Pre-dynastic Osiris: Close-up showing Negroid features

Pre-dynasticOsiris (Ausar) Photo borrowed from Van Sertima (1995), Egypt Revisited, p. 128

The "Black Athena" Debate

By Grisso

The "Black Athena" Debate was a significant event on the internet that has gone mostly unremarked. Following the publication of Not Out of Africa by Mary Lefkowitz, her publisher, Harper Collins, sponsored a debate on the internet. The debate was conducted within a discussion group created for the purpose called athena-discuss. The two principals in the debate were supposed to be Mary Lefkowitz and Martin Bernal, whose Black Athena had been attacked by Lefkowitz. As it turned out, however, these principals contributed a rather brief exchange, and the remainder of the debate was taken up by a wide variety of contributors, both from within and outside the Academy.

At the core of the debate were two questions: were the ancient Egyptians a Black African people, and to what extent was the civilization of ancient Greece indebted to learning borrowed or stolen from ancient Egypt. Although the debate was cast in terms of Black Athena (Bernal) vs. Not Out of Africa (Lefkowitz), the true debate was between the Africentrists and the Eurocentrists, for much of what Bernal had to say in Black Athena on the questions at issue had been stated long before him by the Africentric scholars of this century, notably James (Stolen Legacy), and Diop (African Origins of Civilization and Civilization or Barbarism).

Key figures on the Africentric side of this larger debate were notable by their absence, for example, Ivan Van Sertima, Theophile Obenga, Charles Finch, Molefi Asante, Maulana Karenga, and Marimba Ani. On the other side, some of the well-known and very active detractors of the Africentrists were present, notably Bernard Ortiz de Montellano, supported also by Frank Yurco, who contributed from "off-line". These were supported by a number of less well known but nonetheless notable scholars attempting to "hold the line" for the received Eurocentric claims that were under atack. There were certainly enough professional scholars on both sides of the debate to make of this a remarkable cyber-event.

In my opinion, the debate was a great victory for the Africentric side. This probably explains why so little was heard of this remarkable cyber-event. Except for the website set up by Paul Manansala, the Afrocentric Debate Resource Homepage, and the article The "Black Athena" debate in cyberspace by the same author, it is almost as though this event never took place. Certainly, one searches in vain for mention of this debate by those on the anti-Africentric side.

I have selected for publication on these pages the portions of that debate in which I was engaged -- 71 articles posted between May 18 and June 11, 1996, when the list was somewhat precipitately shut down by Harper-Collins. This represents about 240K of traffic out of a total generated by the list of about 6000K.

Although I do not claim to be a historian or Egyptologist, certain aspects of the debate fell into areas in which I have some competence. My entry into the debate was with an article entitled Egyptian Science, the Greeks, and Mathematical PROOF, which responded to the claims of the anti-Africentrists expounding the received view that it is to the Greeks that we owe the notion of mathematical proof and the axiomatic method. I challenged that notion based in part on Diop's charges of plagiarism against such giants of Greek philosophy and mathematics as Archimedes, Plato, Aristotle, Thales, etc., but based also on two novel arguments: one from Kamitic cosmology and what it implies about their knowledge of syllogistic logic, and the other from an insight into the very nature of mathematical proof itself gained from my work, Fuzziness and Probability.

This article prompted a fast and furious response from a variety of detractors. One of these led, unwittingly, to a subsidiary discussion about the meaning of the Greek word, logismos, a word used by Plato to describe a branch of learning for which he credits the Egyptians. This word has been translated vaguely and generically as "calculus", when literally what it means is "logic-ism," which, not unrelatedly, very accurately describes what goes on in the name of the axiomatic method of mathematical proof, for which we are told Greeks deserve sole credit. This led to various other threads of discussion, including one which came to be called Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, during the course of which I was forced to lecture some of my detractors on the logical form of argument known as modus tollendo tollens (method of denying the consequent) and to correct the attempted improper use by them of this form of logical argument.

I invite you to read these articles. There is much here to engage the mind, and I hope it aids the task of the Africentrist in correcting the many misconceptions and out and out fabrications that still occupy the popular imagination, and that are still defended tooth and nail by many in the Academy, as you will see in some of the exchanges.


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