Yosef Ben Jochannan, Africa, Mother of Western Civilization. (Baltimore, MD: Black Classic Press, 1971) 700 Pages.
A Book Review By Ozodi Osuji
It seems that many African people (in Africa and in the Americas) during the post second world war world were immensely affected by what they believed was Europe’s concerted effort to put Africans down. They perceived themselves attacked by the mere presence of Europe and went on a warpath to defend their selves.
Africans are a proud people; colonialism induced subordinate relationship between Africans and Europeans pricked Africans egos, pride and vanity; they felt narcissistic injury; in fact, many Africans felt narcissistic rage and sought combative ways to assuage perceived European attacks on their sense of manhood. Part of this defense is to show that almighty Europe owed its very existence to Africa.
Science has proved that all human beings evolved in Africa and later moved to other parts of the world; it is now generally accepted that people as we currently know them to be were so fifty thousand years ago and were in Africa and later migrated to other continents. In that sense all people are Africans and all developments elsewhere were initiated by Africans, but that is not what our current object of interest, Dr. Ben meant by Africa, Mother of Western Civilization.
Dr. Ben (as I will hereafter call our current protagonist) went to war writing on how everything good in Europe derived from ancient Africa. Europe, he believes, owes its intellectual, scientific and technological achievements to Africa. If Africa had not existed and accomplished the great things, he believed that it did, Europe would not have done anything. It is all glory to Africa the initiator of human civilization!
I have to say that this book is very annoying; its claims are so outrageous that it takes enormous patience to wade through the hundreds of pages of verbiage the man spilled out. He tells us that ancient Greece derived everything it did from Africans (Egyptians and Ethiopians).
Dr. Ben, like many of the writers of this genre, such as Cheikh Anta Diop, seems to believe that most contemporary Africans descend from ancient Egyptians/Ethiopians. Apparently, rooting their origin in Egypt and its great civilization makes these Africans kind of feel civilized; otherwise they would probably feel that they are not civilized, are the naked folks running around African jungles that certain European anthropologists depict Africans as on the pages of National Geographic magazine.
Africans were presented as primitive and some Africans felt offended and wanted to show the world that they are civilized, in fact, prove to a skeptical world that they were the first civilized people on earth, Egyptians.
Just out of curiosity, are there those living in present Egypt, some of whom are descendants of ancient Egyptians before the Arab conquest and takeover of Egypt in the seventh century of our common era, going about clamoring that they are Africans, or is it the case that only Africans clamor that they are Egyptians?
What Dr. Ben is doing is obvious: his pride probably felt belittled by almighty Western civilization and is trying to seem grand by attaching himself to the alleged grandeur that was ancient Egypt. In doing so he went overboard and claimed everything good in Europe as derived from Egypt, Africa.
Of course, Africa influenced Europe as Europe influenced Africa; it was and still is a symbiotic relationship. Even contemporary European and American culture is influenced by Africans just as contemporary African culture is influenced by European culture.
Can you think of anything considered part of American culture that was not influenced by African Americans? There is no such thing as the USA without the influence of African Americans. African Americans, in turn, were influenced by the congeries of Europeans that now live in the USA. That is the nature of human civilization; it is a system and each part of it influences all other parts; each part is always responding to what other parts are doing; there is no such thing as an isolated culture that is entirely responsible for generating its cultural categories. (Latin America is totally shaped by the Africans living there; Europeans also contributed to Latin culture but the African influence is so obvious that there is no denying it; Brazil, for example, reminds one of Nigeria.)
Aristotle, Dr. Ben said, came down to Egypt to learn his stuff so his teaching is Africa derived. Okay. But what part of Egyptian philosophy is like what Aristotle taught, Kemet...is that not totally different from Greek religion? Never mind; Aristotle did not visit Egypt and even if he did he was still a Greek, not an Egyptian; his world view reflects European, not African worldview.
Suppose we give him the benefit of doubt and take him at his word and ask: where are the books written in Ethiopia that Plato and Aristotle and other Greeks supposedly copied? Who were the Ethiopians that supposedly wrote all those non-existent books that the Greeks copied? Who was the Ethiopian Democritus that wrote that the atom is the smallest part of matter? Who was the Ethiopian Archimedes?
I must say that the claims of Dr. Ben (he claims to be an Ethiopian Falasha Jew and that Jews originally came from Ethiopia) made me wonder about his mental health. I actually deliberately examined his writing to see if they are the writing of a mad man. He is not mad but he is obsessed by the need to prove that Africans are superior to white people.
I do not understand why certain human beings cannot just accept that all human beings are the same and equal and instead have an obsessive-compulsive desire to prove that this or that race is superior to others.
