Racism: Where Young Earth Creationism and Afrocentrism Meet

In the New York Times today is an article on the overwhelming evidence that our first human ancestors were from either southeast or southwest Africa, and they resembled the San Bushmen. In other words, they were black. 

More than a decade ago, there was a rather well received book (among professional academics) called Not Out of Africa in which a classicist scholar (Mary Lefkowitz) methodically dismantled the racially and politically motivated Afrocentrist movement’s assertions that ancient Egypt was a black culture led by predominantly black Pharaohs, and that Greece owed it’s intellectual and cultural innovations to black Africa.

Some cried foul, and suggested that it was insensitive and unbecoming of a white academic to so thoroughly and painstakingly point out the obvious: that a racist ideology with its own eccentric mythologies and interpretations of history, and impervious to well established facts, was making outlandish historical claims, easily refuted.

Lefkowitz, no racist herself, insisted on the importance, if we are to live in a rational world, of absorbing the facts of history as they are—and not as we would like them to be. In other words, we might have our own opinions about the facts of history, and what they ultimately mean, but a rational person does not make up his or her own facts out of thin air simply because he or she thinks that they might advance some racial, religious, or cultural movement.

I believe that there is an exact racial analog to Afrocentrism functioning within the white Evangelical and fundamentalist community. That analog is young earth creationism, in which there is an assertion that the first people in history came out of Mesopotamia, from a once existing garden paradise (the Garden of Eden) along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and not out of Africa (as scientists and linguists emphatically assert).

But most white Evangelicals and fundamentalists not only believe that humanity’s first parents came from Mesopotamia, they also take for granted that Adam and Eve’s ethnicity was conventionally “white.” Below, for example, is the model of Adam and Eve shown to people visiting the young earth Creation Museum in Kentucky:

1a-w-n-adam-model-was-a-gay-pornstar

If there was an equivalent Afrocentrism Museum built somewhere that so grossly misrepresented what historians and scientists have learned about our human history and ancestry, there would no doubt be a great deal of derision heaped upon the museum. And while it is true that the young earth Creation Museum in Kentucky has received its (thoroughly deserved) share of intellectual pillorying on the grounds that it contradicts evolution, one element that has been politely sidestepped is its blatant racism.

To assert, in the 21st century, that humanity’s first parents did not come out of Africa is no less ridiculous (and ultimately racist) than to assert that the history of Greece and Egypt was dominated by the achievements of black Africans. In other words, when white Evangelicals and fundamentalists show picture books to their children depicting Adam and Eve and all the early humans (such as Noah) as white, it is no different from Afrocentrists teaching their kids that all great Egyptians were black, and that Egyptians gave Greece their intellectual and cultural innovations. In both cases, children are being taught racist and ahistorical nonsense. Our earliest human ancestors looked like the San Bushmen of southwest Africa, and may have even used a click language like the San people do now. These are facts, (as the New York Times today so thoroughly surveyed). The evidence is simply overwhelming that the ancestors of all modern humans living today came from either the southeast or southwest part of Africa, and were most closely related to the San people of southwest Africa (who are still living there today).

Put differently: “Adam and Eve”—or the first modern human ancestors of all living people today—whatever name you give them—were black—and not white. Period. And to deny this in the 21st century, and to teach something otherwise to your children, is not just a gross distortion of history, but racist.

That’s my opinion. What’s yours?

Below is an image of a white Adam and Eve, in Mesopotamia’s Garden of Eden, from a children’s book:

1a-w-q-and-they-were-white

 

 

And here’s a nineteenth century racist depiction of a white Noah (the father supposedly of all humans after the Great Flood) and his apparently all white family. (It makes you wonder where the artist supposed that black, brown, and Asian people came from):

4a-noahs-family

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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6 Responses to Racism: Where Young Earth Creationism and Afrocentrism Meet

  1. Jared K. says:

    Wouldn’t the earliest known humans in Mesootamia also be dark-skinned? At least, even if humanity literally began in the middle east, wouldn’t the first humans still look nothing like the drawings in kids books?

