On Chancellor Williams’s “Destruction of Black Civilization”

The late Chancellor Williams was no slouch when it came to researching African history. As he himself states near the beginning of his book, “(R)esearching African history is more tedious, laborious, and time-consuming than is true in other unsuppressed fields.” He is certainly right about that. Until very recently it was next to impossible to obtain substantial documents and data dealing with the history of sub-Saharan Africa. When “The Destruction of Black Civilization” appeared in 1971 the fabled libraries of Timbuktu were, in the minds of even the most ardent African scholars, largely still a fable. Unfortunately, his decades of thoroughgoing research in Africa, Europe and elsewhere had not amounted to much, if we have just this book to go on. The details in this meager book, generally speaking, and particularly in regards to Egypt and Sudan reveal nothing that one would not just as easily gleamed from other texts. About Ghana, Mali and Songhay he says precious little–in fact, all the information Dr. Williams provides about these three West African states could fill an article in the New Yorker. (There is, to be fair, invaluable, substantial, and much-needed information on the little-known Kingdom of Kuba.) However, in these instances–and much in line with his accounts of Egypt, Meroe, Axum and other kingdoms–the details are all overladen with heavy-handed rhetorical generalizing about “The Blacks” and, most especially, their fateful encounters with Europeans and Asiatics.

The gist of Williams’s generalizations is that a bunch of bloodsucking, homicidal ofays and gooks wrecked the African continent. Which, as nasty as it sounds, is quite true. No doubt about that. The crushing of Songhai at the hands of the Moroccans on March 13, 1591 (mirroring an earlier crushing of Ghana at the hands of the Almoravid Berbers in 1076) is a prime example, as was the Hyksos invasion of Egypt thousands of years earlier. And of course, one need only look at the mad scramble for Africa that took place after the Berlin Conference of 1885 (and let’s not make mention of both slave trades–the European and the Arab–the latter of which lasted far longer and took many more lives). So on one level, Williams is right about Eurasian homicidal mania towards Africa. Where he is wrong–for the most part, that is–is in deducing the intent of Eurasian destruction of Africa, at least before the arrival of the Portuguese.

Williams says (not suggests) that Black Africa was originally one big continent full of Black people who–at one magical, mythical point in its prehistory–all spoke one language and belonged to one tribe: the magical, mythical Black African tribe, who all saw, felt, ate, drank, copulated, lived and died as Blacks. On the one hand, that’s not earth-shattering news: 20,000 years ago, virtually every homo sapien on the planet was more or less still “African” in appearance, if not in language. Williams, on the other hand, was eager to assert that all these mythical Black Africans had “Black Consciousness” in the face of a white enemy waiting with sharpened knives outside the gates of Sinai–and that typical Black moral failings (divisiveness, pettiness, selfishness, greed, self-hatred, disrespect for centralized authority, and naivete in dealing with non-Blacks) led to its destruction.

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Ashanti house in Ghana

Another false assertion that he pushes in his little book is that Eurasia’s ancient rape of Africa was really done solely out of racist envy and spite, rather than desperate plunder by barbarous groups of non-Africans (who may not have been nearly as “white” as he imagined them to be) with meager resources and even less patience for the civilized graces of more established nations. The same fate that befell Egypt and Carthage also befell Mycenae, Elam, Sumeria, Sassanid Persia, Mohenjo-Daro, Ancient China, Ancient Vietnam (at the hands of China), and even Rome itself.  There is also the question of the desire of imperial conquest, which naturally drove China to quash and colonize Vietnam for over 1,000 years beginning in 111 BC; or the destruction of medieval Cambodia at the hands of the Siamese c. 1431. Lest anyone think this is entirely race-motivated, one need only research the destruction of Constantinople at the hands of the Venetians in the latter part of the 13th century: both parties were white Europeans, yet clearly despised each other for reasons that had nothing to do with skin color.

The same held true in Africa, whether North or South, east or west. It sounds cliched, but building an empire is much like making an omelette: one has to break some eggs in the process. Medieval Mali and Songhai, respectively, were about the size of the entire European continent. Yet neither empire was built by the consent of the peoples it subjugated–and no group of people, anywhere in the world, has ever really cottoned to the idea of being subjugated to another, whether in the form of vassalage (as was the case with much of Mali’s empire) or outright conquest (also true of Mali as well as Songhay, which were largely built on the ruins of Ghana and Susu). Indeed the very creation of Mali came about as a result of a crippled Mandinka, Sundiata Keita, who not only felt humiliated to be subject to the Sosso (an upstart kingdom which had encroached upon Mandinka land in its expansionist moves across West Africa)–but who, according to the national epic of Mali, was prophesied to be a great leader by the oppressed Mandinka. Mali’s national epic is essentially the story of a liberation struggle against an imperialist nation that was neither European nor Arab, and in human history prior to 1400 this is no anomaly.

