Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Been thinking about those Nubians ...

It seems highly unlikely that the truth would be so simplistic, but could it be? Is the reason that there is such reluctance to credit black people with having created written language, mathematics, water systems, etc., simply coming from the earliest examples of racial bias? Is it so hard to imagine the greatness of the earliest of scholars coming out of one of civilization's earliest universities at Timbuktu and spreading throughout the known world from the great continent of Africa? Admittedly, the greatest advances came from the African continent from people of color -- but in a scholarly way were discounted because "...those people were not black."

I can hear him now. Bill. Insisting that it was the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, who brought us the beginnings of civilization as we know it (all assumed to be other than black). But what about the contemporaneous social and technological development taking place across the world in the Americas? What about the Inca, the Olmec, and the Maya? And what about Asia; what was going on in China eons ago? Isn't it quite possible that human beings were achieving similar advances in farflung parts of the world simultaneously?

Just because Europeans were the eventual victors in the great human struggles -- and created systems and processes for measuring human progress -- does that necessarily mean that they were right in all instances? The simple naming and creating of categories as a means of understanding human evolution -- isn't it possible -- that those systems and processes simply don't hold up against rapidly advancing humanity?

Having grown up in the "One Drop Rule" world, it is almost impossible for me to not know that everyone who is swarthy of complexion is partly African. It seems so easy for me to understand that those who settled farthest north (Denmark, Sweden, Finland, etc.) are blondest, fairest of skin, with downy covering over their bodies for warmth in the extreme cold of the polar regions. Or that people who settled in the Mediterranean coastal areas and around the Indian Ocean -- were darker-skinned than those farther north in European areas (Germany, England, Slavic regions). All one needs is a color wheel to watch the shadings as they naturally occur from the deep southern hemisphere to the northern polar regions.

How can one accept the reality of Lucy being the "Eve," the first known ancestor of humanity -- excavated from deep in the earth of Kenya -- and not be able to see that civilization sprang from that region as well, and that all human progress evolved through populations of black peoples over the millenia?

The radical changes wrought by populations on the move from the slave trades have done much to change the natural order but it's all there to see. Present-day mobility is completing the cycle of change. People like me and mine may be the beginning of the end of racial designations, I suppose. Race is becoming little more than a political choice. I have no idea what that will mean in terms of how we'll reorganize the world.

By the simple naming of racial groups Europeans have believed it possible to define us -- but always in relation to themselves. The black Sadu of India, the black-skinned Aborigine of Australia, Fiji Islanders, many Middle Easterners, Egyptians, Nubians (yes!), are all described as other than black African in circles we moved in during the university years. That left us with the Ubangis, the Bushmen, the Zulu, etc., who were inevitably depicted in loin cloths carrying spears -- as uncivilized (according to new world standards) and cannibalistic, primitive, taught to say "Bwama" in the presence of the white colonial powers. Having removed all others from the pantheon of the enlightened -- it was assumed that nothing but ill came from those of darker skin.

Great pharaohs of Egypt -- the thousand year dynasties -- great mathematicians and scholars and, yes, scribes were people of blackness but now reclassified under new rules written by the victors, as history has always been documented. (One day I'll have this conversation with Howard Zinn -- "A People's History of the World".)

Not sure this sheds much light on a very complicated age-old problem, but at least it's helped to organize my thoughts for another bout with Tom over the issue. I suppose that his doctorate will cut through my arguments like a machete through warm butter -- but I'll feel better when I've taken a shot at it -- again... .

Photo: oil on canvas painting by an artist (whose name I can't decipher) from Zimbabwe in southern Africa. It hangs on my livingroom wall near the fireplace.

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