Cochran!

There is no doubt that Jesus was born a Jew from parents from Judea/Judah and grew up in Galilee. He probably looked like a local resident of that area though there could have been both Persian and Greek influences. For over a half-millennium, the spoken language for Palestinian Jews was Judeo-Aramaic though Jesus probably knew Greek as it was the common language of the eastern part of the Roman Empire. Accordingly, Jesus is believed to have addressed primarily Aramaic-speaking audiences and Mel Gibson accurately addressed that issue in his movie The Passion of the Christ.

Jesus probably had an olive complexion, brown eyes with brown to black hair though the style of his beard (customary in his society) remains a matter of speculation.

In the true spirit of CSI and the best of forensic anthropology Richard Neave a medical artist and forensic reconstruction expert retired from the University of Manchester in England, and a team of researchers wanted to determine once and for all what Jesus looked like. They started their deliberations and research with the skull of an Israeli man that dated to the 1st century. The research was funded by BBC1 for their television special, Son of God.

The team engaged the project assuming that Jesus may have resembled a typical peasant from 1st century Palestine. They had the benefit of modern forensic medicine, sophisticated computer software, scholarship of the region and then crafted the image of what a citizen of that era would have looked like. Max Von Sydow is no where to be found.

The result was a person with a broad face, dark olive skin, short curly hair and a prominent nose. Alison Galloway, professor of anthropology at the University of California in Santa Cruz, remarked after perusing the portrait that, "This (portrait) is probably a lot closer to the truth than the work of many great masters." Though this is pure speculation, I am willing to bet that Jesus had some "Negroid" blood running through his veins. Does that make him Black? No, but it doesn’t make him White either.

So, now we return to Cleo. It’s sad that recent portrayals of Cleopatra are often clouded by issues of race and show how artists have used Cleopatra as a political propaganda tool on both sides of the issue. When Afrocentrists make these absurd claims they fail to note the scholarship that went into those conclusions choosing rather to invoke their mantra of racial bias and political correctness.

The reality is that many of the Egyptian Pharaohs were of African “Negroid” stock though they varied substantially in their color and physical features. There also is no doubt that modern humans populated the entire globe, after leaving Africa around 100,000 to 60,000 years ago. While there may have been two or more immigrant waves, there is no doubt that the migrations emanated from Africa. Yes, indirectly we are all Africans!

There do not appear to be any more of the ilk of Cheikh Anta Diop, the controversial Senegalese historian and anthropologist who studied the human race's origins and pre-colonial African culture. Diop with an extensive range of knowledge - including linguistics, history, anthropology, mathematics, chemistry, and physics – offered fresh (mostly scientifically based) theories about the ancient origins and common principles of classical African civilization. While many of his assertions remain controversial (even contentious) and many question his motives, his legacy has been to promote an honest and open debate and reconcile African civilizations with real history.

In the meantime many Afrocentrists still pursue bad/wrong choices about who they want to label as “Black” ignoring the magnificent high cultures of Kush (ancient Nubia), Dahomey (Benin), Ashanti (Asante), the Dogon, Oyo, Empire of Ghana (Wagadou Empire), Gedi and many, many more. These cultures should be uplifted as part of the advance of the high civilizations of Man. The fact that modern man emanated from Africa should elicit great pride.

The worst of the Afrocentrists continue to try and convince the world that a failure to recognize Cleopatra, Jesus or Hannibal as Black is “just another form of oppression, a kind of mental slavery that breeds self hate into young minds.” They would have you believe that Socrates, Plato and just about every important figure in antiquity was Black.

But is this really ignorance that’s driving the extreme Afrocentric? I assert that it is a conscientious attempt to revise the historical record in order to embrace a pseudo history just to cater to the cultural sensibilities of African Americans. Any attempt to engage in an academic discourse on the issue is generally met with silence or accusations that these are further examples and proof of a white racism. The Afrocentrists refuse to engage in the traditional standards of evidence and debate, choosing to interpret and distort history at will to the degree that it serves their politics.