The best I can say about “Destruction” is that it is superbly written. It would have made an excellent historical novel. As for straightforward history, the book is marred by false and romantic assumptions about African history. My point is not to argue whether or not the Ancient Egyptians were Africans, since most of the evidence gathered about them strongly suggests that they were of sub-Saharan origin. (Actually most of the period portraiture, mummies and DNA evidence speaks for itself.) My point is that in no period of pre-colonial African history did Africans have the kind of “black consciousness” that Dr. Williams so vehemently espouses, and with which he so vehemently lambastes Africans for lacking. “Black consciousness” (notwithstanding the revealing name KEMET) was almost entirely a product of an anti-colonial and anti-slavery sentiment that began long after the fall of Songhai in 1591.

Aside from the chapter dealing with the Bushongo of Central Africa, there is very little nuance anywhere to be found in The Destruction of African Civilization. This book, had it purported to deal with the myriad factors and fine details as to what caused the collapse of African civilization–should have been at least four times as long as it is. Of course, even today, it is extremely difficult to write cogently about sub-Saharan African history without filling in the gaps with conjecture and outright solipsism, so maybe one should at least give some credit to Dr. Williams in opening up a discussion on a subject which had been previously ignored. But that is not enough, for there is a more troubling issue at stake here.

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Pharaoh Menkaure, 4th Dynasty (Egypt)

Williams was naive enough to assume that pre-colonial Africans were actually infected with the profound self-loathing and depersonalization–what Dr. Du Bois rather politely called “double consciousness”–that Africans suffer today. He was even more naive in assuming that all black people everywhere were essentially the same in nature and outlook. Indeed, the last thing that Africans anywhere in the world need is yet another piece of work that reduces them down to a common denominator, however positive that denominator may appear to be. This alone should be enough for a half-way intelligent person to put the book down. What Dr. Williams says concerning Africa’s downfall could just as well apply to the Chinese downfall, the Arab downfall, the Roman downfall, the Byzantine downfall, the various downfalls of India, South East Asia, and naturally the total annihilation of Pre-Columbian America. Dr. Williams projects the anxieties of a mid-twentieth century Black American pan-Africanist back into Africa’s pre-colonial past, and as a result, THE DESTRUCTION OF BLACK CIVILIZATION should be taken with a cup of salt.

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SHOW US THE MUMMIES!!

Johannes Krause, a paleogeneticist from the University of Tubingen, authored a study of 151 mummies found in a Northern Egyptian community at Abusir el-Meleq. According to this study, neither of the 151 mummies–which, admittedly, is not much to work with, considering that there are literally thousands of mummies in Egypt–contained any sub-Saharan DNA. “We didn’t find much sub-Saharan ancestry,” Dr. Krause put it, rather delicately. A “big surprise,” the Washington Post writer Ben Guarino wrote, but is it, really?

“Ancient Egyptians were closely related to people who lived along the eastern Mediterranean,” writes Mr. Guarino. “They also shared genetic material with residents of the Turkish peninsula at the time and Europe,” Guarino continued, blithely assuming that this community was representative of all Egyptians, including the substantial Nuban/Nubian population that also lived in Egypt at the time.

The study further suggests that modern Egyptians contain 20% sub-Saharan DNA which, according to Herr Krause und Kompanie, was of a relatively recent addition. Herr Krause suggests that the presence of sub-Saharan genes in modern Egyptians was largely due to the Arab slave trade, which is far from being a new hypothesis and was in fact touted by discredited Anglo-Saxonists such as James Henry Breasted¹, who once said (and with a straight face) that sub-Saharans had no history to speak of and were merely a race “fit to serve.” I’m not suggesting that Herr Krause believes this bullshit. It does, however, seem odd that he has not sufficiently questioned why this particular group of people, who had lived for millennia in Africa, nonetheless carried not a single DNA strain originating from sub-Saharan Africa. After all, Portuguese, Turks, Sicilians, Iranians, Greeks, and even Ashkenazim all carry at least 1.5% sub-Saharan DNA.

