Afro lessons

Gregory P. Kane

February 17, 1992|By Gregory P. Kane

MUCH CONTROVERSY has surrounded the attempt of Baltimore and other school districts to infuse African material in a curriculum designed historically by and for whites. Books that might help you make up your own mind about the so-called "Afrocentric curriculum" are as close as your library or bookstore. These two might be of interest:

* THE AFRICAN ORIGIN OF CIVILIZATION: MYTH OR REALITY? by Cheikh Anta Diop. The late Professor Diop was a Senegalese historian and physicist. This book is a compilation of two -- "Black Nations and Culture," published in 1955, and "Ancient Black Civilizations: Myth or Reality," published in 1967.

Dr. Diop's book caused quite a ruckus because he had the nerve to assert that the ancient Egyptian civilization was, in fact, a black African one. If reaction to the Afrocentric movement is any indication, this book sprays gasoline on the fire. One irate white used a Baltimore television editorial to sneer publicly at the claim that the three famous pyramids at Giza were built by a black Pharaoh. Another called a WCBM talk show last week to ask, "If the Egyptians were black, why don't modern Egyptians have big lips and flat noses?" Still another wrote a letter to the editor swearing that Egyptians were not "pure African Negroes," as if black Americans are.

Others dispute the assertion that ancient Greek philosophers studied in Egypt. For their own peace of mind, none of these critics should read Dr. Diop's book, which presents compelling historical, archaeological, anthropological and linguistic evidence that the ancient Egyptians were black. The author cites French author Abbe Emile Amelineau and Plutarch's "Isis and Osiris" as sources which prove that ancient Greeks did, in fact, study in Egypt. Adherents of the "white Egypt" theory are unmoved, of course, but many of us have concluded that the school of history that says ancient Egyptians were of the same racial stock as Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner and Elizabeth Taylor is now closed.

* PRECOLONIAL BLACK AFRICA, by Cheikh Anta Diop. This is the next to last book published by Professor Diop before his death in 1986. Here, he compares the political, sociological and economic development of European and African states in the era before colonialism. Using the monarchies of the western Sudan as a model, Dr. Diop describes African societies that were able to maintain stability while their European counterparts were undergoing upheavals and bourgeois revolutions.

The Africans were able to achieve such stability by providing a place in the political structure for even the have-nots of society. A case in point was the rassam naba of the Mossi kingdom. The rassam naba was the minister of finance, the guardian of the treasury, the high executioner, the chief of blacksmiths and second only in importance to the prime minister. He was a slave whose duties included the supervision of free men.

This should provide food for thought to those who make a distinction between slavery as it existed in Africa and the dehumanizing brand of chattel slavery practiced in America.

Gregory P. Kane is a Baltimore writer.

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