Note from BW of Brazil: It wasn’t until the mid-1990s when I began to investigate the deeper historical meanings of blackness. Physical blackness and identity is only a piece of the larger struggle and resistance to a worldwide system of white supremacy that is a consistent assault on the psyches and bodies of persons of visible African ancestry. The psychological manipulation was and continues to be one of the principle forces that maintain the structure of white supremacy. If the system can persuade African descendants that they have no history, they are an inferior race and associate all negative connotations to these people, it does not have to worry about what these people will do. They will remain in their forced position of subservience. Along the way of my discoveries, I became aware of the battle over the history of Ancient Egypt, its people and the politics involved in attempting to basically separate this nation from the continent of Africa.
As a college student, the discovery of this dispute changed my perception of academia. Like anyone else, I was always taught that I must seek education which I did. But upon the understanding of the politics involved in how Ancient Egypt should be portrayed in history, I perceived that not only world history, but academia itself, are not what they appear to be. Academia, and thus world history is determined by powerful forces that decide how this history shall be written, whether it is true, partially true or even false. These ideals spread to many different areas of our society including politics, health and the mass media all of which influence and contribute to our perceptions of the world and things we believe to be true. The evidence of this is overwhelming. Whether we discuss the value or dangers of fluoridated water, the story the media gives us about what happened on September 11th, 2001, or what politicians tell us vs. what they really do, the truth or deception is often in the hands of those with the most power in those given fields. Today’s topic is a classic example of how history can be manipulated and how the media participates in the dissemination of partial truths or outright lies.
Speaking about the debate over Ancient Egypt, Robert Bauval wrote:
“In spite of many clues that have been in place in the past few decades, which strongly favor a Black African origin for the pharaohs, many scholars and especially Egyptologists have either ignored them, confused them, or, worst of all, derided or scorned those who entertained them. It is not our business to know whether such an attitude is a form of academic racism or simply the blindered way of looking at evidence to which some modern Egyptology has become accustomed, but whatever the cause, this issue has remained largely unresolved.”
Bauval’s book, Black Genesis, picks up the ongoing debate over Ancient Egypt, its culture, history and peoples, and in the video below, he mentions how he upset the academic establishment by challenging long established beliefs that are thought to be the last final word on the history of the region.
Robert Bauval – Black Genesis: The Prehistoric African Origins of Egypt – preview
Mostafa Hefny fights for the right to be classified as black
Mostafa Hefny is an Egyptian immigrant in the United States who has fought for 25 years to change his racial classification from white to black. Although it is clear that Hefny is a black man, the US government classifies persons of Arabic backgrounds as white. Hefny also disputes the Ancient Egypt as portrayed in traditional history books. “The Ancient Egyptian population was brown and black,” he says. Hefny’s struggle for a black identity only began when he became more politically conscious and the anger he provoked when he insisted on a black identity speaks volumes for places like Brazil where so many African descendants are coerced by friends, family and the society at large to distance themselves from blackness.
The experiences of Hefny and Bauval are but the latest examples of the battle over truth and the right to have an opinion on matters that contradict the traditional views of the establishment (which are not always true). Stories such as these have important ramifications all over the world in which a racial hierarchy continues to rule based upon the mythical ideology of racial superiority of some groups over others. Brazil, a long time supporter of white racial superiority, provokes these ideologies in a numerous ways with its media being one of its main vehicles of re-enforcement. Demonstrating its allegiance to the portrayal of Ancient Egypt as a white civilization, Brazil’s Rede Record television network debuted its R$60 million (US$26 million) series José do Egito, (meaning Joseph of Egypt) in late January of 2013 with an all-white cast, 40 actors in all.
Report on “José do Egito” series of the Rede Record TV network (in Portuguese)
To be truthful, all-white, or near all-white casts on television series are nothing new in Brazil (see here or here, for example) as proper media representation has long been a demand of Afro-Brazilian activists and for good reason. In a country in which the majority of African descendents do not identify themselves as black and the path to higher education remains dominated by white middle class families, the television plays an enormous role in the access to information. So, what message do children and adults get after watching an all-white production of one of history’s most important periods? Well, as with everything else in Brazil (except futebol, samba and Carnaval), white is superior and blacks have no place in civilization.
Charô Nunes chimed in on the debate in a piece originally published at Blogueiras Negras.
Behind the scenes of “José do Egito”series of Rede Record TV (in Portuguese)
A Black Egypt bothers many people
by Charo Nunes
The list of real Egyptian women represented by white actresses is virtually endless. We’re thinking of just the Cleopatras since Helen Gardner, Theda Bara and Claudette Colbert. Passing through Vivien Leigh and Sophia Loren, Monica Bellucci and Liz Taylor until now…Kate Perry and Angelina Jolie, who has already been shown in blackface it’s always good to remember. The film’s producer said the actress has the ~ perfect look ~ insisting on the farse that Cleopatra was white. Quite appropriate now that it has been proven that the Queen was in fact ~ negra ~ Let us continue.
