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Editors' Note* There is a growing heroic myth of the past that is fast becoming a worldview among African-American youth. This myth claims that Africa is a continent historically populated exclusively by blacks. Hominid ancestors of homo sapiens are considered the first humans, with Lucy thought to be a Black woman. Thus, black is prime. Black genes are dominant and white genes recessive, so everything that is not black is a diminution and dilution of what was first. Egypt was a black civilization and Cleopatra, Beethoven, the Madonna, and Jesus were all blacks. Africans and their descendants are by nature warm, emotional, and community -oriented in contrast to whites, who are cold and cruel. That cruelty was manifested in the slave trade which was dominated by the Jews. And the Jews today are still in a dominant position, because of their pervasive influence in banking and entertainment. Those readers who are familiar with the intellectual movement known as Afrocentrism will recognize this myth as a less-than-nuanced version of its more radical wing. This worldview appeals to many college students from urban backgrounds and reflects the deep resentments and frustrations arising out of the undermining of black communities by drugs and violence and the erosion of civil rights gains during twelve years of conservative Republican policies. It also reflects the alienation and anger of students who find today's college campuses hostile environments , where white students are racially insensitive and administrations and faculty are often unwilling or unable to meet their particular needs. The myth itself grows out of the work of overzealous researchers and the beliefs of the Nation of Islam. Many of the more unsubstantiated claims have found their way into the public school curriculum, e.g., Portland's African-American Baseline Essays. Although Louis Farrahhkan's following is small, his influence is widespread as a consequence of his riveting rhetoric which draws large crowds wherever he speaks and the sale of N.O.I, publications in many urban black-oriented shops. Historians are likely to encounter these claims in a variety of American history courses, including women's history, and few have the knowledge of archaeology, applied anthropology, classics, African history , and ancient history needed to adequately deal with them. AfricanAmerican students are reluctant to accept challenges to this myth in any case, reasoning that white historians have manipulated the facts about African history before and perhaps they are doing it again. The parallel 1994 Editors' Note 7 of women insisting that egalitarian societies resulted from ancient goddess religions despite evidence to the contrary is clear. So is the perspective of some cultural feminists who posit a warmer, more nurturant and cooperative nature among women in contrast to men. Such romantic essentialist views of the past have become part of the politics of difference . Black students have much of themselves invested in this heroic myth. Their ideas may not have been challenged when they raised these claims in English composition courses, for example, where instructors focus primarily on writing skills or in other courses where factual accuracy is not at issue. This makes challenging the myth and explaining the standards of historical scholarship even more difficult. This is especially so inasmuch as it is difficult to separate scholarly claims from the unscholarly. Afrocentricity is a vibrant intellectual movement which contains within itself a wide range of positions. It rightly exposes the Eurocentrism of past historical research and insists on making Africa central to the development of people of African descent, positioning them as historical agents rather than simply appendages of European achievements. But those who claim that race is destiny, however, accept the same premise that white supremacists have always held. To define good and evil by an essentialist argument based on either race or gender is dangerous, because it can and has been used against both African Americans and women of all races. We need to find ways to help our students attain a more sophisticated understanding of Afrocentric scholarship. It is important that they realize that the struggle for liberation should not fear free critical inquiry, for such challenges help us to separate the sound from the spurious , so that in the final...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 6-8
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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