Aside from the Cleopatra, et al assertions a further example is the Afrocentric claim that Greek scientist and philosopher Aristotle “raided” and stole materials and intellectual property from the Library at Alexandria. The historical record reflects it unlikely that Aristotle ever went to Alexandria. Since Alexandria did not start fully functioning as a city until around 323 BCE it would seem even more improbable as Aristotle died in 322 BCE. The library wasn’t assembled until around 297 BCE, twenty-five years after Aristotle’s death. As a further insult to the Afrocentric claim, most of the books in the library were written in Greek. Hmmmmm…

As stated by Mary R. Lefkowitz the courageous, distinguished Professor Emeritus of Classical Studies at Wellesley College and author of Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History, “what matters is whether what one says is supported by facts and evidence, texts or formulae.” The goal of the Afrocentrist is to manufacture a pride building myth, nothing more. The scary thing is that this fiction is currently being taught as fact (not opinion) in some American universities.

The reality is that the ancient Egyptians didn’t think in these terms. As the late distinguished anthropologist Frank Yurco states in his 1989 Biblical Archeology Review article Were the Ancient Egyptians Black or White? “The whole matter of black or white Egyptians is a chimera, cultural baggage from our own society that can only be imposed artificially on ancient Egyptian society. The ancient Egyptians, like their modem descendants, were of varying complexions of color, from the light Mediterranean type (like Nefertiti), to the light brown of Middle Egypt, to the darker brown of Upper Egypt, to the darkest shade around Aswan and the First Cataract region, where even today, the population shifts to Nubian.

Ancient and modern Egyptian hair ranges from straight to wavy to woolly; in color, it varies from reddish brown to dark brown to black. Lips range thin to full. Many Egyptians possess a protrusive jaw. Noses vary from high-bridged—straight to arched or even hooked—to flat-bridged, with bulbous to broad nostrils. In short, ancient Egypt, like modern Egypt, consisted of a very heterogeneous population.”

The great Pharaoh Ramses II had long wavy red hair. Was he a Scotsman? Did he get a dye and perm? Probably not, but this displays the wide variety of diversity in ancient Egypt.

So what is Black? I sure don’t buy into the “one drop rule” as the Afrocentrists in a colossal fit of irony apparently claim (one drop and they’re ours) putting them into the questionable company of the formerly segregationist policies of the State of Louisiana. African Americans didn’t make the rule with the greatest irony being that they merely appropriated that which was forced upon them.

The distinguished Professor of the Humanities Henry Louis "Skip" Gates Jr. Chair of the Afro-American Studies Department and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research at Harvard University has long been a voice of reason in this debate. In his recent PBS series African American Lives 2 in which the lineage of notable African Americans to include Morgan Freeman, Maya Angelou, Chris Rock and others is traced using genealogical resources and DNA testing. Much to the shock and dismay of some they found that they had a substantial percentage of “White DNA” prompting one to comment on the, “White man in the woodpile.” I believe that Thomas Jefferson’s name was invoked a time or two.

Some Whites featured on the show proved to have as much as 33% or more “Black Blood” while Gates himself had a fifty percent rating putting him into the company of Illinois Senator and Presidential candidate Barack Obama.

The bottom line is that race while determined by genetics is greatly influenced by personal choice and by the depth of involvement in a specific cultural experience. As Human Resource professionals have long known, that’s the United States government’s long accepted policy re. Affirmative Action and Census initiatives where surveyors are encouraged to allow respondent self-reporting or self-identification of their racial and ethnic affiliation, “the preferred method for collecting data on race and ethnicity.” So, in fact, you are who you say you are. I propose, however, that 21st century African Americans do not have the prerogative to pigeon hole and adopt Cleopatra and other ancient luminaries.

Timothy Kendall, White Guy and Fellow at Harvard University's aforementioned W.E.B. Du Bois Institute and probably the world’s foremost expert in Nubian Studies has managed to put the whole issue of race in proper perspective, “The blackness of Kushite art and culture, which once generally negated its interest for Americans, is now precisely what makes it so interesting for them. It is to be hoped that in the new millennium all Americans will come to grasp -- what neither Reisner and his contemporaries, on the one hand, understood nor the modern Afrocentrists, on the other, understand -- that proper study of the past is not attainable unless we can identify and transcend our own biases. At some point we will all need to recognize that "the race to which we belong" -- to use Bayard Taylor's phrase -- is neither black nor white, but simply human, with all its extraordinary creative abilities and all its eternal failings.”

In the interests of full disclosure as represented in my blog photo, I am of a mostly Northern European stock (Norman-Scots) and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology from the University of Mississippi. One of my hobbies is the study of masking traditions of mostly West African cultures. I remain proudly Human and like the recent Dow Chemical ads believe in the power of the Human Element to change the world.

We all need to move ahead and put this silliness behind us.


Ned Buxton

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