R.I.P. – Basil Davidson – “20th Century’s and the World’s Most Outstanding African Historian Along With Cheikh Anta Diop and W.E.B. Du Bois”

The most outstanding, amazing, “right to the point,” succinct “strongly worded” definition of what race the Ancient Egyptians were and of the “old racism” and “new racism,” and who his critics were, published in Dr. Ivan Van Sertima’s Egypt Revisited (1989):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKOWERczykU [White People Lying About African HistoryBlack History, narrated by Basil Davidson]

R.I.P.  Basil Davidson (November 9, 1914 – July 9, 2010),

“A British historian, writer and Africanist, who wrote several books on the current problems of neo-colonial Africa, , European colonialism, and the rise of African liberation movements, and is an Honorary Fellow of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

He became a well known authority on African history and his writings emphasized the pre-colonial achievements of Africans and the disasterous effects of the Atlantic Slave Trade and the further damage inflicted upon Africa by European colonialism.  Among the books written by him were The Black Man’s Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State, A History of Africa, Lost Cities of Africa, African Civilization Revisigted: From Antiquity to Modern Times, West Africa Before the Colonial Era, and The African Genius.

The most outstanding, amazing, “right to the point,” succinct “strongly worded” definition of what race the Ancient Egyptians were and of the “old racism” and “new racism,” and who his critics were, published in Dr. Ivan Van Sertima’s Egypt Revisited (1989).

Basil Davidson, in “The Ancient World and Africa: Whose Roots?”

in Egypt Revisited, Journal of African Civilizations, Edited by Ivan Van Sertima (Transaction Publishers: New Brunswick (U.S.A.) and London (U.K.), 1989,

conducted a television series about the history of the Africans to a wide public in many countries.  He placed crtics of his presentation in the following categories:

(1) mostly those from “persons of evidently fixed opinions who clearly knew little or nothing of the subject of the programmes, and who made up for their astonishment at being shown that Africans have a history of their own by accusing me of bias, exaggeration or sentimental frailty.

(2) “A few were from white South Africans in this country or former Rhodesian settlers, foreseeably couched in the kind of gutter language one has learned to expect from such quareters.

(3) “Several were from otherwise sympathetic viewers who had oddly convinced themselves that black history could be written only by a black historian.  One ofthese even went so far, although politely, as to suggest that the series in question should have been presented by my late friend and colleague Cheikh Anta Diop, who was certainly a notable historian but who spoke no English.”

Davidson indicated:

“None of these objections has seem to me to warrant serious argument, but there was another, far more solidly based in European culture, which undoubtedly does warrant such argument and in which, as I think, one can find some of the crucial origins of established or intellectual denial oalue to the cultures of Africa.  This objection heard from a number of viewers in Europe and North America, was against a central theme in the series.  This theme portrayed Egypt of the Pharaohs:  Ancient Egypt before conquest by the Arabs in the seventh century A.D., as a country of black origins and population whose original ancestors had come from the lands of the great interior, and whose links with inner Africa remained potent and continuous.

To affirm this, of course, is to offend nearly all established historiographical orthodoxy.  The Ancient Egyptian, by that orthodox, were not only not black—in whatever pigmentational variant of non-white that Nature may have provided—they were also not Africans.  To say otherwise must be so mistaken, one has gathered, as to be patently absurd.

But isn’t Egypt, other issues apart, quite simply a part of Africa?  That seems, is a merely geographical irrelevance.  The civilization of Pharaonic Egypt arising sometime around 3500 B.C. and continuing at least until the Roman dispossessions, has been explained to us as evolving either in more or less total isolation from Africa or as a product of West Asian (Note: West Eurasian) stimulus.

Professor Davidson sarcasticaly remrked:

“On the deeply held view, the land of Ancient Egypt appears to have detached itself from the delta of the Nile, some five and a half thousand years ago, and sailed off into the Mediterranean on a course veering broadly towards the coasts of Syria.  And there it apparently remained, floating somewhere in the seas of the Levant, until Arab conquerors hauled it back to where it had once belonged.

“Now what is one to make of this unlikely view of the case, coming as it has from venerable seats of learning?  Does its strength derive from a long tradition of research and explanation?  Is it what Europeans have always thought to be true?  Have the records of ancient times been found to support it?

As Martin Bernal has now most ablyshown in his Black Athena, the remarkable book about which I am chiefly writing here, the answer to such questions is plainly and unequivocablyin the negative.  That the Ancient Egyptians were black (again in any variant you may prefer)—or, as myself think it more useful to say, were African—is a belief which has been denied in Europe since about 1830), not before.  It is a denial, in short, that belongs to the rise of modern European imperialism, and has to be explained in terms of the ‘new racism,’ specifically and even frantically an anti-black racism, which went together with and was consistently nourished by that imperialism.

I say ‘new racism’ because it followed and further expanded the older racism which spread around Europe after the Atlantic Slave Trade had reached its high point of ‘take off’ in about 1630.  Was there no racism, then, before that?  The point is complex and can be argued elsewhere. : Essentially, however, the answer to this is also in the negative.  Before the Atlantic slave trade, and before its capitalism, there was plenty of ancient xenophobia, fear of blackness, association of blackness with with the Devil, and so on and so forth: but none of this was the racism that we know.

The racism that we know was born in Europe and America from the cultural need to justify doing to black people, and least of all to Europeans.

To justify the enslavement of Africans, in short it was culturally necessary to believe or be able to believe, that Africans were inherently and naturally less than human but were beings of a somehow sub-human, non-human, nature.

That was the cultural basis, in this context, of the slave trade.  The racism that we know, accordingly, was altogether different from ancient xenophobia or superstitious fears of the Dark: its core and motivation were to act as a weapon of dispossession and exploitation.  And its success in this dehumanizing project needs no demonstration here, for it is obvious in our culture to this day.”



About Harold L Carter

Bachelor of Science, Columbia University Masters degree, Ohio State University Undergraduate National Officer, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Eastern Asst Vice President, when a student at Columbia University Profile Photograph: Mom & Me, when I was a graduate student
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