The Latin phrase “Semper novi quid ex Africa!” translates literally as “Always something new comes out of Africa.” It is attributed to Pliny the Elder, a Roman proconsul and writer from the first century AD. Pliny used this statement to highlight the continuous discovery of remarkable things emerging from the continent of Africa.
As we celebrate June 19 as Juneteenth or Freedom Day in the U.S., which was recognized as a federal holiday for the first time in 2021, and commemorate the emancipation of our African American brothers and sisters in Texas and later throughout the Confederate South, it is crucial for people of African descent and individuals from all communities to reflect on how humanity reached the deplorable point of commodifying, merchandising, objectifying, and profiting from the sale of human beings solely based on the color of their skin.
This article delves into the origins of racism, tracing it through time and space to uncover the first and the last instances of racism. By utilizing Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis as presented in “Moses and Monotheism,” I will explore how the fundamental concept of otherness emerged and spread across civilizations, manifesting as anti-Black racism, Nordicism, Aryanism, nationalism, capitalism, socialism, and more, continuing to influence our present-day society.
Surprisingly, in line with Pliny the Elder's warning, this exploration will lead us to a somewhat amusing discovery: the first racist was found in Africa, and the hope is that the last racist will emerge from Africa.
The first racist
Scientific consensus affirms that human life originated in Africa around six to two million years ago. The first human state emerged in Africa (3273–2987 BCE) with Narmer or Menes unifying upper and lower Kemet, establishing the first Pharaonic dynasty. Kemet/Egypt thrived as a prosperous civilization, drawing diverse people and enduring various invasions and conquests. The magnificent inventions of ancient Kemet and Nubia, including pyramids, hieroglyphic writing, papyrus, medicine, calendars, shadufs, Meriotic script, Nubian architecture, jewelry and goldsmithing, Nubian archery, ironworking, mathematics, and irrigation systems, were so awe-inspiring that Shakespeare‘s Ancient Pistol exclaimed, “A foutre for the world, and worldings base! I speak of Africa, and golden joys.” To sustain such longevity and diversity, Kemet embodied the Ubuntu spirit — wisdom, science, inclusiveness, and tolerance fostered by polytheism.
In 1939, Freud's “Moses and Monotheism” challenged prevailing beliefs by revealing that Moses was actually born into a Kemetian household and had ties to Akhenaten, an early monotheist. Moses fled Kemet, perpetuating monotheism, and inspiring Judaism, then later, Christianity, and finally Islam. While these belief systems advocate peace and love, they also introduced concepts of otherness, dividing humanity with tragic consequences throughout history.
According to Bob Brier's 2011 book “A History of Ancient Egypt,” Akhenaten was the “Heretic Pharaoh,” and the “earliest recorded monotheist in the world.” Hence, I argue that he can be viewed as the first racist, as his belief system introduced unprecedented levels of division and bloodshed into human history from the massacres of “unbelievers,” “pagans,” “gentiles,” “infidels” in the Torah, the Bible or the Quran, to the current day's terrorist wars, passing by slave trades and colonialisms, sometimes justified by the Judeo-Christian religious myth of the “curse of Ham.”
Monotheistic religions and the ideology of the curse of Ham
The origins of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam can be traced back to Abraham. These three monotheistic religions also share a common reference to the religious myth of the “curse of Ham,” which is either based on folk mythology or passages in the Christian Bible, such as Genesis 9. The story recounts how Noah's son, Ham, mocked his father's nakedness, resulting in Noah cursing Ham's descendants to be slaves while blessing his other sons Shem and Japhet interpreted by racist ideologues as all white and non-black races of the world. While the original narrative does not explicitly mention skin color, over generations, all manners of racist proselytizers interpreted this so-called curse as applicable to Black people.
This interpretation served as a bizarrely twisted justification for the oppression, subjugation, and enslavement of black individuals over centuries. While not all adherents of these religions practiced slavery, the association of Blackness with inferiority and subjugation became deeply ingrained in the collective memory of certain cultures, leading to unimaginable suffering and dehumanization. This curse of Ham, bolstered by the perception of blackness as inferior, endured for 13 centuries during the Arab slave trade and the conquest of North Africa, as extensively detailed by Senegalese anthropologist Tidiane Ndiaye in his book “Le génocide voilé” (“Veiled Genocide”). It also persisted for five centuries through the European transatlantic slave trade, colonialism, and current-day neocolonialism.
Greek, Roman civilizations and the erasure of blackness
Greek and Roman civilizations are widely admired worldwide, with countless tourists flocking to ancient cities like Sparta each year. We owe much to these civilizations, and their influence is deeply imprinted in our knowledge and language. It is common to emphasize the “roots” of words through Greek, Roman, or Latin etymology. However, what is often overlooked is that many of these famous Greek scholars acquired their knowledge from Egypt/Africa.
