Unit 1: Ancient Africa - The Cradle of Civilization
(200,000 B.C. - 476 B.C.)

Unit 1: Class 6: The Whitening of Ancient Kemet/Egypt

Egyptology and Scientific Racism cont.

People To Know

Dr. Ivan Van Sertima,
Historian, Founder,
Journal of African Civilizations

In addition to unearthing tombs, documents, and other artifacts, Petrie also uncovered thousands of human remains. He donated the human skulls to bolster the biological arguments that linked race and intelligence. Petrie’s collection of ancient Egyptian skulls was critical to the development of eugenics, a racist social movement in which geneticists argued that the elimination of undesirables (including the poor, mentally challenged, disabled and others considered weak, unfit, or social failures) would lead to the creation of a superior human race. Geneticists used the skulls to support Charles Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest, and they argued that social class was determined by a person’s genetic make-up. Petrie enthusiastically supported eugenics and the violent state policies that denied human rights to millions of people through colonialism and other forms of oppression.

Undoubtedly, the eugenics movement promoted white supremacy in its aim to improve the human race. The racial ideology had been popular in Britain and the United States before it influenced the policies of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Adolph Hitler, inspired by the eugenics movement, carried out a program of elimination in Germany that resulted in the murder of millions of people including gypsies, gays and lesbians, Jews and other non-whites.

Although the eugenics movement was later repudiated as a racist pseudo-science that had no basis in reality or facts, the racial theories of Hegel, Blumenbach, Morton, Gliddon, Petrie and other scholars, were a part of mainstream thinking. Indeed, their ideas continue to shape common interpretations of ancient Egyptian history. Even today, most depictions of Ancient Egypt in history books and Hollywood films project images that deny African origins. Brown-skinned or dark-skinned Africans are rarely acknowledged in popular representations, and the preoccupation with Cleopatra VII during Greek rule over Egypt perpetuates the same racial images of Egypt as non-African.

Countering the false racist claims against Africa and African history In the article,
“The Ancient World and Africa: Whose Roots?” Basil Davidson, renowned scholar of African history, explains the political and economic context that led many European scholars to deny African origins of ancient Egypt. He writes:

"That the Ancient Egyptians were black (again, in any variant you may prefer)—or, as I myself think it more useful to say, were African—is a belief which has been denied in Europe since about 1830, not before. It is a denial, in short, that belongs to the rise of modern European imperialism, and has to be explained in terms of the ‘new racism,’ specifically and even frantically an anti-black racism, which went  together with and was consistently nourished by that imperialism… The racism that we know was born in Europe and America from the cultural need to justify doing to black people, doing to Africans, what could not morally or legally be done to white people, and least of all to Europeans. To justify the enslavement of Africans, in short, it was culturally necessary to believe, or be able to believe, that Africans were inherently and naturally less than human but were beings of a somehow sub-human, non-human nature. That was the cultural basis, in the context, of the slave trade and of the modern imperialism in Africa which followed the slave trade.”

As Davidson argues, European scholars sought to justify the enslavement of Africans based on theories of white racial superiority. The vast accomplishments of ancient Egypt undermined these theories that regarded Africans as subhuman or intellectually inferior. As a result, Western Egyptologists, scientists, and intellectuals launched a widespread campaign to remake the ancient Egyptians as white or Caucasian.

In a book entitled
The Ruins: Or a Survey of the Revolutions of Empires (1789), French historian and philosopher C.F. Volney documented the Black origins of ancient Egyptian civilization. 






Page 5 of 6