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Dialogue: Μακπν Bernaus Black Athena From time to time the JOURNAL pubUshes reviews and panels on works which have stirred considerable interest in the historical profession even though these studies do not focus on women per se. This is done for two reasons: to evaluate their treatment of women or to assess how their omission of women affects the validity of their work; and to attempt to understand what the possible impUcations might be for women and women's history if their interpretations become accepted in the profession. The foUowing panel was put together to review Black Athena, by Martin Bernai, a work that is central to the raging controversy in the United States over multiculturalism and Afrocentrism as a consequence of Bernal's attack on the field of classics.1 Bernal's work is a monumental attempt to overturn a major historical paradigm, the Caucasian Greek foundations of Western civilization. By interpreting the contributions of Black Africa and Semitic peoples as fundamental to Western culture, Bernal's scholarship requires us to assess what this means in terms of those essentiaUst, bipolar oppositions which underlay so much of Western thinking. If the Greeks and the West are conceptualized as rational and individualistic on the one hand, and the Middle East and Black Africa as emotional and communitarian on the other, with these characteristics being considered emblematic of civüization versus nature, what happens when women, who are also considered to be emotional, relational, and part of nature rather than civüization, are added to the analysis? By retrieving the contributions of Black Africa, how does this affect our understanding of the cross-cutting issues of race and class in feminism? If, as seems likely, Bernal's interpretations or some variant of them become accepted, they wül open up a wide range of new areas of scholarship in women's history. NOTE ι Martin Bernai, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, 2 vols. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1987,1991). Comment: The Debate Over Black Athena Cheryl Johnson-Odim "... the Extreme Aryan Model's claim to be proven scientificaUy by experts no longer suffices to protect it from common sense" (1:437). Late in the spring of 19921 was approached by a colleague as I entered the maü room of the history department at the university where I teach. This colleague's teaching load includes the courses that form my department's contribution to the core curriculum, namely, Western CiviUzation . He is a white, middle-aged male whom I would certainly not label a racist. He reads quite widely and keeps up as much as most with inteUectual debates. He seemed a bit out of breath and, without the usual greeting and with a bit of amazement, he asked, "Did you know that Bemal was white1"? I repUed that I did. I did not bother to ask why the question was relevant; we both knew that "race" was a focal issue of the discussion. StUl, I understood that impUcit in his question was a curiosity at best and disbeUef at worst that a "white" person could be making the kind of argument being made by Martin Bernai in Black Athena. His question, though, resonated with Bernal's thesis itself. After aU, one of Bernal's fundamental contentions is that it is scholarly poUtics which have been most responsible for the jettisoning of the "Ancient model" and its replacement with the "Aryan model." Similarly, it seemed to me, it was politics that inspired that question, that surprise. In part my colleague had tried to understand Bernal's argument by placing it in the context of who he assumed was making it, a quintessentially poUtical perspective. To say scholarship is poUtical is not necessarily to say it is consciously or deUberately partisan but merely to recognize that we produce knowledge from a particular position or perspective. This does not refute the need to try to be objective nor does it argue for relativism. We must greet the sources with an open mind and exhaust them insofar as possible, and we must not distort them. What else can there be to objectivity? To say scholarship is not political is to say...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
p. 83
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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