A few years back, National Geographic released its “The Black Pharaohs” issue. For many days I stumbled past the issue on news stands, make toward it to pick it up, only to change my mind in annoyance. It was hard to explain what annoyed me about it, and then I finally figured it out. The headline “Black Pharaohs” is a fallacy that implies or rather promotes the belief that “black” and “[Ancient] Egyptian” are mutually exclusive terms–that is to say, one is not complementary with the other–they don’t go together. By this logic, a black pharaoh is identified as abnormal or not the rule for Egypt.
Of course, the separation of Egypt and Africa goes against everything black scholars and (and ancient scholars) have argued about Ancient Egypt. But, the separation of Ancient Egypt from [black] Africa is the point National Geographic and Egyptologists (who are white) often push and it’s the reason the cover annoyed me.
I often refer to Egyptology as “white people’s fascination with Ancient Egypt” and I won’t change this definition. Often, the early works in Egyptology focus on “proving” the Ancient Egyptians weren’t or couldn’t be blacks. Early scholars often concluded that “The Egyptians were built like blacks but they were not black.” (Rawlinson, 1866) The study of Egyptology started with Napoleon’s “discovery” of Egypt in the 18th century, and much of Europe’s involvement with the country carried on well into the mid-20th century. This period of European expansionism (colonialism) was also paralleled by the rise of scientific (modern) invention of races, racism and a race-based value system (white supremacy/ black inferiority).
Ancient Egypt has always been viewed through the “white gaze” or white supremacist gaze. White supremacy dictates that white peoples are the highest valued/ranked/accomplished, and is, by default, the most important or the human standard. By contrast, black peoples are the lowest, barely reaching the standard of a human being (subhuman). This race-based value system (white supremacy/ black inferiority) assigns social and historical roles to different “races.” Whites are usually superior masters, rulers, kings, emperors and blacks are usually slaves, servants, laborers, petty/insignificant or non-existent.
It is this European-invented race-based value system that influences the opinions, and by default, the scholarship of Egyptologists. Through these lenses, black people in Egypt are assigned to ONLY slaves/servants, the exception being the Nubian Pharaohs of the 25th Dynasty.
Black [Physical] Identity Defined by Whites
Whites (Egyptologists) “define” Black Identity (blackness) through very narrow [white] lenses or gaze. For Egyptologists, blackness is restricted to Nubian. It is synonymous to Nubian or the “true negro” type. For white scholars and Egyptologists, Nubia (the ancient kingdom south of Egypt) is used to define/confine the black [physical] identity. Essentially, they use a single black [physical] type as the exemplary or true physical type of the black race. Regarding Egypt, the “races of man’ painting on the tomb of Seti I is highly utilized to distinguish between the Egyptian type (deep, reddish brown skin tone) and the Nubian type (jet black skin, thick lips, broad/flat noses and tightly kinky hair).
For Egyptologists, black and Nubian are interchangeable. And when they say Ancient Egyptians were not black, they mean Ancient Egyptians were not Nubians, since Nubian is used as marker/standard of the black physical type.
This is a misleading white supremacist approach to Black Identity (blackness). Only blacks should define blackness or Black Identity. Black Identity defined by blacks is very different from Black Identity defined by whites.
Black Identity Defined By Blacks
For black people, there is no “true” black type. Nubians do not present a “true black” type. Nubians represent Nubians (akin to modern day Sudanese/Jinka people). The National Geographic cover, for example, would be less “white supremacist” if its title had been “The Nubian Pharaohs” instead of “The Black Pharaohs.” Nubian and black should not be synonymous since not all black people are Nubian and the majority of black people do not fit into the “True Negro” stereotype.
Black writers, including Cheikh Anta Diop, recognized, rightly so, that there are various black types. Africa, and its indigenous [black] populations, are the most genetically, linguistically,culturally, physically diverse people on the planet.
Who Fits The True Negro Type?
San child, southern Africa
Ethiopian model Grace Mahary
Egyptian/Moroccan model Imman Hammam
Senegalese journalist Isha Sesay
Jinka (Mursi) girl–True Negro?