In lesson four, we discussed the decline in teaching history at the high school level. As a consequence, students arrive at universities with such a weak grasp of the facts of the past that it is quite easy to convince them of just about anything.
This week's lesson provides you with examples of the most eggregious politically motivated rewriting of history at the College level - "Afrocentrism". The dividing line between propaganda and serious inquiry has blurred.
At the conclusion of lesson 4 we asked whether it was wise for liberals to weaken and propagandize the history curriculum. After all, there are alternative sources that would be happy to interpret the meaning of Western Civilization to curious European-Americans without the intervention of liberal integrationist professors.
As you review the readings below, you should ask whether integration and assimilation are realistically possible when a group becomes so alienated from the majority that it manufactures a vision of the past regarded by the majority as fanciful.
Can this be an optimistic sign for the future?
Yggdrasil recommends that you read the following:
BY MARY LEFKOWITZ
Recently I heard a lecture at Wellesley College that, not so long ago, would have seemed strangely out of place in an academic setting.
As if there were no question about the accuracy of his information, the speaker, Yosef A. A. ben-Jochannan, assured his young audience that Greek civilization dates from only 1000 B.C. (In fact, Greek speaking peoples occupied the Greek mainland for at least half a millennium before that.) He went on to suggest that Socrates was a figment of Plato's imagination. (In fact, the great philosopher is mentioned by several other contemporary writers, such as the comic poet Aristophanes and the historian Xenophon.) As for Plato himself, Mr. ben-Jochannan claimed that the philosopher had studied for 11 years in Egypt. (It is very unlikely that he even went there.) He said that Plato learned from Egyptian sages in Masonic Grand Lodges an Egyptian "mystery" system. (In reality, there was no such system, and a literature about Greco-Egyptian philosophy did not come into existence until 500 years after Plato's death.)
Then, as if to drive home the message of the treachery and inferiority of the ancient Greeks, he asserted that Aristotle sacked the Library of Alexandria and stole his philosophy from the Egyptians. In fact. the library was not built until after Aristotle's death and there is no evidence that Aristotle ever went to Egypt, much less stole his philosophy from there.
When a colleague and I asked Mr. ben-Jochannan to identify the ancient sources on which he based his assertions, he declined to answer. When we pointed out one or two errors of fact, he accused us of arrogance and insolence. One student apologized to the speaker for our rudeness, and walked out. After the lecture other students surrounded us, saying: "You think you know the truth, but HE is telling the truth. What you learned is wrong."
Despite appearances, this was no political rally, or at least it wasn't billed as such. It was the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Lecture in the Wellesley College Chapel, located on a campus that has until now prided itself on reasoned discourse and behavior. The speaker had been introduced by our college president as an "eminent Egyptologist and historian."
One could just laugh and forget about it, if occasions like this were exceptional. But similar "facts" about the ancient world are routinely taught to some Wellesley students, and to other students throughout the country-at Temple, City University of New York and Cornell, to name only a few other schools--by professors eager to present an "Afrocentrist" perspective on the ancient world.
These "historians" are determined to show that Africa is the true mother of Western civilization, and that Greek philosophy and religion were not invented by the Greeks but rather stolen by them from the ancient Egyptians. They depict the Egyptians, and other ancient peoples of Africa, as victims of a conspiracy: In their view, European historians have banded together to suppress the truth about the derivative and fraudulent nature of European civilization.
This conspiracy theory gives the promoters of the Afrocentrist view of history license to ignore many established facts of history and to report (or invent) only data that support their paranoid account of ancient history. If someone can teach that the Greeks stole their philosophy from Egypt, he might as well claim that Jews (rather than Christian Europeans, Arabs and Africans) were primarily responsible for the 19th century slave trade. At Wellesley, the same instructor who assigns books like the Rev. G.G.M. James's "Stolen Legacy" in a course on ancient Africa employs the anonymously authored, notoriously anti-Semitic treatise "The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews" in a course on modern U.S. history.
Those who believe in this conspiracy have a surprisingly easy time imposing their views in American universities today. They are protected, of course, by the doctrine of freedom of speech. But for many academics honoring this doctrine means never questioning the validity of what their colleagues are teaching, partly out of fear that some modern-day Joseph McCarthy will rise and begin to examine what they teach in their own classrooms.
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It is clearly time for academics to come out of the closets of their specializations and complain, not only about biased interpretation but about deliberate misrepresentation and manipulation of facts, whether in their own subject areas or in someone else's. Unless they do, generations of students will come to believe that Aristotle put his own name and titles to nonexistent Egyptian treatises that he stole from a library that had not yet been built in a country that he never visited! Subjects like history and philosophy will be replaced by indoctrination, and each of us will believe the brand of "truth" that best serves his or her own selfish purposes.
