Survival Update

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The Dangers of the Left’s Politicized History

The New York Times’ “1619 Project,” a “woke” rewrite of American history, is the latest in the decades-long track record of leftist distortions of history.

Many universities have promoted this idea. A seemingly silly outrage over Israeli movie actress Gal Gadot being cast as Cleopatra illustrates how fake history and “cancel culture”­­­­ have become the norm in our society.

The “woke” mob is upset with Gadot and her director, Patty Jenkins, because Gadot is a “bland” and “too pretty” white woman, whereas Cleopatra was Egyptian and more “exotic” looking. More upsetting to critics is that Gadot is an Israeli. Journalist Sameera Khan on Twitter huffed, “shame on you, Gal Gadot. Your country steals Arab land & you’re stealing their movie roles.”

Christian Egypt didn’t become an Arab nation until 645 A.D. with the Muslim conquest. Today’s Arab Egyptians, then, with the exception of the minority Christian Copts, are the descendants of conquerors, occupiers, and colonizers. So who has a much longer record of “stealing” land?

But assuming Cleopatra was ethnic Egyptian is another historical error. She was a Macedonian Greek, descended from Ptolemy, Alexander the Great’s general who in 305 B.C. seized the rich territory of Egypt during the “game of thrones” over Alexander’s conquests after his death. The Ptolemies, as the dynasty is called, adopted much of the ceremony and iconography of the pharaohs in order to make their rule over a culturally, ethnically, religiously, and linguistically different peoples more manageable. But ethnically they were Macedonians, who tended to be fairer than the southern Greeks, let alone Semites.

As for Cleopatra’s ethnicity, Professor Emeritus of Classics and Archaeology, Duane W. Roller, author of Cleopatra: A Biography, writes on the Oxford University Press blog “To sum up: it is quite possible that Cleopatra was pure Macedonian Greek. But it is probable that she had some Egyptian blood, although the amount is uncertain.

Certainly, it was no more than half, and probably less. The best evidence is that she was three-quarters Macedonian Greek and one-quarter Egyptian. There is no room for anything else, certainly not for any black African blood.” In other words, Gal Gadot is more likely to resemble the historical Cleopatra than a modern Arab actress.

Roller’s reference to Cleopatra being black brings us to the academic controversy from several decades ago that illustrates an early example of politicized history. In 198,7 Martin Bernal published Black Athena, the first of three volumes arguing that ancient Greek culture had “Afroasiatic roots,” as the subtitle had it. The most famous claim derived from Bernal’s book was that ancient Greek civilization was the product of African Egyptians.

Thirty years later, an American classicist claimed that one of the book’s purposes was to “effectively combat today’s use of Greece and Rome by white nationalists.” Presumably, the “grandeur that was Greece, and the glory that was Rome” had been hijacked by racist “white supremacists,” who ignored the Classical world’s “Afroasiatic” roots in order to racialize its achievements. The history of Classics comprised a “stolen legacy.”

Bernal’s book became widely known when it was used by Afrocentrism, a movement to correct allegedly racist, Eurocentric history by restoring the role played by peoples of African descent. Much of the work produced is closer to identity politics propaganda than to historical fact––an early example of the same activist history one sees in the “1619 Project.”

Not long after the Afrocentrism controversy, I recall walking through a university history building and noting its hallway walls covered with posters celebrating Black History Month. One depicted Cleopatra sporting a big Afro redolent of Seventies blaxploitation movies. Another showed the Carthaginian Hannibal, a descendant of the Semitic Phoenicians who colonized today’s Tunisia, looking like soul singer Isaac Hayes.

The posters had been donated by Anheuser-Busch, brewers of Budweiser. No one seemed concerned that fake history was being promoted by the history department of a California State University, with the help of a corporation that wanted to sell more beer to college students.

What appears to be just another attempt by “woke” activists to bully an industry and indulge its anti-Semitic bigotry against an Israeli actress should not be lightly brushed off. Nor should we forget the academic scandal from nearly thirty years ago that helped to institutionalize this particular variety of fake history and illiberal assaults on free speech.

Today we all can see the consequences of such negligence, as what was once confined to the university classroom is now fueling violence in our streets.

It’s time to start seriously reforming our schools.