4.0872 Responses: Multiculturalism & Eurocentrism (6/166)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Wed, 9 Jan 91 18:23:21 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0872. Wednesday, 9 Jan 1991.

(1) Date: 08 Jan 91 16:31:36 EST (23 lines)
Subject: 4.0869 Multiculturalism etc.

(2) Date: Wed, 9 Jan 91 08:15 EST (15 lines)
From: Prof Norm Coombs <NRCGSH@ritvax.isc.rit.edu>
Subject: Re: 4.0869 Multiculturalism etc.

(3) Date: Wed, 9 Jan 91 15:45 O (32 lines)
Subject: Eurocentrism etc.

(4) Date: Wed, 09 Jan 91 13:30:34 GMT (13 lines)
From: DEL2@phoenix.cambridge.ac.uk
Subject: Re: [4.0869 Multiculturalism etc.

(5) Date: Wednesday, 9 January 1991 8:28am CT (35 lines)
Subject: 4.0869 Multiculturalism etc.

(6) Date: Wed, 09 Jan 91 18:22:53 IST (48 lines)
From: "David M. Schaps" <F21004@BARILVM>
Subject: Re: 4.0869 Multiculturalism etc.

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: 08 Jan 91 16:31:36 EST
Subject: 4.0869 Multiculturalism, Eurocentrism, Afrocentrism

Racism is racism and this is the century of racism. Alas. David Kelly
and others may not have espied a particular book that is being relied on
in the Afrocentric debates: Martin Bernal, *Black Athena*, first of
several volumes slated to appear. This is, I think it *objective* to
say, a crank book, by a professor of Chinese politics who, in the course
of rediscovering his own ethnic and cultural roots, came to the
conclusion that Greek wisdom is really Levantine and African. His book
contains little that is new and true, but it offers a useful club for
the politically aware to use to support claims that have in fact little
scientific basis. It is perfectly true that the ancient Mediterranean
was a cultural melting and swapping pot; and only a fool would fail to
notice that `Western Civilization' depends on the use of an alphabet
(from the semitic Phoenicians) and a number system (from the semitic
Arabs) which were not indigenous to the `West'. I wrote in this space a
week or two ago that the `Western Tradition' is a fairly recent cultural
construct of dubious value; I would hold that the dubiousness of its
value is underscored by the almost Hegelian generation of the
antithetical cultural construct of Afrocentrism. Put another way, the
weakness of analysis from an Afrocentric basis is already implicit in
analysis from a Western Tradition basis. Both concepts have value; both
may be abused, especially by racists.
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------21----
Date: Wed, 9 Jan 91 08:15 EST
From: Prof Norm Coombs <NRCGSH@ritvax.isc.rit.edu>
Subject: Re: 4.0869 Multiculturalism, Eurocentrism, Afrocentrism

I too support the overall concept of multiculturalism. I do teach
courses in African studies, but I also like to view things in the
broadest possible context to give them better meaning. I suspect that
education in America will ALWAYS be Eurocentric, and I say that in spite
of my own point of view. I believe, that when the arguments eventually
shake down, it will turn out that we are really only arguing over how
much focus to give Eurocentrism. I think the focus desperately needs to
be broadened and made more difuse. That is why I support
multiculturalism. I'll be very surprised if we ever really stop being
Eurocentric. I'll also be surprised if we don't broaden the focus. For
me it is not changing away from Eurocentrism as much as lessening it.

Norman Coombs
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------36----
Date: Wed, 9 Jan 91 15:45 O
Subject: Eurocentrism etc.

You raise the problem of Eurocentrism, etc... I don't want to comment on
the specifically scholarly points raised by the problem, but I have a
rather unusual perspective on it (I'm British, and teach ango-american
philosophy at the American University in Cairo). What I think needs to
be pointed out is that the political argument may be supported by a lot
of questionable scholarship, but the political need is very real; the
Third World (for want of a better term) is in a state of cultural
subjugation, in which intellectuals are dependent in many ways on ideas
and fashions imported from the West. (For example, a lot of my students
seem to have studied Weber's "Protestant Ethic & the Rise of Capitalism"
without actually knowing what protestatism is.) The impulse to reject
all Western thought may be misconceived (I think it is, especially in
the Arabic context, considering the common roots of Arab and Western
thought in the Middle Ages), but nevertheless it has very real and very
understandable political motives, & until the intellectual-political
problems can be dealt with, I can't see that such impulses will go away.

I think the problem of American blacks is more complex, & you obviously
have to raise the question of Americanness vs. blackness, etc. I
wouldn't know what to say about that...

I hope this turns into an ongoing debate. We badly need to discuss it.

