Deconstructing pseudo-scientific anthropology: Antenor Firmin and the reconceptualization of African humanity.

Author:Williams, Gershom

"The science of inequality is emphatically a science of White people. It is they who have invented it, and set it going, who have maintained, cherished and propagated it, thanks to their observations and their deductions."-Jean Finot-Race Prejudice (1907)

"A preponderance of (fossil) and genetic evidence has revealed, virtually beyond a doubt, that the same Europeans who created the idea of race and White supremacy are the genetic progeny of the very Africans they devalued."--Salim Muwakkil--Chicago Tribune


In studying the post 1492 Western intellectual heritage and tradition, one can easily discern the centrality of White racial superiority, operating as a collective core value in Euro-American life and culture. This clearly manifested reality of Caucasian de-spirituality and psychic imbalance is well documented in articles, essays and textbooks authored by both the oppressor and the colonized oppressed.

From the leaders of early slave resistance and revolts in the Caribbean, Brazil, and the United States to David Walker, Frederick Douglass, Dubois, Woodson, Garvey, Malcolm and Fanon, they have all been correct in stating that "the key to the White man's impact has been in his influence on other people's minds." The aforementioned writers have been eloquent in documenting the subversion of their people's minds and lives. The premise of so-called third world authors says that the most devastating impact of the White man was fundamentally psychological. (Gladwin and Saidin 1980, introduction) As author Toni Morrison has so succinctly stated, "A good deal of time and intelligence has been invested in the exposure of racism and the horrific results on its objects ... That well established study should be joined with another, equally important one: the impact of racism on those who perpetuate it. The scholarship that looks into the mind, imagination, and behavior of slaves is valuable. But equally valuable is a serious intellectual effort to see what racial ideology does to the mind, imagination, and behavior of masters." (Morrison 1992: 11-12)

As though she was instinctively anticipating the intellectual recommendation of Morrison, anthropologist and author Marimba Ani has written one of the most comprehensive and elucidating African centered studies of Euro-American consciousness and worldview. Her text is titled, Yurugu: An African-Centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior (1994). From the introduction written by the late Professor John Henrik Clarke, we extract the following: ". In their conquest of the minds of most of mankind, they have been able to convince themselves and others that they were indispensable to civilization and without them, it would not have existed ... In the 15th and 16th centuries Europeans not only colonized most of the world, they colonized information about the world. They developed monopoly control over concepts and images. The hallmark of their colonization in this regard was the colonization of the image of God."

In Yurugu, Ani attempts to uncover the roots of anti-Africanism and European imperialistic consciousness in the discipline of anthropology. In her introduction to the text she writes, "The secret Europeans discovered early in their history is that culture carries rules for thinking, and that if you could impose your culture on your victims, you could limit the creativity of their vision, destroying their ability to act with will and intent and in their own best interest. This book discusses the evolution of that process of imposition as well as the characteristics of cultural beings who find it necessary to impose their will on others. It is not a simple process to explain since the tools we need in order to dissect it have been taken from us through colonial mis-education." (Ani 1994; 1-3)

The Kenyan writer, Ngugi wa Thiongo has articulated that the European 'cultural bomb' dropped on African descended peoples, has been more dangerous and destructive than political, economic or military weapons. "The effect of a cultural bomb is to annihilate a people's belief in their names, in their languages, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately in themselves. It makes them see their past as one vast wasteland of non-achievement and it makes them want to distance themselves from that wasteland. It makes them want to identify with that which is furthest removed from themselves ... with other people's languages rather than their own." (Mills 1997: 88-89, Asante 1990: 119-120)

Racism (White Supremacy) as an ideology, needs to be understood as aiming at the minds of non-White, people of color, as well as the mindset of White folks inculcating subjugation. Religious and philosophical racism in the early era of the American republic soon blossomed into scientific and institutional racism visibly apparent in the social science disciplines of history and anthropology.

