During the last few years, the catalogue of online slurs has grown considerably, but none has been as disturbing to me as the rise of the word “hotep.” What does the word mean? What is its significance to those who prize classical African civilisations? How have two forces collided to degrade the word, and whose interests does that degradation serve?
Joining me to discuss the issue is C.R. Sparrow. She’s a writer and assistant editor at Black Girl Nerds.com, an Africentric website, podcast, and video series addressing pop culture, politics, feminism, and technology. Sparrow describes herself as “an avid fan of science fiction, fantasy, and afrofuturism… an alumnus of Temple University's School of Media and Communication [and a] Black Queer Woman in a world that frequently attempts to dehumanize each of these identities. She actively centers Black/queer/woman-ness in her lens as she looks out at the world.”
Sparrow recently wrote a powerful article for BGN called “Hotep is the Modern Day A.B.S. and It’s Not OK”. After I read it, I knew I needed to speak with her for MF GALAXY.
I appreciate how Sparrow reinforced for me that people’s self-description is profoundly personal, and not easily changed or wished-away. I’m strongly reminded of the lesson from Elijah Muhammad: Tell a man he’s drinking dirty water, and he’ll resent you and keep on drinking. Instead, simply put a clean glass of water next to his and he’ll figure it out himself and maybe even thank you. My own lesson: If people aren’t buying, change your product, change your marketting, or change your market—but whatever you do, don’t blame the customer. It’ll get you the exact opposite of what you want.
For Canadian listeners, Sparrow uses the African-American colloquialism “bougie,” meaning “bourgeois,” and cites Kim Burrell, a gospel singer and pastor who has preached from her pulpit that LGBTQ folks are “perverted” and will die in 2017 from what she called their “sin.” Before her remarks surfaced, Burrell contributed a song to the soundtrack for Hidden Figures, a docu-drama about African women mathematical geniuses who were indispensable to the success of the US space programme.
Few people have done as much to promote the Africentric perspective as Molefi Kete Asante, the scholar, editor, and activist who wrote the seminal work Afrocentricity and furthered the intellectual movement for an African-centered scholarship and world-view that employs research for political liberation through the academic resuscitation of smothered history.
Asante has published over 400 articles, and has authored more than seventy books, among them Afrocentricity, African Pyramids of Knowledge, Ancient Egyptian Philosophers, and most recently, the memoir As I Run Toward Africa. The Utne Reader called him one of the “100 Leading Thinkers” in the United States, and he has appeared on Nightline, The MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour, The Today Show, The Tony Brown Show, and 60 Minutes.
The African Union cited him as one of the top twelve scholars of African descent when it invited him to give one of the keynote addresses at the Conference of Intellectuals of Africa and the Diaspora in Dakar in 2004. He’s currently Professor in the Department of African American Studies at Philadelphia’s Temple University.
Asante spoke with me by telephone from his office at Temple University in Philadelphia on August 12, 2010 (You’ll note that during our discussion I refer to the African continent as having only 54 countries, rather 55 with the creation of South Sudan in 2011). We discussed:
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Even today, Hollywood’s Pink-Washing produces Whitesupremacist revisionism of African civilisations through work such as The Gods of Egypt, Exodus: Gods and Kings, and the HBO series Rome whose second season visits Greek-occupied Egypt.
Fortunately, numerous scholars and activists have dedicated their lives to erasing such lies and restoring the truth about the Africanity of world-shaping ancient civilisations such as Ancient Egypt.
One such scholar-activist is Runoko Rashidi, an historian and world traveler who for decades has investigated the ancient migrations of Africans out of the mother continent and across the world. His work highlights the civilisations they founded and the titans they produced, especially in early Asia and Europe. He’s lectured in over 50 countries, and his articles have appeared in more than 75 publications.
Rashidi is the author of the books Introduction to the Study of African Classical Civilizations, The Global African Community: The African Presence in Asia, Australia and the South Pacific, and A Thousand Year History of the African Presence in Asia. With Ivan Van Sertima he co-edited The African Presence in Early Asia. For years he hosted educational tours of archeological sites.
In today’s episode, Rashidi discusses:
This episode’s conversation is one of the last interviews I recorded for my CJSR show Africentric Radio. Until now, it’s been entombed in the archives of the Grand Lodge of Imhotep—so I’m delighted to bring it forth by day for you. Runoko Rashidi spoke with me by telephone from his home in Los Angeles on February 26, 2012.
