Tabloid Apporach to Afrocentrism | Letters | Chicago Reader

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Tabloid Apporach to Afrocentrism

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In his article "Eyes on the Prize" (Reader 5/23/97), Gary Rivlin takes the high ground of criticizing as simplistic Mary Lefkowitz's work Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History. He claims that in the preface of her book Lefkowitz was surprised that certain scholars "denied that the ancient Greeks were the inventors of democracy, philosophy, and science." Rivlin then mistakenly concludes that, according to Lefkowitz, the ancient Greeks were the "inventors" of these three. What Lefkowitz was trying to convey, and Rivlin obviously misunderstood, was her surprise at writers who attacked the legitimate contributions of ancient Greeks to world culture. She is quite outspoken in her praise of ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and other ancient cultures, and readily admits their influence on ancient Greek culture, but drew the line against writers like George C. James, who fraudulently claimed in his book Stolen Legacy that the ancient Greeks "stole" their philosophy from the ancient Egyptians. Rivlin simply misrepresents Lefkowitz's work. Why didn't he inform the reader about Lefkowitz's prolonged critique of such writers as James, who unfortunately did exercise significant influence in certain circles, rather than incorrectly brandish her work as "simplistic"? If he thinks Lefkowitz is "surprisingly tabloid in [her] approach," then how tabloid might he think is his own approach that neither carefully analyzes Lefkowitz's thesis, nor of those writers that Lefkowitz analyzed? Or does Rivlin think that writers who invent or totally alter historical facts to appeal to their own or other people's needs (for glory, recognition, or just vain pride) are imbued with a deeper, more complicated sense of meaning? To attack Lefkowitz's work, instead of the causes for the popularity of books likes James's, is to try to destroy the messenger, instead of realizing that racism in this country has made it easier for demagogues to capitalize on people's need for recognition by offering them fictional historical accounts. Just because in the past Egypt was unjustifiably portrayed only as white doesn't mean that historians as a group necessarily agreed with such Hollywood accounts or that historians with "impressive-sounding credentials," among whom Rivlin the would-be kingmaker also includes Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., have misunderstood the Afrocentric debate. Lefkowitz devoted a minute portion of her book to an analysis of the educational issues that Rivlin beat his literary drums so loudly about, such as Afrocentric education at the elementary and high school levels. Where Lefkowitz did address the curriculum, it was an honest accounting of her experience at the college level where according to her view she was dumbfounded to learn about certain exaggerated claims made by certain Afrocentrists. Unfortunately, it is shallow and misrepresentative analyses like Rivlin's that drag the Reader even closer to the level of what Rivlin seems to dread, but didn't hesitate to emulate--the supermarket tabloid. I now ask myself whether I would ever bother reading a feature story by the Reader again, even if it is distributed free, since I would rather spend my free time reading something I can learn from, rather than have to approach it as just another mixed bag of facts and biased reporting. After all, if I want to laugh, I'd rather buy a real tabloid.

Alexander Makedon, PhD

N. Hampden Court

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