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A response to John Baines' review (August 11, 1991) of Cheikh Anta Diop's Civilization or Barbarism and Martin Bernal's Black Athena:
To the Editor, New York Times Book Review:
Mr. Baines' review of Diop and Bernal express alarm that their books "attack modern conceptions of the origins of Western Civilization" by showing the anteriority of African (especially Egyptian) achievements. It seems to me that he would like to deny the context of the whole discussion, which has been centuries of exalting the Greeks as the fount of Western Civilization and denying the role of Africa in the ancient world. Egypt is treated as part of the "Middle East," and her relations with the rest of Africa ignored. In this context, to demand an "intellectual contribution that will stand without reference to issues of race" is to perpetuate an injurious status quo.
This denial is especially ludicrous in the frequently-heard claim that because Egyptians were "ethnically mixed," they were not black. Southern African peoples are ethnically mixed, yet it would occur to no one that they are other than black. More to the point, if an ancient Egyptian were to find herself in the United States, she would fall within the range of colors we describe as "black." This business of reddish-brown-skinned men and golden-skinned women was a convention in Egyptian art (and one adopted by the Cretans, Greek vases, and Etruscans, bearing out the hypothesis of Egyptian influence). If Mr. Baine wants to take the golden women as a racial marker for light-skinned Egyptians, is he also willing to concede dark-brown-skinned Etruscan men? His claim that considering the race of the Egyptians is "unhelpful"--and the many others who declare it irrelevant--is coy and evasive.
"In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a woman must never be independent."
--Laws of Manu, India, 7th century BCE
"It does not belong to a woman to determine anything for herself, but she is subject to the rule of Three Obediences: when young she must obey her father, when married she must obey her husband, when a widow she has to obey her son."
---Kung Fu Tze (Confucius) China
"Our fathers have willed that women should be in the power of their fathers, of their brothers, of their husbands."
-- Roman senator Cato, Italy, 195 BCE
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