Graham White
American University in Cairo.
(4) --------------------------------------------------------------27----
Date: Wed, 09 Jan 91 13:30:34 GMT
From: Douglas de Lacey <DEL2@phoenix.cambridge.ac.uk>
Subject: Re: [4.0869 Multiculturalism, Eurocentrism, Afrocentrism

I look forward to the contributions of others on the relative originality
of Greeks, Egyptians, Asiatics &c. But if the focus of the debate is the
debt to "black African Egypt" then someone will need to tackle the
question of when and where *black* Africans controlled life in Egypt.
The Phoenicians ("most important of all there was the Phoenician
alphabet") were semites, weren't they? Some dispassionate ethnological
data would be very valuable in this debate.

Regards, Douglas de Lacey
(5) --------------------------------------------------------------42----
Date: Wednesday, 9 January 1991 8:28am CT
From: John Slatin <EIEB360@UTXVM.BITNET>
Subject: 4.0869 Multiculturalism, etc.

This is a response-- a truncated one-- to David Kelly's message; it is
not, however, concerned with Greek philosophical texts, for which I
apologize. Professor Kelly expresses concern over the language used by
African American and African scholars at a recent conference, as
reported in the New Republic last November, and particularly about calls
to rid African and African American Studies curricula of the vestiges of
white influence. I don't have my text beside me and so can't quote, but
I refer Professor Kelly and other concerned humanists (and Humanists) to
the opening paragraphs of Ralph Waldo Emerson's _Nature_ (1836) and his
"American Scholar" (1837)-- essays widely regarded as providing a
starting-point or rallying cry at any rate for what F.O. Matthiessen,
the great Harvard scholar, called _The American Renaissance_. These
essays, in language strikingly like that reported in the New Republic
article cited by Professor Kelly, call for American artists and scholars
to rid themselves of the influence of colonial powers in Britain and
Europe, and to establish a curriculum based squarely on distinctively
American values and materials-- values and materials which were yet to
be discovered or created. I cannot think that Emerson was wrong to call
upon his American colleagues to try to forge a collective identity and a
new poetics to match-- to make it impossible for another Sidney Smith to
sneer, "Who reads an American book?" There are still too many of us who
ask, "Who reads an African book?"-- who say that African American
writers have yet to prove themselves capable of producing great works of
art (which is why they don't read novels or poems or plays by African
American writers, it not being worth their time). Is it wrong for
African Americans or Africans to wish to develop a reading of their
history in the United States and the world at large that doesn't take as
its warranting assumptions a body of belief rooted in European colonial
expansion? Or is it simply discomfiting to be reminded so stridently
that ours (white, male, Western) isn't the only way to understand the
world and its history?

John Slatin, University of Texas at Austin
(6) --------------------------------------------------------------56----
Date: Wed, 09 Jan 91 18:22:53 IST
From: "David M. Schaps" <F21004@BARILVM>
Subject: Re: 4.0869 Multiculturalism, Eurocentrism, Afrocentrism

The source of the claim that Greek scholarship is all taken from
Africa, so confidently asserted at the conference that David Kelly
mentions, is Martin Bernal's book _Black Athena: The Fabrication of
Ancient Greece 1785-1985_ (Free Association Books, London, '87;
Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ, '87 -- only the first
volume of a projected tetralogy has actually been published). The
book's claim is that classicists, chiefly German, invented -- for
reasons based more in racism and anti-Semitism than in the sources --
a view of Greek culture as having blossomed out of the natural (Aryan)
genius of the Greeks, in place of the earlier view (as Bernal claims;
he claims that this was the view of the Greeks themselves) that saw
the Greeks as continuing foreign cultures, chiefly near eastern
(Babylonian, Phoenician) and Egyptian. Bernal himself is not a
classicist, and wrote the book both for scholarly and for avowedly
polemical reasons (I don't have it in front of me, but he ends his
introduction saying that the purpose of the book is to attack the
cultural arrogance of Europe, or something similar). The book makes,
of course, no claims as sweeping as the ones quoted by David Kelly,
nor does its language, however strong, approach the vile tone that
he quotes; but that is what happens when scholarship gets picked up
at second- and third-hand by people who have a bone to pick (the
same can be said of the author of the New Republic article, who
must be presumed to have chosen the most objectionable quotes he
had heard). The thesis itself has stirred up quite a controversy
among classicists; the Fall, 1989 issue of _Arethusa_ was devoted
entirely to the contents of a symposium on the subject chaired by
Dr. Molly Myerowitz Levine at the '89 meeting of the American
Philological Association. Perhaps the most interesting article in
that collection, from the point of view of Afrocentrism, is that
of Frank Snowden, whom Dr. Levine correctly describes as the
person "who has been foremost in correcting racist distortions
in modern readings of the classical iconographic and literary
evidence on blacks," that the ancient Egyptian, although
undoubtedly dark, were not what would today be called Negroid --
a claim that would surely be unsettling to the various claims
quoted by David Kelly. The dust has by no means settled, nor
have all the points raised been adequately dealt with, either
favorably or unfavorably; and there are three more volumes to
David Schaps
Department of Classics
Bar Ilan University
Ramat Gan, Israel