Ms. Lefkowitz, a professor of classics at Wellesley College, is the author "Women in Greek Myth" (Johns Hopkins, 1986).
The bill is now coming due for the commitment among colleges and universities to "diversity" and "multiculturalism." It could have been foreseen early on, and was indeed argued by dissenters from these theories, that their logic would lead to separatism and division. Now the reality has arrived in a bitter, and bitterly ironic, dispute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
A group there, led by the Black Student Movement, has demanded a freestanding cultural center for black students, has issued non-negotiable demands to university administrators, and has threatened black faculty members who questioned the strident tone of the demands.
Directing attention to one such faculty member (and longtime civil rights activist), the head of the black student organization announced at a rally that this was a revolution and that there were black folk standing in the way of progress. Further, speaker Michelle Thomas warned those blacks, "You better be ready because you're next."
Film maker Spike Lee also arrived on campus September 18 to vent his opinion to a rally of some 5,000 students. The director, who recently proposed that people skip school and work to attend the opening of his new film, suggested a playing boycott by black athletes. If black athletes got together, he said, "There wouldn't be no Final Four, no Rose Bowl . . ." etc.
There were also exhortations by Muslim Minister Louis Farrakhan's representative, Khalib Muhammed. Socrates, Mr. Muhammed announced, was a "faggot" - a comment received with laughter and applause by many in the crowd. David Molpus, the National Public Radio correspondent who reported on the event, says it wasn't clear whether the crowd was applauding the attack on homosexuals (of which this was not the only example) or the one on Socrates.
Mr. Muhammed followed this cultural insight with streams of invective directed at "blue - eyed devils" and "crackers." "We are," he announced, "tired of a blond-haired, pale-skinned blue- eyed buttermilk complexioned cracker Christ or peckerwood Jesus." The NPR reporter on the scene tells us that he approached speakers and organizers after the rally to ask them what they thought of all this and could find no one who had any disagreements with the comments.
Some do, of course, but in the current campus climate they may not speak up. One UNC student told the News and Observer newspaper: "I understand their frustration. But now a lot of people will be afraid to speak up and be called racist. But we're afraid of our community being split up."
The school administration's early position was that the idea of creating a student center distinctly separate from the rest of the campus would contradict the original ideals of the civil rights movement. It doesn't surprise us, though, that the current generation of university students, including those rallying at UNC for a separate center, would by now be quite confused about the civil rights movement's unifying ideals.
All those students who have been targeted by faculty for inculcation in the diversity movement - blacks, Hispanics, homosexuals, women - are taught to recognize and value their "distinctness." Can anyone seriously be surprised when they take the logic of this terribly unbalanced argument into separateness?
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President Chace noted the existence of a "sad honor roll" of institutions that have allowed and encouraged students to declare certain books and ideas illegitimate - and to consider as appropriate "only that which reinforces or exalts a group:" (In the columns nearby, Heather MacDonald describes the lengths some famous schools are now going to on behalf of group exaltation.)
With a bicentennial fund-raising campaign near, North Carolina's Chancellor, Paul Hardin, has now taken the position that he might conceivably back such a center - if it agrees not to be separatist. We suspect Chancellor Hardin is acutely sensitive to the possibility that, in a catastrophic irony, this student center would resurrect on his campus the awful and false "separate but equal" standard of Plessy v. Ferguson. Unless a whole lot more people start to speak up, this is where the proponents of multicultural diversity will take us.
BY IRVING KRISTOL
It is difficult, and even dangerous, to talk candidly about "multiculturalism" these days- Such candor is bound to provoke accusations of "insensitivity" at least, "racism" at worst. Even some of the sharpest criticisms of multiculturalism are content to limit themselves to demonstrating how "illiberal" it is, how it violates traditional ideas about the substance of liberal education, and how it represents a deplorable deviation in the way our young-Americans, so heterogeneous in their origins, are to be educated to live together. This criticism is certainly valid and welcome. But it also implicitly concedes too much by going along with the assumption that there really is such a thing as multiculturalism-i.e., a sincere if overzealous effort by well-meaning educators to broaden the horizons of the conventional curriculum. Such educators doubtless exist, but their efforts end up being the victims of a far more aggressive mode of multiculturalism.
Though the educational establishment would rather die than admit it, multiculturalism is a desperate--and surely self defeating--strategy for coping with the educational deficiencies, and associated social pathologies, of young blacks. Did these black students and their problems not exist, we would hear little of multiculturalism. There is no evidence that a substantial number of Hispanic parents would like their children to know more about Simon Bolivar and less about George Washington or that Oriental parents feel that their children are being educationally deprived because their textbooks teach them more about ancient Greece than about ancient China.
