Anthony Anaxagorou, a surprisingly erudite, young scholar, ‘schools us’ in a broader appreciation of what shapes belief structures we circulate blithely as cultural currency. Watch what he has to say on the evolution of Western thought, here.
I feel some pride when I consider the term ‘Western Civilization.’ I believe this constellation of understanding lifts us from a more primal ‘Code of the Jungle.’ From its advancement, I draw higher order human pursuits; like justice, artistic expression, the cultivation of knowledge.
No matter how revolutionary, belief systems that are widely adopted are always influenced by those which preceded them. I’ve looked into the bookshelves of eighteenth century, American revolutionaries who wrote so eloquently about their aspirations to freedom. I’ve found they held texts in common. A pool of classical philosophers helped inspire colonialists to engage in a once-unimaginable rejection of tyranny.
Doing so much to advance liberty and free society, these visionaries – with the same pens – codified bondage in their new order. Enlightened as to the Rights of Man, those who remain in the historical record in the main condoned race-based oppression.* Retention of slavery was squarely adopted, North and South, in America’s founding compact. I experience severe cognitive dissonance when I realize the nation’s Founders simultaneously advanced an intricate framework for constitutional self-governance and complex, soul-destroying slave codes (left). Both grew to be quite comprehensive.
Anaxagorou (below) illustrates there’s some irony in drawing uncritically on Hellenic thought … as the basis for our ‘civilized’ thinking. Greek and Roman philosophers had drawn inspiration from others who’d come before them.
As with all dawning realizations, I was ready to receive Anaxagorou’s thesis: I’d already been caught out on the wrong side of history … by author Aaron Dixon. In a series of conversations in our home, I failed to take notes of deep contributions to culture I’d simply assumed to have been made by lily-white men. Incredulous, as I often am when challenged to pierce assumptions, I researched one of Dixon’s preposterous assertions.
The author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexander Dumas II, was born to a man who’d started life as a mixed-race, Haitian slave. (The senior, General) Dumas’ legacy was “nearly erased from history by his jealous rival, Napoleon Bonaparte.” HERE.
Wouldn’t we be naïve to think such race-based erasures of cultural contribution ended with the Age of Enlightenment? Might it be wise to consider that, as modern philosophers taint today’s African American youth with platitudes of ‘gang culture,’ that it’s not been a case of scholar’s inability to ‘get the word out’ regarding contributions made by people of color? We may be experiencing intentional practices, dating back hundreds of years. I feel fairly certain that those who frame our understanding of current events continue to stereotype, and to diminish contributions made by oppressed peoples. I wonder how much of this practice is too subtle for us to perceive, and how much carries on because we in the dominant culture have an ingrained predilection for bias, cultivated by a hundred generations of predecessors.
I encourage readers in the dominant culture to nurture cross-cultural relationships … to question blithe assumptions we carry around, dished out by those with an agenda to diminish messages arriving from black intelligentsia. [UPDATE: this link was changed after the original target web page disappeared.]
*Paine, author of The Rights of Man, ‘got it.’ Founding member of The Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully held in Bondage, as clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly, he later advocated for a Gradual Abolition of Slavery Act.