How can one human being be superior to others? Are we not all animals who live and die like animals; we are born in body and in a hundred years that body dies and smells worse than feces? What could make one of us superior to another, the human intellect? Now, Dr. Ben does not want to go there; I mean talk about intelligence for if he does some deranged white psychologists such as Arthur Jensen and Richard Heinstein (of Bell Curve) would bring out the bugaboo that Africans relative to white folks have lower IQ.
We all agree that in spirit we are the same, equal and one. There is really no basis for talking about human differences at all but Dr. Ben would like to think that there is such basis.
God, it is really exasperating reading material whose undertone is that one group of people are better than others. We are all the same and any talk of racial differences is delusional.
Dr. Ben wanted to help African Americans, his readers, to feel superior to white folks. He is acutely aware that in America African Americans feel marginalized and some feel inferior to white folk, so he set out to make them feel superior to white folk. To accomplish his aim, he had to give them distorted history and philosophy.
He is doing what Adolf Hitler did. If you recall, at the end of the first world war Germany was defeated by the Allies and humiliated because the Allies essentially dismantled her army (what she was proud of )and made her pay indemnity to the victors. Germans felt humiliated and young Adolf went on a war path making speeches that made Germans feel good, telling them that Jews were responsible for their defeat, that they are superior to all other people, especially to those who defeated them.
In his nihilistic book, Mein Kampf, Hitler presented a made up philosophy that attempted to make Germans feel superior to their neighbors by presenting non Germans as inferior people. Germans listened to him for he made them temporarily feel superior.
Human beings existentially feel little Vis a Vis the powerful forces of nature arrayed against them. Their existential smallness is often exaggerated by social forces, such as racism, that tell them that they are no good. Since they do not like to see themselves as small, and want to feel special, anyone who tells them how important they are is listened to. Thus, Germans listened to Hitler and elected him to political office. The rest, as they say, is history.
Dr. Ben wrote nonsense that aimed at making African Americans feel superior to white Americans; he appealed to certain African Americans hence they celebrate his books.
I forced myself to read Dr. Ben because he is recognized as one of the gurus of Afrocentrism and since I am motivated to understand Afrocentrists I had to read him. If not my desire to understand Afrocentricism I would not have tortured my mind reading what I automatically realized is bullshit.
In my judgment, it is now time for human beings to have the courage to accept our sameness and equality and quit talking about differences for there are no racial differences at all. People of all races are 99.9% the same; their only difference is their skin color and texture of hair. We must stop emphasizing what separates us and stress what unifies us, our common humanity.
Dr. Ben did not write anything that could withstand empirical verification; his writing lacks academic rigor. He merely took from this or that writer that seemed to have encountered some light in old Africa and used this thread to weave his elaborate lies about how Africa produced Western civilizations (such as Greece and Rome).
Everything in the ancient world, in Persia, Greece, and Rome and indeed in the modern world has its origin in Africa. Africa is tops and all others are imitating her.
Really, one asks. He was living in Harlem, New York, why not Addis Ababa his supposed home (it is even doubtful that he came from Ethiopia; he said that he was taken to Puerto Rico as a child and had his education there, had an engineering degree from a university that did not offer engineering at the time he graduated; he claims to have a master’s degree in engineering from a university in Havana, Cuba and later a doctorate from Havana and Spain...his story is very fishy, to say the least).
If his Ethiopia is so great why not go live in it and from it spill his philosophy? Why did he have to go live in the Western world, in the den of the lion, to talk about how great Africa is? If the West is darkness why opt to live in the belly of the beast (whale), in the heart of Western darkness, New York, New York?
If Africa is so great one would have expected him to live in Africa. The fact that he chose to live in the West means that by his action, deed, not words he has voted where he thinks greatness is.
Dr. Ben appears loose with facts and his book reflects inability to respect facts; he weaves stories and claims that they are true.
Since his stories are palpably false it makes me wonder who exactly he believes would accept them, mentally challenged persons? Perhaps, he has negative views of his audience, African Americans; perhaps, he thinks that they are so dumb that they would uncritically accept whatever he dishes out to them!
I think that what is going on here is that Africans of a certain generation were oppressed by their awareness of how far Europe has progressed and left them behind; somehow, they imagined that Europeans were out to tell them that they are inferior persons.
Yes, there were and still are a few misguided Europeans such as Gorbeneau, Chamberlain and Hitler etc. out to prove their supremacy but the average European was not an inferior feeling neurotic who wanted to present himself as a superior person, who lived for one purpose: to prove to Africans that they are inferior to Europeans.
