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

Learning Objectives
After completing this lesson, students 
will be able to:

  • Analyze artifacts, monuments, and images of Ancient Egyptians in relation to modern concepts of race.

  • Compare and contrast the observations made by the Ancient Greeks vs. 18th-20th century Western scholars regarding the origins of Ancient Egyptians.

  • Analyze contemporary depictions of Ancient Egypt in Hollywood films and popular culture.

  • Define scientific racism and explain its impact on the shaping of historical narratives.

Pharaoh Tutankhamen
Ruler of Egypt (1332  – 1323 B.C.E.)

Ptolemy I Soter,  
Ruler of Egypt (323  – 283 B.C.E.)


Around 3800 – 3500 B.C.E., Africans founded one of the first and most advanced civilizations in world history in the Nile Valley region of Africa, which included modern day Sudan and Egypt. The oldest human remains ever found were discovered in Africa, with recent discoveries emerging in Ethiopia. According to Ethiopians and other historians of antiquity, Ethiopia is the oldest civilization on earth. It fostered the civilization of Nubia to the west, which in turn influenced the civilization of Egypt in the north.

Although Egypt represents some of highest cultural achievements of Nile Valley civilizations, it is the product of the collective African genius. The Nile River, the longest in the world, connected Africans in the south to those in the north and drew others from the interior. Together, these Africans shared and expanded their knowledge and resources and practiced similar cultural and religious rituals. This collective genius found its greatest expression in ancient Kemet, renamed Egypt by the Greeks. For the first 2,000 years of recorded history ancient Egypt was the light of the world. It was an African civilization built on the African continent by African people based on indigenous African culture and spirituality. 

Egypt, by its location, had the highest contact with the non-African world, and was subsequently invaded and conquered in ancient times by the Hyksos, the Libyans, the Nubians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs, the Turks, the French and the British. Thus, Egyptian society was always a melting pot of African and foreign cultures, resulting in a population with highly varied skin colors. Yet the people who established Egypt – its first Dynastic Pharaohs and those who built the Great Pyramids, were from southern and eastern Africa.

Because of the splendor and unequivocal brilliance of Ancient Egypt, those who cultivated the modern racist theories of the 16th – 19th centuries began to claim that Egypt was actually established by Caucasians – not Africans. Therefore, this class will explore this theory.  

The Greeks referred to this extraordinary civilization as Aegyptos, the origin of the name Egypt. But Africans called their land “KMT” or Kemet. The people of ancient Kemet/Egypt invented one of the oldest writing systems, including paper made out of papyrus, and established the world’s first libraries and universities. They pioneered the arts and sciences and provided the foundations for many different fields including religion, philosophy, astronomy, agriculture, mathematics, architecture, medicine, government and engineering. 

To preserve their legacy and reflect their accomplishments, they carved and painted their faces in stone for the world to forever remember their achievements. You will see their Black and brown faces on the countless statues, monuments and temples that continue to astound the modern world. When the rest of the world remained in what has been called “the Dark Ages,” the people of the Nile Valley region in north and east Africa were living in a period of enlightenment and high civilization, which is one of the reason archeologists call Africa “the cradle of civilization.”

The racial characterization of the Ancient Egyptians has been one of the most controversial aspects of Egyptology — a branch of archeology founded in the 1800s, which focuses exclusively on the study of Ancient Egyptian history and culture. Despite overwhelming evidence that confirms the African origins of Ancient Egypt, Egyptologists and cultural producers have portrayed ancient Egyptian civilization as Mediterranean, Asian, Caucasian or alien -- anything other than African. More recently, in order to disassociate Egypt from the African continent altogether, many scholars have begun to claim (and teach) that Egypt is a part of the “Middle East”— a fairly recent geographical invention — rather than part of the African continent. 

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