Jacob Carruthers, Intellectual Warfare. (Chicago: Third World Press, 1999)310 Pages.
A Book Review By Ozodi Osuji
I had asked a friend who is in the know about African American Studies at American Universities to recommend ten books that he felt that anyone interested in the field ought to read. He gave me a list and ranked them in order of importance. I read each and reviewed it for those who might want to read it, too. I have just got to Jacob Caruthers book, Intellectual warfare.
I must confess that because I read it last I read it without much enthusiasm primary because it is repeating what I had already read elsewhere. I was kind of bored hearing the same thing over and over, again. It seems that once one has read the first two or three books in this genre one has read them all and the others are repetitive.
Moreover, the title of this book is somewhat misleading. I had expected a robust debate on the war of the West with the non-west for intellectual leadership.
There are all kinds of wars, wars fought with bullets and wars fought with ideas. The West had declared war on the non-West for quite some time now. They had told non-Westerners that they are superior to them; they had claimed ownership of everything good in life. They made themselves the masters of the universe and this kind of makes non-Westerners to feel inferior.
Since no human being ever accepts that he is inferior to others, for to do so is to accept those persons’ leadership, those made to feel inferior fight back and try to prove that they are superior to those who claimed superiority to them.
You see, the West wanted to make itself seem superior to the rest of the world and if the rest of the world accepted that self-serving propaganda they would then look to the West to rule them and guide them. This is clever effort to make one’s self the leader of the rest of the world; it is psychological warfare.
Non-Westerners being human beings appreciated what the West was doing and fought back. Some fought back by trying to prove that they are superior to the West; others do so by trying to prove that they are the equals of the West. Some quietly try to acquire skills in science and technology so as to be able to compete with westerners and in the process prove that they are not deficient.
Asians adopted the last method. Today, they are almost as scientifically and technological developed as Europe. No European in his rational state of mind would go about saying that he is superior to the Chinese or Japanese or even Indian (Indians still have jarring poverty making it possible for rich Europeans to fancy that they are better than them).
African scholars traditionally talked about how Europe exploited Africans; perhaps, they were trying to engender guilt feeling in Western liberals.
Western conservatives do not even bother reading what Africans write so they do not know what Africans say. In so far that Western conservatives think about Africans poverty at all, they attribute it to Africans supposed lack of intelligence. They say that Africans are too dull to do what they need to do to transform their continent into a modern economy. They say: look at Africa, a continent with perhaps the most abundant natural resources but dumb Africans are too lazy to do something with their resources; African politicians are always stealing from their national treasuries and their people remain poor and they try to make white folks feel guilty for their suffering and come to their aid with some monetary handouts, money that they redirect into their personal pockets instead of use them to help their people. They tune out pictures of starving Africans they see on television. Some overtly say: let Africans die; what are they living for if they cannot develop their economies?
I had expected Dr. Caruthers to give the reader of his book a battle aimed at refuting Western assertions about Africans inadequacy. For example, I had expected him to tell me something about Murray and Heinstein’s claim in the Bell Curve that black folks are intellectually deficient, have lower IQ and that without affirmative action would not be able to get into America’s top one hundred universities and must settle for second tier universities; their claim that in the competitive world black folks cannot compete with white folks and therefore must settle for minor jobs, such as being bus drivers, janitors, postal clerks etc. I really wanted a robust war with the children of Europe, a war to put them in their place.
Instead, what I saw was a rehashing of what I had read in Chancellor Williams Destruction of Black Civilization and John Jacksons Introduction to African Civilizations. I read how ancient Egypt was a black civilization before white folks appropriated it, how black folks started the first civilizations and therefore the ones who civilized Europe (via the Greeks copying from Egypt).
I have heard these stories one million times and therefore did not hear anything new. I began to wonder whether black scholars can write something new other than make claims to ancient Egypt. Thus, I put the book away, bored.
I then asked myself whether Dr. Caruthers perhaps gave a new twist to the same old story. Every story teller, even if he is telling the same story told by other story tellers, gives his own twist to it. So, did Caruthers add something new to the old story of Egypt is African?
I know that African-Americans kind of feel an obsessive compulsion to prove that they started a civilization. White men had accused them of not starting anything big, presented them as being part of primitive Africans who did not start any great civilization. That kind of makes them feel inferior relative to Europeans so they latch onto the hypothesis that Egypt is Africa and harp on that over and over, again.
If they can make it stick that Egypt is African then it means that black folks started something big and important and that kind of washes away the accusation that they are primitive.
I understand the psychological role of the claim that Egypt is African for black Americans; it makes them feel civilized and important so they must latch unto it.
Personally, I do not have a need to prove that Egypt is African. I do not feel inferior to white men; I do not even consider Western civilization a civilization!
I consider Europe and North America primitive! I want to replace them with what seems to me a civilized state of human beings: loving people, not predatory people who go all over the world killing and stealing from people.
Whereas I do not consider myself a Christian, I am agnostic, I want a Christ based world, by that I mean a world based on love; a world where we love each other and serve each other’s needs rather than exploit each other (see Alfred Adler’s Individual Psychology).
I want the type of world that Jesus Christ talked about in his sermon on the mountain. The West is nowhere near that world so I had no reason to see the West as ideal and do not admire it.
