The last time I heard Taylor Branch, the author of the three volume biography of Martin Luther King, speak, his theme was the erasure of the the Civil Rights Movement from modern consciousness and the sanitization of a small revolutionary movement into a cuddly, generalized and comfortable lovefest in which children of all colors play together. This is history as fairy tale.

In this hour and a quarter address to the Oxford Union, Akala, also known as the Shakespeare Rapper and founder of the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company, addresses the Oxford Union on the erasure of Africa from global history. (Somehow I could not help but notice that he appears to be one of only two people of African/Caribbean ancestry in the rooom.)

His wide ranging discourse includes discussions of African contributions to science and mathematics, the sprawling medieval empires of Mali and the Almoravids, the brilliant 800 year history of El Andalus (now Spain), and the tantalizing possibility that Africans arrived in the New World centuries before Columbus, perhaps even by the legendary fleet of Abu Bakr.

While African discovery of the Americas may be speculative based on available evidence, Akala's larger point is that a historical assumption of African inferiority by the majority of European historians in modern times has been strongly influenced by confirmation bias. For example, "scholars" have reasononed along the lines that the pyramids are an extraordinary achievement, black people are not capable of extraordinary achivement, therefore the pyramids must not have been built by black people, despite descriptions of the Egyptians to the contary by such authors as Aristotle and Herodotus.

Akala's most telling illustration of modern historical bias is the common British attribution of the singlehanded abolition of slavery to William Wilberforce with little or no mention of the seminal role of the Haiti's successful slave rebellion against their French masters. His most shocking anecdotes are the "barbequeing" of African Americans as a spectacle for public enjoyment throughout most of America's history.

All of which is to say that there is much more to global history than the narrow Eurocentric version we are commonly taught in high school. Akala articulates a much more inclusive and nuanced version of history than that with which we are familiar, in which Africans and their descendants are edited out except when they are portrayed as slaves.


© Charles Williamson Day, Jr., 2016. All rights reserved.

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