    And don’t forget, there are plenty of fundamentalists who think Jesus was tall, blue-eyed, dirty-blonde white guy.

    I don’t doubt that there is some truth to your theory that images of a white adam and eve are due to racism. But I think for many American Christians, there is simply a tendency to mindlessly project their own culture onto Jesus and other historical or religious figures. Evangelicals use the familiar to try to foster a personal feeling of connection between us and Jesus (whether or not that is a ridiculous thing to do is another matter).

    I’ve seen a few African Jesuses in my day (rather than the short, brown-skinned first century Jew that he was). I think this is just a way to help blacks relate to Jesus in their worship services–I don’t necessarily think it is a racist move–though it could be I suppose.

    And I’m sure you are right that there are racist white Christians who project white onto these historical and religous figures for that reason.

    As for Adam and Eve, I have no idea. A rigidly literal interpretation gives you some trouble, but Genesis strikes as me as demanding a flexible interpretation–even from a very conservative reading.

    I am not compelled to reject the theory as described in the NY Times, other than to say that it strikes me as overconfident to say we know this type of thing with any certainty. However, I’m completely okay with acknowledging that all the evidence points in this direction.

  2. aunty dawkins says:

    Santi
    Jesus as Jew was probably more white looking than black.If Noah and other Jewish persons in the old Testament ever existed, similarly so. Since you give no literal creedance to the Bible anyway I don’t see your point. The real Adam and Eve,as forefathers of the human race could be anything from black, brown through yellow to white, or to go back far enough colourless amoebae. They, like Noah etc.are characters in the writings of the ancient Jewish people. Not many believe their writings were infallible and dictated by the ‘holy spirit’ anymore.

  3. santitafarella says:

    Aunty Dawkins:

    You may be right that I am beating a dead horse here—but on the other hand, there are an awful lot of people who still treat Genesis literally. And so maybe there’s nothing I can say here that would change someone’s mind about literalism. I suppose that, to most of those who stumble on this site, I am just stating the obvious—or preaching to the choir.

    —Santi

  4. santitafarella says:

    Jared,

    You said: “I think for many American Christians, there is simply a tendency to mindlessly project their own culture onto Jesus . . .”

    I think that anytime we do an “aw shucks” and declare that we weren’t really paying attention—and weren’t conscious of what we were doing—that we usually know exactly what we were doing—but didn’t want to look or think about it.

    And it’s not culture—it’s race—that is being projected—and if it is mindless it is because we are choosing not to see it.

    —Santi

  5. Angela says:

    The problem with your argument is in stereotyping evangelicals as white, when in fact, most American blacks subscribe to various forms of Christian fundamentalism which teach creationism as well. There is no racial agenda in the western understanding of the Genesis creation myths. It is entirely natural that people will imagine the characters in mythology as similar to themselves because the myths are MEANT to have universal relevance. The characters are symbols of universal “truths” which can only have meaning to individuals if they are integrated into the individual’s cognitive map of reality. The details of how we imagine the characters and their physical attributes are necessarily culture-bound and have nothing to do with racism.

  6. santitafarella says:

    Angela:

    Stereotyping is a loaded word. I don’t appreciate it directed at me. The fact is that white Evangelicals built the Creation Museum and could have made Adam and Eve Mesopotamian looking or African looking (as the earliest humans actually were). They did not do this. And if you are an African American, and you walk through the Creation Museum with your children, you will not find a depiction of the first humans that bears any resemblance to what science has actually discovered about the issue. You will get the standard white racist version of early human history (that all of its chief actors, from the first parents to Noah, were whites with European features). And even if racial bias is “natural” (your word), it does not mean that you don’t resist it if you regard the consequences as evil. Do you have free will, or not?

    —Santi

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