song du jour: Constant Rain, Sergio Mendez

mood: listening to the rain from atop my soapbox

I must be in ESP mode, because I keep writing in my head only to find, less than an hour later, that someone is talking or blogging examples of the very same subject. It's happened twice today. The second time was while I was skimming Egyptology News with my same old arguments and outrages going round in my head at people, who are upset about the current Tutankhamen exhibition. I was asking myself if I finally had the courage to blog them when I noticed a new RSS entry in my reader from Matthew

In a 1997 Salon.com column, Paglia discusses Afro-centric interpretations of Egyptian artwork, and the paradox of it in its extreme posture:

Militant Afrocentrism has stirred up poisonous resentment against the supposed European suppression and erasure of Egyptian culture. In point of fact, it was Africans who almost immediately looted and smashed up the royal tombs and afterward neglected or stripped and dismantled the sacred monuments. The great Egyptian sites, including Deir el Bahri, Karnak and Abu Simbel, were piles of rubble buried in sand for 2000 years until Europeans took an interest in them.

...Egypt and all of Africa deserve a much expanded place in the academic curriculum, —but not at the expense of European intellectual history, which invented the very tools that multiculturalism needs to understand the world.

Here here. I would dare to say that the term 'Afrocentrism' is even wackier than 'Eurocentrism' because it collapses even greater glorious diversity into a single 'ism.' Oh, how flatland. During my second trip to Egypt, I lived on a street that specialized in foreigners. (I was the American oddity as far as my neighbors were concerned.) There were a great number of people from Ethiopia, Sudan, and Somalia. Twice I went to Aswan, which was once part of Nubia. As an artist, who is endlessly fascinated by the infinite beauty and variety of shapes, sizes, and colors that human beings come in, I was lucky I was in a culture where staring is not considered rude for I could never take my eyes off the women from Somalia. Most have the most delicate facial bone structure I've ever seen, and the undertones of skin colors of people from a relatively small geographic chunk of Africa run a gorgeous range of reds,ochress, and sepias for which the generic term 'African' cannot even hint. I haven't even begun to talk about the diversity of art and culture. Top 40 music in North Carolina sounds the same in California, not so the music of east and west Africa.

In another part of Paglia's column not quoted here, she discusses the vast misinterpretation of Martin Bernal's book Black Athena, which I read back in collage and which I'll agree with Paglia has been misinterpreted and misused simply because of what its title suggests and not because of any (really boring) scholarship inside. Now frankly, I'm willing to give Africa ultimate credit for everything. Unless someone digs up older homo _____ bones on some other continent, it's really the motherland for us all, but if you're going to insist that Cleopatra was black, you'd better read up on some Egyptian history, because she was in fact Macedonian, a descendant of General Ptolemy, later known as Sotor, and appointed by Alexander the Great, whom Macedonians get really upset if you refer to as Greek. I get a little upset with the appropriation of famous people to any group, ethnic or social. It's like when people, who think they know who they were in past lives insist they were scribes in Egypt. Ever notice no one ever says "I was a latrine cleaner in ancient Egypt?" Oh, and to Anne Rice, you picked the wrong Cleopatra in the book The Mummy. Cleo the VII is the famous one not Cleo the VI.

But here is my big question to everyone, who is upset that the recent reconstructions of King Tut are too pale: If the ancient Egyptians were ethnically the same as sub-Saharran Africans (as if, as I've already said, it weren't horribly offensive to reduce millions of people to looking exactly alike), where did they go? Alexandria may have been a hub for slave trade in Roman times, but it was merely a central location where humans from all over the empire were ruthlessly traded as a commodity. Egypt was not emptied of its citizens. The Arabians came thru with the rise of Islam, and while a few stayed and intermarried, they most certainly did not obliterate the existing population. Ask a modern Egyptian about this bit of controversy, and you'll get a response that loosely translates into "What am I? Chopped liver?!? I didn't just pop up here from no where you know." Don't even try suggesting the pyramids were built by aliens.

Back in Cairo, Skyler has a cousin, whose giant eyes are so almond shaped, you really can almost see them (one at a time that is) as frontal when she's in profile, and I have a friend, who is a dead ringer for King Tut. I've gotten, or rather avoided getting into this argument too many times, because it's so unP.C. Anyone who takes this same side is considered racist, and with me, people couldn't be barking up a more wrong tree. In the end, we can't just select what we like out of history and ignore the rest - like redneck southern whites, who talk of being Ango Saxon, forgetting William the Conqueror and that most Appalachian whites are a mix of English (which is made up of far more than the Angles and Saxons) and Scotch Irish (Celts, who were no friends of the Angles or the Saxons), not to mention often Native American and West African. Those urban legends about statue rhynoplasty, from Nefertiti to the Sphinx at Giza are just that, legends. The Germans didn't make substitutions and Napoleon didn't fire a cannon to make all of Europe think they can claim the Egyptians as theirs. I still champion the idea that those who saved, conserved, and are taking the best care of the monuments may hang onto them for the time being. If Dr. Zahi Hawass wants the Rosetta Stone, he can damned well go save the Valley of the Kings from more devastation first, but the only people who can claim the ancient Egyptians are the Egyptians themselves.

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