To the degree that there is any such sentiment in these minority groups, it can be coped with in the traditional way-by a few hours a week of after-school instruction for their children, privately arranged. (At the college level, of course, instruction in the relevant languages, literature, and history has always been available.) But most adult Hispanics and Orientals do not have any such concern. They are fully preoccupied with the process of "Americanization." The "roots" these groups seek are right here in the U.S., not among the Aztecs or in the Ming dynasty.
Most Hispanics are behaving very much like the Italians of yesteryear; most Orientals, like the Jews of yesteryear. Because of differences in cultural background, their integration into American society proceeds at different rates-but it does proceed. The process is not without pain and turmoil, but it works. Ironically, and sadly, it has not worked so well for American blacks, among the earliest arrivals. Hence, out of desperation, the turn to multiculturalism.
Multiculturalism comes in varying kinds and varying degrees of intensity. A child may come home from elementary school knowing more about Harriet Tubman than about Abraham Lincoln. This can be disconcerting to white parents and baffling to Hispanics or Oriental, but presumably they can shrug it off as a transient phenomenon. The question is: Do such trivial pursuits of worthy but relatively obscure racial ancestors really help black students? There is no evidence that it does. In theory. it is supposed to elevate their sense of self esteem as individuals and as blacks. But genuine self-esteem comes from real-life experiences, not from the flattering attention of textbooks.
In fact, as is well known by now, the problems of young blacks do not arise in our schools, nor are they remediable there. They are the product of their homes and environments-a terrible social problem, not an educational problem.
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Role models are largely a sociological fantasy. We all, when young, have known (or have known of) adults whom we respected and admired-until, with time, their images fade as our interests shift. Very few of us have gone through life gazing at role models we have known. And, unfortunately, there is as yet little evidence that black teachers have a significant, differential effect on the academic achievements of black students.
It is in its most intense and extreme form, however, that multiculturalism is on its way to being a major educational, social and eventually political problem. This version is propagated on our college campuses by a coalition of nationalist- racist blacks, radical feminists, "gays" and lesbians, and a handful of aspiring demagogues who claim to represent various ethnic minorities. In this coalition, it is the blacks who provide the hard core of energy, because it is they who can intimidate the faculty and the administration, fearful of being branded "racist." This coalition's multiculturalism is an ideology whose educational program is subordinated to a political program that is, above all, anti-American and anti-Western. It is no exaggeration to say that these campus radicals (professors as well as students ), having given up on the "class struggle"--the American workers all being conscientious objectors-have now moved to an agenda of ethnic-racial conflict. The agenda, in its educational dimension, has as its explicit purpose to induce in the minds and sensibilities of minority students a "Third World consciousness"-that is the very phrase they use. In practice, this means an effort to persuade minority students to be contemptuous of and hostile to America and Western civilization as a whole, interpreted as an age-old system of oppression, colonialism and exploitation. What these radicals blandly call multiculturalism is as much a "war against the West" as Nazism and Stalinism ever were.
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It is now becoming ever more common within the American educational system for increasing numbers of young blacks to learn that what we call "Western civilization" was invented by black Egyptians and feloniously appropriated by the Greeks, or that black Africa was a peaceful, technologically advanced continent before the white Europeans devastated it. Such instruction can only inflame an already common belief among blacks that "white America" and its government are deliberately fostering drug addiction and diabolically tolerating the AIDS virus in the black community. Multiculturalism, as its most ardent proponents well understand, is a technique for "consciousness raising" by deliberately stroking this kind of paranoia.
One does not wish to be apocalyptic though thoughtful and honest teachers may be forgiven for thinking their world is coming to an end. Most of those who tolerate or even advocate multiculturalism in our schools and colleges have educational, not ideological, intentions. But the force is with the extremists, who ride roughshod over the opposition by intimidating it with accusations of "racism." So the opposition timidly makes concession after concession while seeking shelter in anonymity.
Recently, a journalist telephoned five leading professors of Egyptology, asking them what they thought about the claim of a black Egyptian provenance for Western civilization. They all said it is nonsense. At the same time, they all withheld permission for their names to be attached to this risky, "politically incorrect" position.
There is no doubt that today, multiculturalism is beclouding and disorienting the minds of tens of thousands of our students-- mainly black students. It is not an educational reform. It is an educational and an American--tragedy.
Mr. Kristol, an American Enterprise Institute fellow, co-edits The Public Interest and publishes The National Interest.
BY STANLEY CROUCH
On this 40th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education it is important to recognize that such attempts to extend American democracy were based upon setting aside superficial differences in the interests of individual possibility. Since then, however, another agenda has seized the wheel of the cultural bus. I'm referring to Afrocentrism.