European missionaries came to Africa and built schools and lived in thatch houses to train Africans. Many of those missionaries caught terrible diseases and died from them; they sacrificed their lives trying to bring light to Africans.
The point is that not all Europeans were out to humiliate Africans by telling them that they are inferior. I believe that folks like Dr. Ben are persons who feel inferior and are trying to compensate with a feeling of false superiority. Somehow, they had it in their heads that white people made them feel inferior (something in their biological constitution probably made them feel inferior) and went on war trying to prove that ancient Africa (Egypt, Ethiopia) was the mother of everything good in the world. They belabored their thesis to the point that it is not believable.
One is interested in physics, chemistry, biology and astronomy. One therefore would have liked Dr. Ben to tell one about ancient Africans that made discoveries in the physical sciences that Western Europeans copied. It is one thing claiming that Europeans copied everything from Africans but what Africans did they copy from? So who were those fantasy Africans that gave the world science? Where are Africa’s Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Huygens, Tyco Brahe, Newton, Harvey, Boyle, Dalton, Young, Faraday, James Clerk Maxwell, Charles Darwin, Boltzmann, Becquerel, Pierre and Marie Curie, Max Plank, Einstein, Rutherford, Bohr, Broglie, Eddington, Pauli, Schrodinger, Heisenberg, Friedman, Lemaitre, Hobble, Gamow, Hoyle, Meitner, Fermi, Oppenheimer, Strassman, Hahn, Flaming, Pauline, Watson, Crick, Gell-Mann, Wheeler, Hugh Everett, John Bell, Alan Aspect, Alan Guth; where are Africa’s technological equivalents of James Watt, Alexander Graham, Bell, Thomas Edison, Rockefeller, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and so on.
And while at it what Africans discovered electricity in Africa? What exactly has Africans demonstrably given to the world in the world of science and technology? Are trains, cars, airplanes, radio, television, computer, Internet, microwave oven, fridge, air conditioner etc. invented in Africa? What exactly has Africa discovered to make it this land of geniuses of Dr. Ben’s fantasy?
Give me a break, will you. One is not putting Africa down for one knows that Africans are as good as other people but what irks one is Africans deliberately setting out to tell lies about their past. The present Africa is one of human suffering and starvation, misgovernment and everything bad in humanity. Africa needs to become a project for modernization rather than celebrated as light on the hill.
This book is one long make belief story of how everything we accept as important in the world is of African origin. I do not think that it is necessary to take any particular idea from it and examine it closely, for none of them is true.
I am not comfortable with lies. I understand that Dr. Ben’s lies appeal to those Africans who felt devastated by colonialism and racism, who were made to feel inferior by Western civilization and are looking for a way to feel that they as Africans are good, are even superior to white folks. I do not think that a people’s self-esteem should be based on lies.
I am not interested in black supremacy or white supremacy. I am only interested in what benefits all humanity, not what elevates some and denigrates others.
This book is garbage, I am sorry to say that. Since some African American studies departments apparently have their students read this book I can now understand why graduates of these programs are ill-educated.
Go study the physical sciences and stop massaging data from the past to prove the improvable: that some human beings are better than others and generated all others civilizations. Intelligence is not given to only one group of people; all people are independently intelligent and therefore can generate civilization in their local world. Indians initiated their civilization. Chinese initiated their civilization (we do not have to build on a couple black figures discovered in China to say that Africans are responsible for Chinese civilization).
Europe generated its civilization, influenced by other civilizations, of course; there is such a thing as cultural diffusion; all cultures influence all cultures they come in contact with; but to say that Africa shaped Europe is absurd. This book is a pile of rubbish.
Those who write such trash should undergo psychotherapy to find out why they have obsessive-compulsive desire to present stories that make some people superior to others.
Someone should have compelled Adolf Hitler to see his fellow Viennese, Alfred Adler, for Individual psychological therapy; that would have enabled him to understand his individual psychology, his inordinate sense of inferiority and efforts to compensate with a superiority feeling that put other persons down, and prevented the world from his murderous rampage to make it seem that he and his people are superior to other people. All Human beings are the same and equal.
Dr. Ben would have benefited from a psychotherapy that made him see himself as the equal and same with all human beings so that he did not run around talking trash about how the black race is the mother of all that is good in other races’ civilizations.
We must learn to appreciate what is good in all people and not elevate one above others. Read Dr. Ben’s book if you must; however, what it is trying to say has been better articulated by more refined writers, such as Cheikh Anta Diop (African Origin of Civilization) and John G. Jackson (Introduction to African Civilizations).
July 2, 2012