'Black Athena' and the American Dilemma

By Evans, James Allan | Contemporary Review, January 1998 | Go to article overview

'Black Athena' and the American Dilemma


Evans, James Allan, Contemporary Review


I was not one of the multitude who watched the O.J. Simpson criminal trial religiously on television, but I was probably one of the few who read Martin Bernal's Black Athena as it unfolded. My home in Vancouver on Canada's west coast is close enough to the United States for a curious onlooker but too far away for a committed spectator. But I did note that, as the trial neared its end, the correspondent for the Manchester Guardian Weekly wrote that if he were on the jury, he would find it difficult to vote for a guilty verdict. After the trial was over and the predominantly black jury had acquitted 'the Juice', I mentioned the Guardian's opinion to some friends in Seattle. They were astonished. They were white and had no doubt at all that Simpson was guilty.

In the civil trial which followed, where the prosecution did not have to prove Simpson's guilt beyond reasonable doubt but only to show a preponderance of evidence against him, a predominantly white jury repudiated the acquittal and awarded $8.5 million compensatory damages to the families of the two victims, Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman, and the following week added $25 million punitive damages. Goldman's father, who emerged sadder but wealthier, had a book ready for release as soon as the verdict was announced. But there were two jurors who voted against the huge punitive damage award. One of them felt the sum was too high, but the other, who was the only black juryman, born in Jamaica, and part Asian perhaps had mixed motives, but among them was probably the feeling that no black victim would have had a similar dollar value put upon his life. At the University of Maryland, black students hung signs reading 'For Whites Only' and 'For Coloured Only' on doors, water fountains and rest rooms in the Student Union Building. The stunt was intended to preface 'Black History' Month, but the media drew the connection with the Simpson trial verdict.

In recent years, the schism between the two American 'melting pots' has rarely been so sharply revealed: the one generally white, although it accepts Japanese, Chinese, Hispanics and East Indians into the mix, and the other generally black, although native Indians are a significant ingredient, and there is a large infusion of Caucasian genes. The product of the black pot is not so much a lower class as an inferior caste, and until the Civil Rights Movement got under way in the United States in the 1950s, blacks in the South, regularly encountered signs in public buildings reading 'For Whites Only', like the specimens which the University of Maryland students hung in the Student Union building to call attention to 'Black History' month. There is now a black middle class that buys old signs like those as collector's items. The second half of this century has changed the equation between blacks and whites enormously but not entirely in ways that the early Civil Rights activists imagined. The 'American Dilemma' to borrow the title of the classic work by Gunnar Myrdal which appeared during World War II, is still a dilemma, and the O.J.Simpson case put it under the spotlight.

'Black History' Month underlined another development: the new black middle class has produced its own intelligentsia that is taking control of its own history, not merely of matters like the slave trade, but the so-called 'Western Tradition' which goes back to ancient Greece. Mainstream American history is still the product of a succession of national historians beginning with George Bancroft in the last century: the history of the United States was the epic of liberty, the American Revolution was a united struggle against tyranny, and the Loyalists were unremembered; triumph in the War of 1812 confirmed the Revolution's verdict. Thomas Jefferson's magnificent assertion in the Declaration of Independence that all men were created equal laid the cornerstone of freedom, which the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, was later to confirm.

Once upon a time, black histories such as John Hope Franklin's From Slavery to Freedom (1947) attempted to integrate the Negro record into the mainstream: they noted with pride the Negro role in the American Revolution and passed quickly over the more numerous black Loyalists, ignored the contribution of former slaves to the defence of Canada in the War of 1812 but accented the Negro participation in the victorious battle of New Orleans in 1815. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

'Black Athena' and the American Dilemma
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.