In fact, the emergence of Afrocentrism makes explicit a continuing crisis in the intellectual assessment of race, history and Culture in our nation. It serves as another example of how quickly we will submit to visions that are at odds with the heroic imperatives of shaping a cohesive society out of its fragmentary parts. When it comes to skin tone, we remain ever gullible, willing to sponsor almost any idea claiming to make fresh judgments of our society. Just as virtually anything can sell as art, no matter its lack of facility, most ideas can make their way onto our campuses and into our discussions of policy. As a movement, Afrocentrism is another clever but simple-minded hustle that has descended from what was once called "the professional Negro," a person whose "identity" and whose "struggle" constituted a public commodity. James Baldwin became a master of that form, as a writer, speaker and television guest, but he arrived before his brand of engagement by harangue was departmentalized. Now like most areas of specious American ideas claiming to "get the story straight," this commodity sells as academic pancakes, buttered by the naive indignation of students and sweetened by gushes of pitying syrup.
At its core, though, Afrocentrism has little to offer of any intellectual substance. It benefits in spades from the decline of faith so basic to how intellectuals have fumbled the heroic demands of our time. The discontinuity of ideals and actions, the blood spore that is history, and the long list of atrocities committed in the name of God and country have convinced many Western intellectuals that the only sensible postures are those of the defeatist and the cynic.
As with the tenured Marxist, Afrocentrists will use the contradiction to define the whole, asserting that Western civilization is no more than the work of imperialists and racists who quest for an order of geopolitical domination that is inextricably connected to profit and exploitation, white over black. Where the Marxist looks forward to a sentimental paradise of workers uber alles, the Afrocentrist speaks of a paradise lost and the possibility of a paradise regained--if only black people will rediscover the essentials of their African identity.
For all its pretensions to expanding our vision, the Afrocentric movement is not propelled by a desire to bring about any significant enrichment of our American culture. What Afrocentrists almost always want is power--the power to define. no matter how flimsy their cases might be.
As with most movements built on conspiracy theories, only the sources of argument and the "proof" provided by Afrocentrists are acceptable; all else is either defined as willfully flawed or brought to debate solely in the interest of maintaining a vision of European domination throughout history and within the province of ideas. Thus, the worst insult is that critics are "Eurocentric." When charged with shoddy scholarship, the Afrocentrist's retort is that his or her purportedly revolutionary work arrives through means of research and assessment outside "European methodology."
Afrocentrism, then, presents itself as ethnic liberation, a circling of the wagons within the academy, an attempt to impale Eurocentric authority on the dilemma of black intellectual rebellion. At the same time, Afrocentrism is like all of the protest versions of study that are actually extensions of soap operas in which the stars are paid to emote the effects of injustice. It's about achieving the respect held for traditional disciplines while not measuring up to the standards of traditional research. Though ever scoffing at the academy, the Afrocentrists want all of the prestige and the benefits that come with being there. No one should be surprised, since we live in a time in which it is not considered hypocritical to seek employment within a structure you claim is contemptuous. A central component of the Afrocentric argument is that Egypt was black and that Greco-Roman civilization resulted from its influence. This means that the foundation Of Western civilization is African - It's a relatively sophisticated version of Elijah Muhammad's Yacub myth, in which the white man is invented by a mad black scientist determined to destroy the world through an innately evil creature.
Why this obsession with race and ancient Egypt? First, monuments. There is no significant African architecture capable of rivaling the grand wonders of the world, European or not. Second, there is no written language or body of thought comparable to that upon which Western civilization has built and developed its morality, politics, technology, economy and arts. More than a few of us yearn for pedigrees, wishing for access to aristocracy through the accumulated majesty of a long family line. If family won't do, then we might snatch the unwieldy crown of race for a coronation that defines the group as innately aristocratic.
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College students swallow Afrocentrism whole and conclude that all of their problems result from lacking an "African centered" worldview that would provide them with an education suitable to their history and to their needs in a racist society.
These are all responses to humiliation-expressions of having taken the insults of the opposition too seriously, retreats from engagement, dismissals of complexity, racial isolationism. Essential to the justification for the myopic vision that emerges is a list of real and imagined atrocities. The great tragedies of the white South were the loss of the Civil War and the humiliation of Reconstruction; for the black nationalist, they were slavery, the colonial exploitation of Africa, and the European denial of the moral superiority of African culture and civilization, beginning with Egypt.
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In essence, Afrocentrists want to live on a high-grade reservation so they can ignore the national vision of human rights when it conflicts with their own tribal views. By attempting to win the souls of black college students and influence what is taught to black children in Public schools, Afrocentrists seek a large enough constituency to maintain what power now exists and extend it to what segregation once promised- "separate but equal".
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We can never forget that our fate as Americans is, finally, collective. We fail our mission as a democratic nation whenever we submit to any sort of segregation that would remake the rules and distort the truth in the interest of creating or satisfying a constituency unwilling to assert the tragic optimism so intrinsic to our national heritage.
Mr. Crouch wrote other versions of this for the Manhattan Institute's booklet "Alternatives to Afrocentrism " and the summer issue of the Institute's City Journal.
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