I began as I often do by asking him to talk about his favourite teacher. His response is powerfully introspective, revealing, and refreshingly honest.
The next time you feel like starting a blood feud, go to a Classics lecture on any American campus or to any American publishing house and say the following: “Egypt was a racially African civilisation. And it conquered and civilised Greece.”
As amply demonstrated by the growth industry in anti-Afrocentric publishing, North America’s racially-poisoned debates about nearly everything have made the discussion of the racial identity of a people from six thousand years ago almost as vicious as the fight in Syria right now.
Why the controversy? Because of what Martin Bernal, author of Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilisation, described as the contest between the Ancient Model and the Aryan model of ancient Greece and Egypt. The ancient Greeks made it clear that Egypt was their instructor and inspiration for nearly all the aspects of their civilisation; Europe believed this ancient testimony up until the age of imperialism. At that point it became morally and intellectually unfeasible to consider that those who were becoming the victims of the European Holocaust against Africa and the growing White world supremacy could be the grandfathers of European civilisation itself. The racism necessary to justify that conquest was never defeated, not even after the Nazis were, who were inspired by the same racist historical revisionism.
Enter Richard Poe, author of the controversial Black Spark, White Fire: Did African Explorers Civilise Ancient Europe?, a book whose trials of publication are almost as stunning as its revelations about the ancient world.
So, Poe must be an angry African writer with an Afrocentric spear to sharpen, right? The kind who wants nothing more than to smear and destroy the European canon? Hardly. Poe is an award-winning, pro-gun, pro-capitalism, right-wing American journalist, part Russian-Jewish, part Mexican, and best-selling author. So any notion that Poe is pandering to Black radicalism couldn’t be further from the truth. So is the idea that Poe cynically wrote the book to cash in on the Afrocentric movement.
In fact, Poe had a hell of a fight to get his book in print. White editors and publishers he approached either didn’t want a White writer to write the book, or didn’t want the book written at all. Some were upset of baffled by the notion of a African Egypt; one made bizarre reference to her fear that her mother might be mugged by Black criminals--as if this were relevant to an ancient civilisation thousands of kilometres away.
Some academics didn’t want to touch the issue--as Poe makes clear, established academics are sometimes professionally and personally vicious enough to young mavericks to destroy their careers; perhaps only a journalist, argues Poe, has the freedom to write such a book.
Some freedom--Poe ended up forking over $30,000 US of his own money to get the book researched, including the creation of artwork to display the forensic reconstruction of the face of an ancient Egyptian skull. And perhaps if famed Afrocentrist* professor, Dr. Molefi Kete Asante, head of Temple University’s African Studies Department, hadn’t written the introduction to this book, few Africans in the US might have taken the book seriously.
Neither White liberal nor Black radical, Poe is also unlike many Afrocentric Egyptologists in that he doesn’t regard the Greeks as mere historical plagiarists of greater, more ancient Egyptian genius. He is concerned neither with racial solidarity nor a political-academic agenda--his sole concern seems to be the truth, hence his sacrifices.
Highly accessible and jargon-free, Richard Poe’s Black Spark, White Fire is a dazzling voyage through the genealogy of human civilisation with forays into race, mysticism, science, philosophy, culture, and technology that one needn’t be a specialist or a classicist in order to follow.
I went far below the pharaoh’s chamber in the Grand Lodge of Imhotep archives for today’s conversation. Richard Poe spoke with me by telephone way back in April, 2000. He discussed:
We began by discussing the eternal relevance of history.
*Molefi Kete Asante is the author of the classic book Afrocentricity. Many who identify with his work and ideology are called Afrocentrists. Critics of their inquiry mislabel the movement as Afrocentrism. Any use in this blog entry of the prefix “Afro-” refers to Asante’s work or his movement. I use the term “Africentric” simply to mean “centered on Africa and from an African perspective.
To hear the hour-long, patrons-only extended edition of my conversation with Richard Poe, visit mfgalaxy.org to click on the Patreon link to become a sponsor for a dollar or more per week.
By funding MF GALAXY, you get access to all extended editions of the show, plus video excerpts from selected interviews as they become available. This extended edition includes Richard Poe discussing: