DeAfricanizing King Tut: A Forensic Fantasy
Dr. Maulana Karenga
King Tut is back in the house and with him comes a new controversy concerning
his depiction by the promoters of his exhibition as a reborn White man,
reconstructed out of a pseudo-science reminiscent of early European theories
of superior races and differing human brain sizes and thus different capacities
for culture and civilization. As a part of the ongoing attempt at the racial
remaking of ancient Egypt, this new initiative can easily be called a forensic
fantasy born of the continuing need to deAfricanize ancient Egypt, counter
Afrocentric contentions regarding the Africanness of Egypt and reverse
the gains Afrocentric scholars have made in correcting the historical record
and creating a new discourse about ancient Egypt and Africa as a whole.
It also speaks to the collaboration of the Egyptian government and Egyptian
scholars with this falsification of King Tutankhamen’s image and
ancient Egyptian history, given their modern split identity as a nation
of ancient Africans and of descendents of Arabs who arrived in Egypt in
the seventh century.
The controversy raises two interrelated issues. The first is how to respond
effectively to the latest efforts to de-Africanize and Europeanize King
Tutankhamen and by extension ancient Egypt, its people and its culture.
The second issue is how to avoid over focusing on this problem and missing
the opportunity to deepen our understanding and appreciation of the awesome
legacy of this Africa’s greatest civilization and the world’s
greatest civilization of antiquity.
But regardless of the problematic character of the exhibition, it serves
several basic functions. First, it reaffirms the splendor, glory and high
level of achievement of ancient Egypt, and thus ancient Africa and African
people. Second, it offers us an excellent opportunity not only to deepen
and expand our own understanding and appreciation of ancient Egypt’s
achieve-ments, but also to initiate a discourse vital to the recovery and
accurate reconceptualization of this legacy. Finally, the exhibition serves
as a reminder of our responsibility to recover, reconstruct and engage
ancient Egyptian culture for the purposes set out by that Imhotepian scholar
and Egyptologist, Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop. He stated that a recovered and
reconstructed legacy of ancient Egypt will aid us in achieving three basic
goals: (1) to reconcile African and human history; (2) to build a new body
of human sciences; and (3) to renew African culture.
To reconcile African and human history, we must struggle constantly against
Europe’s falsification of African and human history, especially its
attempt to de-Africanize Egypt. To do this, it seeks to take Africans out
of Egypt; Egypt out of Africa, and then Africa out of human history. To
take Africans out of Egypt is to deny their presence except as captives
or enslaved Nubians, to present a “racial” distinction between
Egyptians and Nubians rather than a national one and to selectively present
only those images which lean toward mixtures or variation from what is
considered prototypical African.
The promoters of the exhibit note in the exhibition catalog that a whitened
image of King Tutankhamen represents a “miracle of forensics.” However,
it is not a miracle of forensics, but a miasma of falsified and fossilized
racist thinking that has produced this whitened caricature of King Tut.
It is a fantasy forensics which sees Whites when there is none, overrides
the evidence of history and objective observance and manipulates science
in the image and interests of white supremacy. Seeking to keep a scientific
veneer to this whitening process, the promoters also note that a CT-scan,
an x-ray process that produces a cross-sectional image of the thing under
study, was made of King Tut’s mummy. But the CT-scan only yielded
data on the health, age, height, weight and condition of the skeleton.
It did not inform and corroborate the decision to make King Tut White.
That decision is derived from a deeper source and longer history. It has
its origins in white supremacist ideology which willfully distorts facts
and history and only allows things and people white to be right, beautiful,
creative and brilliant.
The pursuit and presentation of this forensic fantasy by Europeans has
a long and tortured history. It began with the early pseudo-scientific
contention that White Semitic invaders taught the Africans of ancient Egypt
the arts and ideals of civilization. Then, there were the occultist Whites
who conjured up White space beings who descended in “chariots of
the gods” to enlighten us. Also, there were those who argued a minor
role for Africans in a multicultural mix and those, who unable to prove
either of the above, declared the “racial” identity of the
ancient Egyptians irrelevant.
The latter two arguments were a counteroffensive to Afrocentric discourse
which was rooted in the works of Cheikh Anta Diop and defiantly claimed
ancient Egypt as an African heritage and refused to concede or share it.
The latest initiative of forensic fantasy is a rearguard action, representing
failure on the other fronts and an undignified and embarrassing retreat
to familiar grounds of white supremacist claims of having created all things
of value and relevance in the world.
Diop has given us adequate, indeed, extensive proof of the Blackness
of ancient Egypt. This includes various forms of evidence including melanin,
bone and blood tests; ancient Egyptians’ self-definition as Kemetiu,
Black people; and eyewitness reports by Greek, Roman and Hebrew contemporaries
of the ancient Egyptians. Also, there is the evidence of cultural similarities
with other African cultures; the artistic self-presentation of the ancient
Egyptians; linguistic affinity of ancient Egyptian with other African languages;
and finally, the evidence of geography. Indeed, ancient Egypt is the only
country in history that has to justify its geography, that is to say, explain
why it’s in Africa when it should not be there, if racists are right
about the absence of real or significant history in Africa.
Thus, we need only to reaffirm and expand on these arguments. But we
should not spend so much time on defending our heritage from racist claims
that we miss the opportunity to recover its rich and ancient insights and
use them to engage modern moral and social issues of our time. Indeed,
the contribution of ancient Egypt to human civilization in the major disciplines
of human knowledge is immense, enduring and well-documented. However, no
legacy left by ancient Egypt is more significant and enduring than its
ethical and spiritual legacy, Maat which obligates us to constantly
struggle to repair and rebuild the world making it more beautiful and beneficial
than we inherited it.
It is Kemet, ancient Egypt, which gave humankind the concepts
of humans as the image of God and the concept of human dignity which is
derived from it, resurrection and judgment after death, preference and
care for the poor and vulnerable, care and responsibility toward the environment,
the moral essentiality of service and the ethical obligation “to
bear witness to truth and set the scales of justice in their proper place,
(especially) among those who have no voice.” It is concepts like
these which should inform our approach to and embrace of ancient Egypt.
For it is these world-encompassing and life-enhancing concepts that form
the hub and hinge on which the real and expansive meaning of ancient Egypt
to us and the world turns.
Dr. Maulana Karenga is professor of Black Studies, CSU Long Beach, creator
of Kwanzaa, chair of the Organization Us, and the National Association
of Kawaida Organizations. He is author of Selections from the Husia:
Sacred Wisdom of Ancient Egypt and Maat, The Moral Ideal in Ancient
Egypt: A Study in Classical African Ethics. [www.Us-Organization.org
June 20, 2005 The Los Angeles Sentinel