There are those who say with quite a bit of cynicism that thinking of a Antigo Egito Negro (Black Ancient Egypt) is ~ all mixed up with the núbios (Nubians) ~, a black civilization also near the Nile. ~ They were not negro, but brancos de pele morena (dark-skinned whites) ~ (1). Yes, these terms and these words you can search. It sounds like something from the 19th century but it’s not. An error of this nature and magnitude does not happen because of bad faith or ignorance, only intellectual irresponsibility and racism explains it. The proposal here is another, take as an essential starting point the origin of the antigos egípcios (Ancient Egyptians) by Cheikh Anta Diop, a text that is part of the General History of Africa collection (Unesco).
There are reports gathered from classical historians who described a povo negro (a black people). Also shown is evidence on the closeness between the Ancient Egyptian language and walaf, of Senegalese origin and still in use. And most importantly, Diop explains that the ancient Egyptians represented themselves in imagery and literally as a black people through the word KMT that means nothing less than black as coal, a thing more than beautiful. Hence the biblical character of Cam appeared. In spite of so much evidence …
An Egito Negro (Black Egypt) bothers many people because Africa is a continent of achievements and accomplishments, where art, science, technology and philosophy were produced. Because it is a source of pride, delight. The solution to this annoyance was to disseminate that Antiga Grécia (Ancient Greece) is the cradle of our civilization, forgetting that all that the Greeks produced was not a miracle that happened by spontaneous generation. What is impossible to let go is that Africa and especially Ancient Egypt (which even for the ancient Greeks was an ancient civilization) has a more than central role in this story.
A very simple clue offers us the magnitude of the problem. It was the ancient Egyptians who invented one of the first portable medias of the world, the papyrus. It wasn’t by chance that Alexandria had one of the largest libraries of the ancient world. But it would have been a Greek Callimachus during a trip to the Egyptian city that ~ invented ~ the first system for cataloging books, very similar to what is used by the library of the American Congress and that was used by Rome. Again, Ancient Black Egypt and therefore Africa has its knowledge uprooted to another continent and become only a citation. The name of this for me is theft.
Usurping African heritage is not enough, it’s also necessary to whiten their subjects. As much in the José do Egito (Joseph of Egypt) series (currently in reprise on Rede Record TV) as in Êxodo: Deuses e Reis (Exodus: Gods and Kings) the characters are mostly white. The filmmakers are unable to recognize that a complex system of beliefs, philosophy, art, architecture, astronomy and medicine are coisas de preto (black things). Any movement different from that, even the simple hypothesis that the ancient Egyptians were black, is too much vandalism to endure.
What happens in José do Egito is nothing new, racism does not need to invent the wheel. The male characters portraying ancient Egyptians almost always blackfaces such as the new Ramses of Ridley Scott in Exodus: Gods and Kings. The actor cast in the role is none other than Joel Edgerton who to my knowledge, has blue eyes and is blond. The solution was to reissue the makeup used by Yul Brynner Russian in Os dez mandamentos (The Ten Commandments), with a lot of skin coating to suggest the tan of someone who spends a lot of time tanning (2), never a shade of unquestionably black skin.
It is also expected that the pharaoh is bitter and envious, never a great statesman and strategist. Against the only possible god, the image and likeness of a white man, a black leader becomes a heretic, a loser. On the other hand, it is almost certain that Moses’ Egyptian education is overlooked, something that is in complete opposition to the true god. The Egyptian entities and its influence must be destroyed, at least in theory, to appear in a new god in whom one can believe.
For Hollywood it is also perfectly possible that Egyptian royalty is white, while murderers, thieves and regular people are black, see Exodus: Gods and Kings. What is behind this maneuver is the racist idea that the Egyptian nobility could not be African even being inexistent the evidence that the origin of these individuals, noble or commoner, is outside of Africa. Incidentally, although it is acknowledged that in this society people of different skin tones lived, there is no record that there was any segregation motivated by skin color.
Ancient Egyptian women are a whole separate story, both in film and on television. Always very white, according to a pattern of racist beauty, delicate as porcelain. In the context of a civilization of the desert, the sexist suggestion is that the territory of the woman is not the city as what happens with many female characters de José do Egito. It is also common that their political role is diminished to intrigues motivated by love and passion as in the example of Nefertari in The Ten Commandments. One of the greatest Egyptian queens seems to have nothing more to do than be jealous of Moses.
For Ridley Scott, the black queen who adopted Moses (Tuya) is the actress Sigourney Weaver. Before you tell me that I’m blowing this out of proportion, even the Disney Dreamworks portrayed her as black. The message from Hollywood is crystal clear – there is no room for all the actresses like Viola Davis whose performances provoke tears and grinding of teeth but it would be fundamental to the empowerment of black women like you and me who are also deuses (goddesses) and rainhas (queens). In fact we don’t need to think too much. I conclude with the reminder and the great feeling provided by Cleopatra as portrayed by Gina Torres in Xena.
1. In his 1930 book Races of Africa, which was long considered the authoritative work on race in Africa, British physician and ethnologist CG Seligman defined Ancient Egyptians as “dark-skinned Hamitic Europeans.” The meanings of the dissemination of this view is particularly important in a country like Brazil where persons who possess light skin, mixed ancestry and features that denote racial non-European admixture often consider themselves to be a part of the white race. A “moreno” in Brazil can be a white person with dark hair, a white person with physical traces of non-European ancestry, and light, brown or dark-skinned persons of African ancestry.
2. A tactic which has also been used in Brazil. See here.