The dogma and doctrine of the Euro-American 'race myth' was crafted, disseminated and embraced by mainstream academics and laypersons, all whom ingested and internalized the venomous rhetoric of racial ranking and hierarchy. African American, Haitian, Brazilian and diasporan intellectual resistance and rejection of scientific racism has also been constantly prevalent. Once Africans exiled and enslaved in the Western world achieved competent levels of literacy in the colonial language, they struggled to vindicate their humanity and to aggressively combat the dominate culture's attempts to disrespect, misrepresent and de-humanize them.

Black Intellectual Resistance to Scientific Racism in History and Anthropology

According to renowned author and anti-racist theorist, Toni Morrison, African-Americans despite their enslavement and oppression in America, collectively have voiced counterarguments that passionately attempted to venerate their humanity and combat the 'race' myth. She writes, "For three hundred years Black Americans' insisted that 'race' was no usefully distinguishing factor in human relationships. During these same three centuries every academic discipline. insisted that 'race' was the determining factor in human development." (Morrison 1989: 3)

Speaking at the annual meeting of The Organization of American Historians, Leon Litwack professor of history at the University of California at Berkeley indicted past historians for perpetuating racism. He called on his present day colleagues to help heal this intellectual wounding of American minds. "No group of scholars was more deeply implicated in the miseducation of American youth and did more to shape the thinking of generations of Americans about race and Blacks than historians.whether by neglect or distortion, the scholarly monographs and textbooks they authored perpetuated racial myths and stereotypes." (Litwack 1987: 2)

I am most inclined to agree with Professor Litwack's timely and much needed criticism of White American historiography and institutional racism in education. As anti-racist psychologist Amos Wilson (1993: 2) has written, "Eurocentric historiography is the most formidable ally of White racism and imperialism ... Every Eurocentric social institution conspires with Eurocentric historiography to handcuff and incarcerate Afrikan consciousness." However, I would hasten to include another significant group of highly influential academics, who must also bear the blame and share the shame for propagandizing pseudo-scientific racism.

Anthropologists, particularly since the mid nineteenth century and beyond, have written and spoken in favor of racial hierarchies and socio-economic inequalities. Since the genesis of the Euro-American school of anthropology, numerous proponents of the White superiority/Black inferiority 'race myth' have articulated racist dogma and data that attempted to provide a convenient rationalization for the enslavement and colonial oppression of African and Native American people.

Beginning in the mid nineteenth century, the racist theories of Arthur de Gobineau An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races (1853-1855) and Houston Stewart Chamberlain, (an intellectual mentor of Adolph Hitler) and numerous others sought to give the stamp of scientific approval to theories of mental and intellectual differences according to race. According to the false and fabricated ideology of the latter racist thinkers, people of African ancestry have long been regarded in the Western tradition as biologically and intellectually inferior to Whites and Asians.

These early 'hereditarian' theories followed the belief also propagated by the 'polygenist thesis' that racial differences had existed from the beginning of humanity. Initiated by the influential French anatomist Georges Cuvier, who in the early nineteenth century classified or categorized modern humans (Homo sapiens) as divided into three major subspecies; Caucasian, Mongolian and Ethiopian. Each of these was further subdivided on the grounds of geographic, linguistic and physical differences. In 1817, Cuvier, commenting upon the French description of Egyptian antiquities said that the ancient Egyptians had skulls resembling Europeans. Judging by cranial capacity, Cuvier also stated that the Mongolian race had reached a plateau of development sometime in the past and that the Negro race had never progressed beyond barbarism. (Hoover 1976: 122) Cuvier represented the races as constituting a natural hierarchal ladder. This same line of reasoning was further developed in an international school of racial typology publically expressed in Britain by Charles Hamilton Smith (1848), and Robert Knox (1850), in France by Arthur de Gobineau (1853), in the United States by Samuel Morton (1839, 1844), Josiah Clark Nott and George Robbins Gliddon (1854) and in Germany by Karl Vogt (1863). This school has often been referred to as that of 'scientific racism'.

Another prominent contributor to the early American school of...

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