Angry Black Male Studying Black Antiquity
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Tristan Samuels is a MA student in Egyptology via the Near East Studies progam at the University of Toronto. His major research centers on race in antiquity and the relationship between Kemet (ancient Egypt) & Nubia.
I’m a Black male university student born and residing in Toronto: a city that thinks multiculturalism is anti-racism (oh the fallaciousness). I’ve have a Classics BA and I’m currently studying Egyptology in an MA program. As the subtitle indicates, I study Blacks in the ancient record through these fields. In Classics, I was able to write a BA thesis on Greek and Roman perceptions of Black people and I saw much enthusiasm for my work at conferences. In Egyptology, I have a professor who has no problem acknowledging that the ancient Egyptians were Black/African. In addition, I have a professor that shows interest in my application of critical race theory.
However, I have been characterized as an angry black person. The most direct was in an introductory course for Near Eastern archaeology which was really the first time that I got a true understanding of what I was up against. The professor was a Syro-Mesopotamian specialist. I argued, in my essay proposal, that the ancient Egyptians were African/Black and, in turn, the Nubian rulers of Egypt (ca. 800 BC) should not be called ‘the Black Pharaohs’. The portrayal of the Nubians as the bonafide Black people of antiquity means an imposition, deliberately or subconsciously, of whiteness onto the ancient egyptians. Ex: calling those Nubian rulers “black pharaohs” sneakingly implies that the indigenous Egyptian rulers were “white”. A good example of this is the New national Geographic rise of the black pharaohs documentary on the Kushite/Nubian dynasty. My professor, framing himself in a ‘progressive’ sort of way, accused me of “racism in reverse” because I brought up race. However, I never made the claim that Ancient Egypt was superior because it was a Black civilization. I simply said that the ancient Egyptians’ identity is misinterpreted because of Eurocentric racialism and that Black identity is more complex than treated in Egyptological literature. So, I sent him a response e-mail clarifying my intentions – I got no response. So, I let my writing do the talking. I made sure to include a comprehensive section on
white privilege and white normativity. I got 92%, but that does not eclipse the bigger problem: A Black Male challenging epistemology is treated as a threat.
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My issue in Classics has come through publishing issues. I had submitted a work on the Herodotus, a famous Greek historian, perception of Black bodies to a joint British-US journal. The first readers, there were two anonymous readers, said that I needed to revise which I certainly agreed. However, some comments troubled me. Reader A felt I just needed slight additions but suggested my tone was inappropriate because of this comment: “McCoskey’s approach is sound for the most part, but she underestimates…”. Reader A felt that I was treating McCoskey as a grad student. I just specified a particular problem in her work – why the tone policing? They shouldn’t *know* that I’m black per se, being that I don’t have to disclose my identity, but I believe it was assumed because of my essay’s subject matter. I take it as ‘okay, but remember your place Negro’. Reader B argued that I was being anachronistic in calling Herodotus racist. More specific, this reader thought that Herodotus accusing Black men of hypersexuality and describing them as having black semen “unlike other men” did not constitute racism. Apparently, I was being too simplistic. It is quite disturbing that this explicit sexualizing of Black men is not understood as such. I seriously wonder if the reader believed one or two of those stereotypes. While I got a 2nd attempt, these response are very problematic.
The 2nd reading was done by one referee and yielded interesting results. Itwas 3 or 4 days after I resubmitted – that is fast. The reader, which was clearly a different person, strongly disagreed. My critique of classical scholarship’s handling of Herodotus & Blackness was dismissed as “mud-slinging” – I’m just a real angry black person I guess. I was also told that I didn’t “get” D.E. McCoskey’s book, Race: Antiquity and its Legacy (I.B. Tauris, 2012), even though I wrote a published review on that very piece. In fact, I cited that review in my essay, so that the reader could go to it for further discussion of her mishandling of Blackness. I guess to him I don’t have the intellectual capacity to critique her. This reader also accused me of playing the race card. So, this reader definitely assumed that I was Black. I never once accused any scholar of racism and, in fact, two of the classicists that I critiqued are Black. It was very clear to me that the reader was polemical and saw my work as a threat to his white supremacist fantasy.
I responded to the editor to notify him that I appreciated the second opportunity, though I found the review perplexing. He, definitely a white male, responded telling me that he is a professor and that I needed to “learn some manners”. I could hear a ‘boy’ at the end of that sentence. I responded stating that he was in no place to make such character judgments about me and emphasized that I simply disagreed with the reader. His only response “I’m not a doctor” – I had referred to him as “Dr.” Again there is this sense that Black bodies are animalistic/savage in need of taming.
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While I’ve grown up race-conscious, I’m starting to really understand the depth of anti-Blackness in a way I never understood before – something only experience can teach you. No matter how logical the arguments you put forth, your resistance is a threat. The Blackness of ancient Egypt is a means of dismantling ‘civilization’ – a concept so dear to the White gaze. It cannot fathom a role where it is not in power. When we refuse to fit or compromise ourselves for whiteness we are uncontrollable (e.g. militant, angry). Whiteness can only see its de-centering as an act of reverse racism because they cannot fathom a world where they do not control us. You see, the only ‘peace’ and ‘balance’ for the White supremacist is one where people of color know their place, or else they are nothing but angry savages in the chaotic realms of otherness.