As the 19th century wore on, much of the philology of ancient Egyptian shifted to Germany, whose scholars applied their meticulous methods of research to the study of ancient Egyptian language. Finding many similarities in words and syntax between Egyptian and the Semitic languages, the Germans unhesitatingly proclaimed Egyptian to belong to this group. As a result, their leading Egyptologists — Eber, Erman and Brugsch — concluded that the impetus for Egyptian civilization itself came from a western Asiatic or Semitic source. Like others, they saw in the human figures on the Egyptian monuments — many colored a reddish-brown — evidence of a non-African “Mediterranean race.” Anthropologically speaking, no such race ever existed, but that did not trouble them overmuch and the term has remained in vogue to this day.

Charles S. Finch III, “The Black Roots of Egypt’s Glory,” Washington Post, October 11, 1987

I remain unconvinced that a bare handful of mummies from an ancient Levantine immigrant community² would represent the entirety of the Ancient Egyptian population, especially when it has been proven time and again that ancient Egyptian culture has very little connection–if at all–with Near Eastern culture. This latter fact is crucial. If Herr Krause can provide us with pictures of these mummies then we could get a clearer picture of just what it was that was “discovered.”  It seems that when it comes to dealing with Egypt–particularly when Europeans deal with it–all objectivity, and apparently all previous DNA tests and findings simply fly out the window. (Previously it was found, for example, that Ramses III held a genetic marker of E1b1b1a, which can be seen in West/Central African populations at a frequency of over 80%.) Furthermore, the facial characteristics of countless other mummies–to say nothing of contemporary representations of Egyptians by Egyptians–speak for themselves.

One has to be reminded of the fact that ancient Egypt was not a racially and ethnically homogenous society. Egypt was essentially multiracial, even if Africans made up the bulk of the population and even if the language and culture of Egyptians (who called themselves, coincidentally, kamiu, or blacks) were of African and not near-Eastern originWhites from the so-called Near East (represented here), brown folk from the Levant (here), blue-black folk from Nuba (I suspect it is “Nuba” rather than “Nubia” because the Nuba people still exist in South Sudan, and look remarkably like the people represented here), and the Egyptians lived side by side or, as could be suggested by the ancient community of Abusir el-Meleq, in their own cities. One also has to bear in mind that the expulsion of the Hyksos peoples did not happen all at one blow, and expulsions continued for centuries onward. Many, as the Abusir settlement suggests, never left at all. Whole families of East Mediterranean/Asiatic peoples settled in the Nile Delta in ancient times³; this is old news to Egyptologists. (And nor was there only one Hyksos invasion. Userkhaure-setepenre Setnakhte, father of Ramses III (himself of sub-Saharan origins, as was proven here), had more than his fair share of conflicts with the so-called Sea Peoples of the “Near East.”)

It is the smirking hubris of Euro-American anthropologists (like Krause) and the degenerate redneck scum dutifully responding with their own flatulent racism that is so infuriating. They would never think, for instance, to dig up a medieval Tatar settlement in Poland or Ukraine and come to such a hasty conclusion about Poles and Ukrainians being almost entirely Muslim Tatar.

  1. “On the south of the Northwest Quadrant lay the teeming black world of Africa, separated from the Great White Race by an impassable desert barrier . . . and unfitted by ages of tropical life for any effective intrusion among the White Race, the negro and negroid peoples remained without any influence on the development of early civilization . We may then exclude both of these external races [i.e., the great bulk of the world’s population] from any share in the origins or subsequent development [n.b.] of civilization.” 
  2. Ryholt, Kim S.B.. The Political Situation in Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period c.1800-1550 B.C., Museum Tuscalanum Press (1997) p.128.
  3. “…(a)ll sampled remains derive from this community in Middle Egypt and have been radiocarbon dated to the late New Kingdom to the Roman Period (cal. 1388 BCE–426 CE, Supplementary Data 1). In particular, we seek to determine if the inhabitants of this settlement were affected at the genetic level by foreign conquest and domination, especially during the Ptolemaic (332–30BCE) and Roman (30BCE–395CE) Periods.” Verena J. Schueneman, Alexander Peltzer, Beatrix Welte, W. Paul van Pelt, Martyna Molak, Chuan-Chao Wang, Anja Furtwängler, Christian Urban, Ella Reiter, Kay Nieselt, Barbara Teßmann, Michael Francken, Katerina Harvati, Wolfgang Haak, Stephan Schiffels & Johannes Krause, “Ancient Egyptian mummy genomes suggest an increase of Sub-Saharan African ancestry in post-Roman periods,” Nature.com, https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms15694, May 30, 2017