An American conservative Congressman from the state of Iowa, Steve King recently earned himself negative publicity for recklessly claiming non-whites had contributed nothing to civilisation at the Republican National Convention in Ohio. The most disturbing part of his historically inaccurate assertion is that he seems unshaken even after a massive backlash. This is a man who then unapologetically said, “But we should not apologise for our culture or our civilisation. The contributions that were made by Western civilisation itself, and by Americans, by Americans of all races stand far above the rest of the world. The Western civilisation and the American civilisation are a superior culture.”
Representative Steve King needs a little education on the role of other people, particularly Africans in modern civilisation. That he even dares monopolise modern civilisation as a purely Western invention; a creation of Caucasians is an insult to history. Modern civilisation has had so many contributors and the thought of it being a purely homogenised phenomenon is mistaken. Representative King should be saved from his own thoughts. They have no place in the 21st century. Mr. King was responding to a statement by Charles P. Pierce, a writer at Esquire magazine to the effect of this year being the last time old white people would command the Republican Party’s public face. King responded, “This whole ‘old white people’ business does get a little tired, Charlie. I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you are talking about? Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilisation?” The MSNBC host moderating the discussion probed, “Than white people?”
King continued, “Than Western civilisation itself that’s rooted in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States of America, and every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world. That’s all of Western civilisation.”
King and his folks with the same attitude as he does should note that if they regard civilisation as urban society with high levels of literacy, mathematical, scientific and technological advancement, then it is not Caucasians who developed it. Juan Cole, a revered author of books on the Muslim world says, “Iraq, Iran, India, China and Egypt did (invent the said idea of civilisation)….the Pharaohs of Egypt had civilisation for thousands of years while Celts in Britain were painting themselves blue and doing hunting and gathering in the wastes.”
Africans pioneered basic arithmetic and the Ishango bone is enough testament of that. This numerical record is estimated to be 37,000 years old. To brush off Africa’s contribution to modern mathematics, King will have to prove that “Western Civilisation” had invented something of this nature earlier than Africa.
The Egyptian ancient city of Kahun was the world’s first planned city. It had a part which housed the wealthier inhabitants of the city, much like modern cities while the ordinary people had their own area. The streets of its western section were straight, laid out on a grid and crossed each other at right angles. Mr. King surely appreciates just how much Kahun’s look and feel influenced modern city planning. Amarna, another ancient Egyptian city is said to have been the first planned ‘garden city’. It had a flawless waste disposal system and every modern sewerage network owes its existence to Amarna.
Scientific and technological advancement
African civilisation birthed mining! Around 43,000 years ago, Africans were already practising the highly technical activity of mining as evidenced by the hematite mine found in Swaziland. In addition, fractals, a sophisticated form of math was discovered in Sub-Saharan Africa. Ron Eglash writing on African Fractals said, “Fractal geometry is said to be one of the most exciting frontiers in the fusion between mathematics and information technology, and has become an important new tool for modelling in biology, geology and other natural sciences.”
Mr Steve King is quite mistaken. He needs to be educated on the so many things he mistakenly thinks are his own heritage yet they are a stolen legacy. Africans and Asians have contributed to the modern global civilisation just as his own people have. It is foolhardy to pretend civilisation is a white man’s invention. UNESCO’s paper on the African Contributions to Science, Technology and Development rightfully asserts, “Any examination of African contributions to science and technology is hampered by the problem arising from racialised views of history and the relegation of Africa to an “underdeveloped” or “undeveloped” stereotype.”
Mr King has fallen into the same trap of blinding himself to the contributions of the rest of the world due to his own prejudices. Maybe he will enjoy looking at some of these things NOT invented by white people, yet still important aspects of civilisation.