wiser today

A man should never be ashamed to own that he is wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.

Mary Lefkowitz

History Lesson

In a 1991 book. Behind the Eurocentric Veils, Clinton Jean argued that the exploitative mentality of Europeans had caused the evils of the twentieth century. He believed that Marxism offered greater hope for mankind than capitalism, but lhal it too was flawed. Instead he proposed an Afrocentric alternative.

According lo Jean, Africans produced the first civilizations; ancient Egypt was an African civilization, and ancient Egyptian culture was superior to the more materialistic ancient Greek culture. African culture, Jean says, was generally more civilized than European, which was more militaristic; it was matrilineal, not patriarchal like Greece and Rome. The Greeks who ruled Egypt after the conquest of Alexander transformed the benign and accessible government of the pharaohs into a soulless, hierarchical, and controlling state. Revising historical thinking, Jean argued, would elevate blackness, and that, in the long run, would be good not only for blacks but for everybody.

Jean's revision of history was in fact a kind of noble lie, like the myth that Plato had devised to explain the rigid social stratification imposed in his ideal Republic. Could it really be argued that Africans were less warlike than other peoples? Could one talk about Africa and Europe as if they were single entities when each was made up of many different ethnic groups speaking many different languages? Could ancient Egyptian culture be considered synonymous with ancient cultures in West Africa about which, in ancient times, little or nothing was known? The main fact we do have about the ancient world is that Egypt was separated from West Africa by the Sahara, which would indicate that their cultures would have developed more or less in isolation. And in judging Jean's ideas, one had to reflect that the only unifying feature in his notion of a specifically European or African 'culture' seemed to he skin color.

The other surprising feature of Jean's explanation of the past was his assessment of the role played by Jews in fostering the integration of blacks in the United States. In his view, Jews had indeed successfully communicated the needs and culture blacks to other whiles, but because Jews continued to separate themselves from blacks, their dominance in the civil rights movement itself could be regarded as a form of racism.

This attitude did not take account of the sincerely altruist motives of Jews who had supported black organizations, and risked and even gave their lives to end segregation in the American South. Perhaps for some Jews there was some self-interest involved, because they too would stand to benefit from an end to discrimination.

This whole vision of the past was, in short, a new myth in the making. As a longtime student and teacher of ancient mythologies, I was fascinated to realize that what I was witnessing was a myth in the process of creation—the Jewish exploitation of blacks. At the same time it was also unsettling to realize that, as a Jew, I was one of its targets. The central text of this mythology is The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, an anonymously authored work published in 1991 by the Nation of Islam.

The principal contention of The Secret Relationship is that Jews were responsible for funding the African slave trade. Most previous studies of the slave trade attribute only a small role to Jews, who at the time were a mere 2 percent of the total population of the United States. The Secret Relationship's anonymous authors drew almost exclusively on the work of Jewish writers to support their claims. This was said to make their propositions more credible. The book is 334 pages long. It appears to be carefully documented, with copious citations and some 1,275 footnotes (which are very easy to count, because they are numbered successively instead of starting anew with each chapter, as most books do). The cumulative numbering seemed calculated to reassure readers that it had been carefully researched.

The introduction of The Secret Relationship reminds its readers that although Jews have 'faced blanket expulsion' more frequently than any other people in the world, they 'have been conclusively linked to the greatest criminal endeavor ever undertaken against an entire race of people—a crime against humanity—the Black African Holocaust.' The Secret Relationship alleged that the Jews, themselves the victims of a Holocaust, were in fact perpetrators of the kind of crimes from which they in turn suffered at the hands of the Nazis. The Secret Relationship also charged Jews with secretly acknowledging this truth while denying it to the public.

Now I saw why the students who wrote the letter to the Wellesley News made a special point of mentioning that a New York Times writer with a German name was 'Jewish.' If he was Jewish, and he was willing to say that the pharaohs from Nubia were black, perhaps they supposed it was more likely that Jews like me would be prepared to believe him. Or was the point rather that some Jews knew the truth, even though others obviously didn't? Citations in The Secret Relationship had been doctored to show that even Jewish writers seemed willing to acknowledge the awful truth about Jewish domination of the slave trade.

Any fair-minded reader can see that The Secret Relationship is not a work of scholarship. Rather, as Harold Brackman has shown in a careful study, it is 'an anti-Semitic polemic masquerading as history.' Large sections of it were inspired by Henry Ford's The International Jew: 'The World's Foremost Problem, which was published in the 1920s along with a reissue of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Protocols, although still widely circulated around the world, are themselves a forgery, based on a political satire published in 1864 against Napoleon III by a French lawyer. Originally they had nothing to do with Jews at all, and of course there is not and never has been an international organization of Jewish Elders. Ford hated Jews for their liberalism, and indeed, for their support of 'Negroes' and 'Negro welfare society.'

The authors of The Secret Relationship continually misquote Jewish sources, taking quotations out of context, or citing as support works that actually say the opposite of what they are claiming. They make a number of claims that are impossible to substantiate, such as that Jews (rather than Arabs) dominated the transatlantic slave trade; that they were the dominant slave traders and holders in the South; that they raped black women; that they infected Native Americans with smallpox (the 'proof' of this last claim being that Sir Jeffrey Amherst bought blankets from a Jewish merchant); that Jews during the Civil War cared more about profits than about patriotism.

The known facts about the slave trade give a completely different picture of the level of Jewish participation. In Europe most Jews were confined to ghettos and living in poverty. In this country, only one or two Jews were slave traders. Although relatively few Jews owned slaves, Jews with property did not own large plantations, but tended to live in cities. In the towns where they lived, they tended to own fewer slaves than their Christian neighbors. Although Jews may not have played a significant role, the claim that the slave trade was a 'holocaust' seems to be justified. Estimates by responsible historians indicate that perhaps as many as eleven million people from Africa were sold into slavery, of whom as many as a million may have died in transit.

Only about 300,000 were brought to North America. Why did the Nation of Islam take such trouble to create a revised or alternative 'history' of the slave trade? One reason, certainly, was to keep people's attention away from the slave trading that continued long after the outcome of the American Civil War put a stop to the transatlantic slave trade. The traders in this case were not Europeans or Jews but Arabs, and this is a bit of an embarrassment for an organization that calls itself the Nation of Islam. That slave trade is still continuing at present in Sudan. The U.S. State Department, at least, was well aware of its existence during the 1990S and after. Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, said nothing about it, although he must have known that it was going on, since he had visited Sudan in 1994.