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Thursday, November 3, 2016

“Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History”, by Mary Lefkowitz

320 pages, Basic Books, ISBN-13: 978-0465098385

I was torn between two competing emotions after reading Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History: on the one hand, there’s the visceral thrill of watching idiotic ideas getting a can o’whoopass opened upon them…but on the other hand, there’s something rather poignant (if not pathetic) about the need of black scholars in academia to claim the accomplishments of the Greeks and Egyptians as those of sub-Saharan Africans. It is quite painful to read the ease with which Lefkowitz disposes of the lunatic ideas that make up Afrocentrism, though she deserves great credit for taking them seriously enough to lay them out systematically and demonstrating that they actually do have ancient sources…before annihilating them with facts and logic. Still, as you near the end of the book, the contest has been so uneven that it’s natural to wonder if this scholarly bloodbath was really necessary.

In case you didn’t know, there was a whole literature that denies that the ancient Greeks were the inventors of Western democracy, philosophy, and science; there are books in circulation that claim that Socrates and Cleopatra were of African descent; and that Greek philosophy had actually been stolen from (black-ruled) Egypt. Not only have these books being read and widely distributed, but some of these ideas are being taught in schools and even in universities. Ordinarily, if someone has a theory which involves a radical departure from what the experts have professed, they are expected to defend their position by providing evidence in its support; but no one seems to think it was appropriate to ask for evidence from the instructors who claimed that the Greeks stole their philosophy from Egypt and, by extension, Africa.

Students of the modern world may think it is a matter of indifference whether or not Aristotle stole his philosophy from Egypt; they may believe that even if the story isn’t true, it can be used to serve some kind of positive purpose (as to what that purpose may be, I don’t know). But the question, and many others like it, should be a matter of serious concern to everyone, because if you assert that he did steal his philosophy then you are prepared to ignore or to conceal a substantial body of historical evidence that proves the contrary…and once you start doing THAT, you can have no scientific or even social-scientific discourse, nor can you have a community, or a university. That’s pretty scary stuff, but it cuts to the quick: are we truly prepared to sacrifice our universities and our students on the altar of political correctness, self-esteem and multicultural hogwash? One would certainly hope not, but one needs only to see the current state of our universities to have a chilling answer to the question.

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