Authors such as Cheik Anta Diop (1974) “The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality,” Martin Bernal (1987) “Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization,” Chancellor Williams (1971), “The Destruction of Black Civilization,” and George James, to name a few, have extensively demonstrated the profound impact and influence of African civilizations on the rise of Greek and Roman civilizations. For instance, in his book “Stolen Legacy: Greek Philosophy is Stolen Egyptian Philosophy,” (1954), George James demonstrates that the ancient Greeks were not the original authors of Greek philosophy. Instead, he shows that their philosophical ideas and concepts were predominantly borrowed or stolen from ancient Egyptians. James also demonstrates that Alexander the Great invaded Egypt, seized the Royal Library at Alexandria, and plundered its contents. Aristotle, in particular, was shown to have derived his ideas from these stolen books and established his school within the library.
Thus, while we continue to revere Greek and Roman achievements, it is crucial to acknowledge the significant contributions and intellectual foundations laid by African civilizations, which have often been overshadowed or deliberately erased from history.
Renaissance, modernity, and the rebirth of anti-Black racism
The Renaissance marked a pivotal shift from the Middle Ages to modernity, drawing inspiration from classical antiquity's ideas and accomplishments. Scientific and technological advancements, along with the influence of humanism and the Enlightenment, shaped the trajectory of modern society, largely influenced by the legacy of Greco-Roman civilization. However, this era of enlightenment and progress was marred by an alarming resurgence of “scientific” racism, unlike anything seen before.
In 1550–1551, scholars in Valladolid, Spain, convened a formal debate to question the humanity and existence of souls within Indigenous peoples of the Americas, not to mention enslaved Africans in the Americas. The conference unveiled a chapter in history where certain individuals descended to the level of denying the very humanity of others, subjecting them to a state of social death. Scientific racism emerged as an attempt to justify the slave trade and colonialism, promoting Aryanism, Nordicism, etc. — the alleged superiority of white Europeans over other “races.”
Tragically, influential European authors of the time supported this obnoxious belief system and dabbled in the pseudoscience of racist theorizing that was rife in their era. Consequently, Carl Linnaeus, a renowned Swedish botanist, physician and racist theorist, categorized humans into “races” in his “Systema Naturae” (1735), assigning inherent inferiority to Black people. Likewise, Arthur de Gobineau, a French diplomat, author, and racist propagandist, propagated racist theories through his “An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races” (1853–1855), where he maliciously portrayed Black people as intellectually and morally inferior to white, yellow and brown “races.” These authors and their followers perpetuated harmful stereotypes, contributing to the dehumanization of black people that somewhat persists to date.
Furthermore, Napoleon Bonaparte's invasion of Egypt (1798–1801) intensified Western civilization's destructive tendencies towards Egyptian and African civilizations that started in the Greco-Roman era. Motivated by a desire for cultural and intellectual dominance following the disastrous outing of his soldiers in the famous Haitian Revolution, Napoleon's forces engaged in the looting and theft of valuable scientific and cultural documentation, significant artifacts, including the Rosetta Stone, statues, sculptures, and antiquities featuring Egyptian gods, sphinxes, obelisks, and mummies.
The last racist
“Semper novi quid ex Africa!” The origins of anti-Black racism can be traced back to the monotheistic dualistic, Manichean belief system introduced by Akhenaton and perpetuated through subsequent civilizations. However, the solution to racism lies in the African notion of “Ubuntu” comprising its authentic versions in all other cultures.
Ubuntu is a philosophical concept rooted in African cultures, where the same central idea is variously expressed using different concepts. It goes beyond nation-states, and highlights the interconnectedness and interdependence of individuals, nature, culture, and environment within a community. Ubuntu emphasizes that true humanity is derived from meaningful relationships with others, promoting empathy, compassion, and respect. It emphasizes the collective well-being of the community over individual pursuits, fostering solidarity and cooperation.
At the core of Ubuntu is the understanding that individuals and nations/states exist within a broader social fabric and bear responsibilities towards others. This concept stands in opposition to prevailing “realist” theories in international relations and economics that view the world as an anarchic system driven by power dynamics, profit-seeking (capitalism/socialism), or the survival of the fittest ideology promoted by social Darwinists.
Ubuntu promotes the values of reconciliation, forgiveness, and conflict resolution through dialogue and understanding. The last racist will be the last human being to embrace the Ubuntu philosophy transcending “race,” culture, ethnicity, and national boundaries for a real authentic human family.