A Classics Scholar Defends the Greeks against Claims of Afrocentrists

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Not out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History

By Mary Lefkowitz

Basic Books, 222 pp., $24

This is one of those books that needed to be written if the racial and ethnic aspects of the culture wars in the United States are to be finally resolved.

In "Not Out of Africa," classics scholar Mary Lefkowitz cuts through and rebuts a series of myths, as she describes them, which deny that the ancient Greeks were the "inventors of democracy, philosophy, and science."

She puts down the argument ("myth" for her), advanced by some black scholars today, that the Greeks stole their ideas from black Egyptians in Africa. Along the way, she convincingly overturns the claims that Socrates and Cleopatra were black.

If such theories, which she neatly demolishes, seem somewhat inconsequential and removed from practical affairs, consider that they are taught in some Oregon public schools and in a number of universities across the US.

Why is it important, in her view, to challenge them and to reply to them with facts and arguments drawn from the best of scholarship?

At one level, she says, simple justice would seem to require that the Greeks get credit for their accomplishments.

But also, students are being "indoctrinated along party lines" and for political reasons, rather than being given all the evidence and taught how to make judgments for themselves.

Further, she herself was called a racist for challenging those who put forth such arguments.

She also found that other academics - including some administrators in universities - who agreed with her were not willing to stand up and speak for the value of debate in academic life.

Finally, Lefkowitz argues, if the so-called Afrocentrists who argue such views are allowed to bend historical facts and force objectivity and reasoned debate out of academic life, other ethnic groups will try exactly the same thing. …