Misconceptions and Myths Against The Black Race; Foundations Of Racism
Racism is white themed. The prevalence of the notion of superiority among whites has its roots far beyond the advent of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade of the 17th century, and prior to the contact of Europeans with Africans in Africa.
This age long dehumanization and denigration can be traced to the classical times when scholars and philosophers alike, described Africans as strange and primitive creatures a notion passed down and refurbished to ensure the continuous hierarchical superiority of Whites over Blacks.
The Greeks and Romans of ancient times espoused skin color although not in racist terms per say, but the recognition of a color being superior to the other. Although these ancient classical writers were described as pious and just, there still remains evidence that the seeds of color prejudice were sown consciously or unconsciously. Herodotus, who is regarded as the father of history, in his attempt to explain African culture, took a prejudiced dimension which was to shape black-white images for centuries to come. He referred to Africans as ‘barbarians’ and characterized the people by saying ‘their speech resembles the shrieking of bat rather than the language of men’.
Barbarian and savage were terms which embodied no racial significance as such, for they were used to describe many other groups of people, but they did connote inferiority. To these scholars, once a European savage redefined his lifestyle, the inferiority vanishes but the blackness of the African meant he could not be absolved of the badge of primitiveness. To this, Africans were described as animals and monsters, having no heads but mouth, eyes both in their breast while others crawled instead of walking.
These Eurocentric views were further given concrete backing by the Biblical interpretation of Noah’s curse of Ham. The Bible did not apply any racial label, but the idea of race later became attached to the descendants of Ham. A collection of Jewish oral traditions in the Babylonian Talmud from the second to the sixth century AD holds that the descendants of Ham were cursed by being black and this belief holds greater elaboration during the middle ages when according to a particular source, Noah’s curse was explained: “it must be Canaan your first born, whom they enslave… Canaan’s children shall be born ugly and black….. your grandchildren’s hair shall be twisted into kinks.. their lips shall swell” Men of this race are called negroes: their forefather Canaan commanded them to love theft and fornication, to be banded together in hatred of their masters and never to tell the truth.
In the same vein, a Hebrew Manuscript of Benjamin Jonah a 12th century merchant and traveller promoted a similar view;
“there is a people….who like animals, eat of the herbs that grow on the banks of the Nile, and in the fields they go about naked and have not the intelligence of ordinary men. They cohabit with their sisters and anyone they find…these sons of Ham are black slaves
European Geographers also contributed to these derogatory views, Robin Hallot in his work The Penetration of Africa, expressed quotes from an African map published in Paris in 1761, saying that the African continent only contained beasts, inhabiting deserts forcing the different animals to come together to the same place to drink, Having intercourse without regard to difference between species leading to production of monsters in greater numbers than in any part of the world. Hugh Murray another geographer described Africa as a place where creatures less than men survived in an order less than civilized.
These views became more entrenched during the enlightenment and it became intellectualized by philosophers. David Hume a Scot philosopher generally opined that the Negroes are naturally inferior to the whites with no advancement in the arts or sciences.
Another ignominious pronouncement came from the German philosopher Georg Hegel in his philosophy of History. After a cursory discussion of Africa he noted:
It is manifest that want of self-control distinguishes the character of the Negroes. This condition is capable of no development or culture…At this point; we leave Africa not to mention it again. For it is no historical part of the world: it has no movement or development to exhibit
Modern European scholars with their level of exposure, made no attempt to discredit the views met on ground. They went further to make more scathing comments.
Some scholars opined that the brain of the African man was too small for civilized development. Others said it was due to diminished frontal lobes, or an insufficiently reliable supragnular layer of cortex, which to them was the deplorable condition of Africans. A Brazilian anthropologist went further to downplay the sexual prowess ascribed to the African man, noting that ‘the penis of the African man might be large and heavy under normal circumstances, it increases little in size during orgasm and never reaches complete rigidity. Richard Burton asserted that once an African had become an adult, his mental development is arrested and thenceforth he grows backwards instead of forwards. The view that Africa was a dark continent was propounded by Henry M Stanley.
Passed down, these views became scientifically backed by European interpretations of Darwin’s theory of evolution and the subsequent emergence of the concept of social Darwinism that synthesized the old ideas and provided fresh support for old beliefs. The slave trade in the America’s tilted the force of racial bigotry to the new world. Its abolition and the Civil War did little to curb the division already formed and as such white Americans began to contribute to the expansion of social Darwinism and the theory of Black inferiority. American scholars like William Graham, Josiah Strong, John Burgess William Dunning and several others helped spread the stigma of black inferiority. Josiah in his Our Country, Its Possible Future and Its Present Crisis answered that
it seems to me that God with infinite wisdom and skill is training the Anglo-Saxons for an hour sure to come in the world’s future… The final competition of races for which the Anglo-Saxon is being schooled…Whether the extinction of inferior races…seems to the reader sad or otherwise, it certainly appears probable……
This helps to explain among many others, the strong case of racism in America.
The undeniable development and civilization witnessed in Africa led to the academic division of Africa into two areas. The Hamitic in the north and the Negro in the south. The significance of this division relates directly to the subject of stereotypes of the African past. Egypt’s place in history is indisputable and there remain various kinds of document to confirm a rich ancient civilization which had a great impact on Asia and Europe in particular. Egypt is geographically located in the African continent, yet some scholars exclude Egypt from African History and include it as a part of the Middle Eastern world. CG Seligman an English anthropologist describes the ancient and modern Egyptian as Hamites all in an attempt to deny that Africa had developed to the civilization stage.
These scholastic Eurocentric has been the bed rock of racism all over the world. The black man is constantly subjected to ridicule because of the color of his skin. These myopic views could have for a long time been eradicated, but it’s a notion in Eurocentric societies, which is being systematically ingrained the generations as time pass on. And thus it will take the African man more than the study of its history and theoretical findings to successfully eradicate these views. Thanks to a whole lot of indigenous African scholars, many of these statements have been corrected and they have equally promoted African history coupled with its rich cultural diversity and traditions. But a greater onus lays with us Africans of modern times, to make progressive changes to important aspect of our existence. First the mentality of inferiority and low self-esteem, re-examination of our values and priorities, and most importantly to take pride in our color. These I believe and many more will help put the black race on the highest rungs of the ladder of civilization and development.
Africa has been proven to be the origin of man, but there is more to do to progress from being mere observers to active participant and leader in every facet of world affairs and development.
Africans and their history by Joseph E Harris
Race: The history of an idea in America by Thomas F Gossett
Misconceptions about African civilization and culture by Felix O. Alao