Because I do not elevate the west to high heavens I do not have a need to prove that they are the product of Egypt/Africa.
The point is that I understand what African Americans are doing in their war with the white man and had expected Caruthers to give me that war, if only to entertain the part of my mind that enjoys competition, but, instead, he gave me a rehash of what I had read elsewhere.
Did he add something new to the same old, same old story of Egypt is Africa and Africa influenced the West? Let us see.
The book states that Western thought and civilization has its root in Africa; it says that Greek and Roman thought was influenced by Egyptian and Ethiopian thought; the Roman Empire, it says, is a byproduct of African civilization.
Dr. Caruthers examined what he believed is classic literature and from them inferred the role of Africa in shaping what most of us were led to believe had their root in the European world.
Greek philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle, he tells us were influenced by Egyptian philosophy. Dr. Caruthers wants his reader to discard the notion that the ideas we generally believe are Western is Western; he wants him to rethink such beliefs and come to the new belief that those ideas are, in fact, African ideas stolen by the West.
He wants to correct the situation and get us to see everything we see in our world as African in origin. In other words, do not give thanks to the white man for your civilization, instead give thanks to the black man for it.
Dr. Caruthers is presenting an African centered philosophy (afrocentricism), as opposed to Eurocentric philosophy. He wants his readers, who are expected to be African Americans, to be on the lookout lest their past civilization is stolen from them, again, and the West is given credit for what is rightfully their contribution to civilization.
Racist Americans, scholars and ordinary folk, deliberately set out to tell the world that Africans have contributed nothing to human civilization and, as such, that Africans are a deficient people, a people fit to be ruled by allegedly superior white folks.
Racist America deliberately damaged African Americans self-esteem and tried to destroy their self-confidence so that they would then look up to supposed superior white folks to rule them forever.
Naturally, African Americans realized what was been done to them and fought back; they fought back with efforts to show that they not only contributed to civilization but had the first civilizations, Sumer and Egypt.
If they can prove that those first civilizations were African then they would with one fell swoop rehabilitate their damaged self-esteem and carry their heads high, even feel superior to white folks (who allegedly lived in caves before Africa civilized them).
Make no mistake about it, there is an intellectual war going on out there; this is a war of the races; white folks declared this war on black folks and black folks have a right to fight back. In war every means that leads to defeat of the enemy is appropriate.
Dr. Carruthers designed an educational curriculum that would be Africa centered so that African Americans are taught about their contributions to Western civilization. His apparent goal is to make African-Americans to feel very proud of themselves after all if they are responsible for everything good in our world why shouldn’t they be proud of their past instead of be ashamed of it as they seem to be at the moment.
Dr. Caruthers wants to incorporate his views that Africa is the originator of civilization into America education. Indeed, he wants to rewrite American history and the history of Western civilization and give glory to Africa, not Greece or Rome or Paris or London or Washington for anything good in the West.
Dr. Carruthers goal is no less than total revolutionary alteration of what we currently believe is knowledge and its source.
Dr. Carruthers is one aggressive black man fighting white folk’s aggression with his own African aggression. Why not; is aggression only allowed the children of Europe? If Europeans can be aggressive so can Africans!
As an African I naturally sympathize with Dr. Caruthers goal. Alas, I also know that he is swimming against the current. He is living in the past, not present and future.
In the present most of us know who contributed what idea in physics, chemistry and biology. We know who invented what in the world of technology.
If we look at the world from Copernicus (1543) to the present we know who is who in science and technology. If we do not see African names in the mix there is nothing that Dr. Caruthers is saying that would make us not feel lacking.
I feel bad that Africans are not contributing to science and technology. I could care less if they kick started civilization five thousand years ago. I am interested in the now, today.
When I go to any American university department of physics, I seldom see black folks; I mostly see Asians and a handful of white folks. I ask why that is the case. I know why it is the case and this paper is not the place to grapple with that issue.
I am interested in increasing the representation of black folks in the sciences, now. If I see a list of Nobel Prize winners in the physical sciences and see black names on it I would feel good.
Telling me about Egypt is so much nonsense. What has Egypt got to do with Newton’s mechanics, Einstein’s relativity and Rutherford and Bohr’s quantum mechanics?
I do not live in the past; I live in the present. Common on you guys, let us be realistic and do what we have to do to get black kids into Caltech and MIT to study science and technology and not sit around talking about what happened five thousand years ago.
This book should be read when one has nothing better to do with one’s time and wants to kill time stimulating ones brain cells, neurons, with ideas, any kind of ideas. If you are bored and do crosswords puzzles it keeps your brain cells firing and engaged but that does not mean that you are learning anything useful in the economic world.
This book is something to be read for the sake of reading and keeping one’s mind busy not because it adds to the acquisition of new skills set that adapts to the twenty first century, a century with intertwined economics and to the best competitors goes the price.
We now need physical scientists, engineers and medical doctors, not afrocentrists; we need leaders in science and technology. Of course we also need some cultural leaders but not too many of them.
*The next paper is the concluding essay in this ten part series. In it I will look at the effect of Africans running around kidnaping their people and selling them to Arabs and white men for over one thousand years, on African society, culture, morality and individual psychologies.
July 6, 2012
Dr. Osuji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org