Racism: An unresolved issue from ancient history
by Anna Manzo (This column was originally published in the Urban Journal Magazine in 1995.)
Could the racial issues of today’s generation be an indication of unresolved issues of previous generations – even from ancient history? If one were to look at race and cultural issues in the same context as the family dysfunction of alcoholism, substance and child abuse – unresolved issues passed down from one generation to the next – would we be able to say the unresolved issues of our ancestors, from the wars and clashing of cultures and ethnicities still echo on today?
A debate currently rages between Afrocentric and Eurocentric ancient history scholars regarding ‘revisionist’ multicultural education in public schools. University of Chicago Egyptologist Frank Yurco in “How to Teach Ancient History; A Multicultural Model” in the Spring, 1994 issue of American Educators asserted that there was no racial prejudice in antiquity. If Yurco is correct, then when did race begin to matter?
Bob Forman, founding member of New Haven, Connecticut’s African World History Study group, says that the ancient Greeks and the Romans made numerous references to the black peoples of ancient Egypt and antiquity, as if obsessed with how they were able to achieve such civilizations with advanced architecture and agricultural systems.
But perhaps the most enduring and prominent example of racism from antiquity, according to Forman and Afrocentric scholars such as William Chandler and Runoko Rashidi, can be evidenced from the Hindu caste system in India extending into the modern period with black untouchables, - slum dwellers or landless agricultural laborers of rural India – often referred to as the Dravidians or more recently with their struggle out of oppression, the Dalits. “India’s ancient civilization is unique in that its cultural and philosophical traditions have been maintained without break from, as some claim, 7th millennium B.C., unlike Egypt, Ethiopia, and Iran, when [relatively recent] archaeologists rediscovered the cornerstones of present day sciences, philosophies and religions,” writes Wayne Chandler in African Presence in Early Asia. The New York Public Library Desk Reference describes Hinduism as developing from indigenous religions of India in combination with Aryan
Presence in Early Asia. The New York Public Library Desk Reference describes Hinduism as developing from indigenous religions of India in combination with Aryan the Dravidians were among the first inhabitants of India, though their origin ‘remains unknown.’ The ruins of the cities Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro in the Indus Valley Civilization which began about 3000-2500 B.C. revealed an advanced culture thought to be Dravidian. About 1500 B.C., a people of central Asia, called the Aryans invaded northern India and forced the Dravidians south. The World Book Encyclopedia also cites the caste system as being used at first by the Aryans to limit contact between themselves and the native people of India, and Hinduism as one of the world’s oldest religions.
Runoko Rashidi writes in Introduction to the Study of African Classical Civilizations, that the most substantial proportion of Asia’s blacks comprise the 160 million Dravidian or Dalit peoples known as the untouchables – more than the combined populations of England, France, Belgium, and Spain; they are the largest population of blacks outside the of Africa. “Dalit” means crushed and broken;” Mohandas Gandhi called them “children of god”. V.T. Rajshekar in African Presence in Early Asia describes the black untouchables of Tamil Nadu on the southern end of India, with dark skin and broad noses; their language Tamil is the oldest language of India. Black untouchables are, Rashidi says, the most oppressed peoples in the world. As if in support of this, American or British encyclopedic references largely have no descriptions of untouchables; under one entry,
“Dravidians, local races” they are described as “a subgroup breeding isolate in genetics . . . speakers of the Dravidian languages of southern India . . . of Indic (Hindu) geographical race . . . of medium stature, moderate to heavy skin pigmentation stocky build, a tendency toward ‘dolichocephaly’ (longheadedness), and flatter, broader-nosed faces than that of the Indic (Aryan) race of Northern India.”
Untouchables were born into a hierarchical caste system that placed them even lower than the lowest caste, as recorded in the Rg Veda,
Hinduism’s sacred text and earliest spiritual hymn of the Aryan priest class during the first millennia B.C. says Rashidi and the World Book Encyclopedia. The Sanskrit term Varna, used interchangeably with caste, means colour or complexion. The four castes are supposed to have sprung from the god Brahma himself, with each individual born into his or her respective caste. The first caste, the Brahmins (priests) were identified by the color white and derived from the Brahman’s mouth. The second caste, Kshatriyas, was the administrative and military caste (red) derived from Brahma’s arms, the third Vaisyas was the mercantile and agricultural caste (yellow) and thighs of Brahma. Sudras are the same as were black and untruth, the feet of Brahma. Their promised reward for perfect servitude was a higher birth in the next life. The untouchables – outcasts – made up the people not even included in the caste system, the people born from the sin of previous lives.
