4.0869 Multiculturalism, Eurocentrism, Afrocentrism (1/67)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Tue, 8 Jan 91 15:05:02 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0869. Tuesday, 8 Jan 1991.

Date: 8 Jan 91 09:13:00 EST
From: "DAVID KELLY" <dkelly@apollo.montclair.edu>
Subject: Multiculturalism, Eurocentrism, Afrocentrism ... ?

Multiculturalism, Eurocentrism, and Afrocentrism are topics very
much in the news these days and of great interest to American
humanists. I am in favor of multiculturalism which I interpret
as a concern with the history, languages, literatures, and art
(culture in general) of the various nations of our world (ancient
and modern). In this regard, I cheerfully align myself with the
Roman playwright Terence: Homo sum; humani nil alienum a me puto
'I am a human being, and I consider nothing that pertains to
human beings alien from me.'

I am disturbed, however, by the strident tone that the scholarly
(political?) debate has begun to take. The New Republic recently
(November 26, 1990) published a report by Andrew Sullivan on the
Second National Conference on the Infusion of African and
African-American Content in the High School Curriculum held in
Atlanta the weekend of November 2. I quote some paragraphs from
the article.

<<My orientation began with a talk by Theophile Obenga of Marien
N'Gouabi University in Gabon about how Greek philosophy was
plagiarized from black African Egypt. ...
After two days of seminars, Plato and Aristotle were vilified
about as regularly as Reagan and Bush. This was strange since,
according to the speakers, Plato and Aristotle had also derived
their entire thought from black Africa. The irony was resolved
by describing the Greeks as the West's "affirmative action kids,"
preferred by Western scholars for their race, but not as smart as
Africans. ...

One of the most popular talks of the weekend was given by Wade
Nobles...It was imperative, Nobles argued that black education be
rid of white influences. "When we adopt other people's theories,
we are like Frankenstein doing other people's wills. It's like
someone drinking some good stuff, vomiting it, and then we have
to catch the vomit and drink it ourselves...The Greeks gave back
the vomit of the African way...Don't become the vomit-

We could easily dismiss the ideas propounded in this conference
as uninformed, nonscholarly and essentially racist, but I think
they must be taken seriously. Many states and cities are
considering adopting school curricula that incorporate many of
such concepts (e.g. the Portland Plan).

I would like to receive contributions from humanists who are
interested in Greek philosophy, mathematics, or science and its
relationship to earlier Egyptian and Phoenician work. Just how
original was Greek thinking? Most helpful would be contributions
from Egyptologists and Orientalists, coming at the question from
the other side.

A priori, I feel it is a question of balance (in medio veritas).
Clearly the Greeks were influenced in many ways by the Egyptians
and Asiatics. In art think of the kouroi, and perhaps most
important of all there was the Phoenician alphabet. And yet, to
my thinking the Greeks showed great originality and were surely
not slavish borrowers (thieves?) of the ideas of others.
Plato, for example, believed in and wrote about the
transmigration of souls. Are not Egyptian ideas about the
survival of the human being in the next life radically different?
Perhaps another such example is the story in Plutarch's Moralia
describing how Thales impresed the Egyptian king by measuring the
height of a pyramid using proportional triangles; would this not
imply (assuming the story has historical validity) that the
Egyptian mathematicians could not do this?