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A Distortion of Afrocentrism?

July 11, 1996

In the article about her new book, "Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became An Excuse to Teach Myth as History," Wellesley professor Mary Lefkowitz pours scorn on the views of Afrocentrists, suggesting that she is the high-minded scholar while they are pseudoscientific charlatans. This is a blatant distortion of Afrocentrism ("A Case of Eurocentrism or Reason Over Passion?" July 3).

Ken Ringle writes that "few academic scholars until recently considered [Afrocentric theories] based on enough evidence to warrant serious discussion." This is nonsense. Drs. W.E.B. Du Bois and Carter G. Woodson as well as professor William L. Hansbery were architects of the modern Afrocentric movement. These Harvard-trained black historians were scholars par excellence who employed conventional methodology in their research and writing. Most of their academic disciples adhere to the same strict standards. If white scholars have declined to review their work, it is because of rampant racism in academe rather than a paucity of evidence in support of Afrocentric theories.

Lefkowitz uses words such as "outlandish" and "craziness" to dismiss Afrocentric contentions that Egypt had a profound influence on Greek art, architecture, astronomy, medicine, mathematics, law, politics, science and religion.

Afrocentric scholars partly rely on the ancient writings of Aetium, Strabo, Plato, Homer, Herodotus, Diogenes, Plutarch and Diodorus of Sicily and other Latin eyewitnesses. And Afrocentric scholars have every right to accept the unanimous testimony of the early Greeks regarding their country's cultural indebtedness to ancient Egypt.

The torching of Afrocentric theories is the academic equivalent of burning black churches.




Writing in different centuries, Herodotus, Diodorus and Clement came to virtually the same conclusions about Greece's cultural dependency. But, Mary Lefkowitz would have us believe that these ancients wrote with cultural blinders while classicists like herself--despite the racism and other social / political currents of later ages--do not.

For Herodotus, Lefkowitz's accusation about cultural blinders applies only when he supports Afrocentric claims. Lefkowitz unquestionably cites him in her other books.

If eyewitnesses like Herodotus and Diodorus can be second-guessed and their direct contact discounted when the results are unsettling, then every ancient writer is suspect and the entire discipline of classical studies is undermined.


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