According to Forman, “the caste system doesn’t deal with trade or craft, it is entirely about color and race.” He believes this system was put into place because the Aryans were jealous, unable to understand how the black people could have achieved so much. The more temperate climate of black people could have provided abundant resources, a communal relationship with the land and less
need for nomadism, Forman says. The Indus Valley civilizations of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, located in northwest India, built in 5000 B.C. and 2500 B.C. were masterpieces of city planning, the culmination of towns and villages dating from 6000 and 7000 B.C. According to Chandler, Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa were built in grid-like fashion, with a large main street, public baths, trash chutes for disposal, and sewer system connecting virtually every household. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives editor, Francis Robinson, Cambridge University Press 1989 p.69-70, dates early Harappan civilization at 3000 B.C., the Indus Civilization 2500 B.C. and the breakdown or fall of Indus urban civilization at circa 2000 B.C., with the Vedic age beginning around 1500 B.C. to 1000. Rashidi notes that historians call the Vedic age a consolidation of Aryan powers and northern Indian institutions.
Chandler, Rashidi and Forman’s perspectives as Indus Valley civilization created by a black race make even more sense when looking at the whole history of humanity, with humanity’s origins in Africa. Anthropologists have concluded that the earliest origins of humanity began in Africa, with a majority of the Australopithecine fossil sites in equatorial Africa – or what is today Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Tanzania, land still predominantly inhabited by a very black, dark-skinned people. A March 1994 issue of Time magazine reported upon the recent scientific community’s release that Homo erectus 1.8 million years ago left Africa. Forman, in his study group, makes special note that these early ancestors traveled downstream with the Nile River, which flows from south to north. This also fits in with the ‘Out of Africa’ theory reported in the Time article, with Homo erectus as well as Homo Sapiens evolving in and emerging out of Africa, populating other continents approximately 100,000 years ago. Richard M. King, M.D., author of Biological Origins of Psychiatry, writes that 19th century scholar Albert Churchward suggested that Homo erectus was the pygmy or Twa people – small, dark-skinned aboriginals. Chandler, referring to the 19th century scholarly work of John Baldwin’s Prehistoric Nations writes that Ethiopia, the biblical land known as Cush - land of the burnt-faced people – was a kingdom that extended throughout Southwestern Asia.
Could racism have sprung with the distinction of differing features and these differing peoples meeting up with one another after having evolved separately for hundreds or even thousands of years?
Cheikh Anta Diop, in Civilization or Barbarism, suggests that racial differentiation occurred during an intensely cold phase of the Wurm glaciation period some 29,000-20,000 years ago. Charles Finch, M.D. in Echoes of the Old Darkland suggested that the Wurm glaciation period created a light-skinned, fair-haired people who were survivalist, nomadic people in search of scarce resources. This fits with Diop’s description of fierce Aryans from the harsh Eurasian steppes, home of the wild ancestors of the horse, as Rashidi writes in Introduction to the Study of African Classical Civilizations, p 84-86. Apparently, the Indo-Europeans and Aryans found the sedentary nature of Indus Valley civilization vulnerable to their advanced technology beginning in 1800-1500 B.C. Perhaps it was the Aryan descendants of Homo erectus or even Homo Sapiens that left Africa as – black people – that survived and evolved in the harshness of the northern steppes who, thousands of years later when they came upon their black brothers to the south, did not know who or why Nature (God) had been kind to them and had given them so much.
Those familiar with recovery whether from addiction, family dysfunction, incest, know that the first evidence of dysfunction is denial. An abuse – and racism – serve to keep control of the masses, the foundation of a “divide and conquer” mentality, perhaps it is a survivalist mindset that worked in the scarcity of a glacial north that is now beyond its use.
So long as this global ancestry, global family is denied, peace remains a distant dream.
A Kelvin Allen & Associates/Strategic Media Solutions Group Publication
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