What sustains racism? That question demands an answer today. Slavery ended in the US in 1863, but “legal” segregation persisted for another century. Subsequently, the US supported apartheid. After the fall of apartheid, former white-only universities in South Africa were forced to admit black students. However, most black students were declared “inferior” and flunked: only 5 percent of Blacks succeeded in any form of higher education in two decades after apartheid.
People suspected this educational “assessment” merely reflected the racist prejudices of the faculty. This precipitated the 2015 anti-racism protests known as #RhodesMustFall, which toppled the statue of Cecil Rhodes (of “Rhodes scholarship” fame) in Cape Town, though the statue still stands in Oxford.
Racism persists because our education system inculcates racist values. Slavery was morally glorified by citing the Bible. Setting aside the persistent Bible defence of slavery the Enlightenment philosopher of ethics, Immanuel Kant, categorically thought it imperative that Blacks must be whipped into silence.
Kant said Blacks were inferior since they were not creative. He went by the history, which attributes numerous intellectual achievements to white Greeks, but none to blacks.
That history is contested by Afrocentrists who assert that the achievements of black Egyptians were wrongly attributed to white Greeks. Racist historians systematically converted Egyptian achievements to fabricated Greek one’s after the Aryan race thesis. But that racist history, depicting whites as intellectually “superior”, is still taught worldwide without checking its validity against primary facts.
Racism History in Our School Texts
For example, our current Class 9 NCERT school math text shows children an image of a white-skinned Euclid, declared the father of geometry. The image is a Caucasian stereotype; when confronted, the NCERT changed the image: still Caucasian, but no longer a stereotype! Later, a “Euclid” prize of Rs 2 lakh was offered for serious (primary) evidence about “Euclid’s” existence. The official NCERT response was that no primary evidence is needed, since “superior” Western texts all mention Euclid, and Indians cannot question those “superior” texts. This is how an apex educational body brazenly promotes racism in school education.
Given that this “Euclid” was from Alexandria in Africa, how exactly do we know his skin colour, or his sex? Indeed, my book Euclid and Jesus depicts “Euclid” as a black woman on its cover because that is what the evidence points to. Following the #RhodesMustFall agitation, a 2016 article in The Conversation reiterated that “Euclid” was actually a black woman. The article led to a storm, went viral, but was censored after publication, first by a South Africa editor, and then worldwide by those who had reproduced it. In India, The Wire and the Scroll.in took it down, though The Wire put it back.
To date, no one could challenge a single fact or argument in the censored article, which was later reproduced in the peer-reviewed Journal of Black Studies, and in the RhodesMustFall book from the Oxford group of protestors. So, our “educated” journalists stubbornly defend racist history, by suppressing counter-views, without investigating primary facts, which are not to be found in Wikipedia, a tertiary source.
Likewise, the term “Pythagorean theorem,” repeated 32 times in our Class 10 NCERT school math text, is justified by claiming that though Egyptians built pyramids they had no understanding of the “Pythagorean theorem,” a “superior” proof of which was known only to the Greeks.
In fact, there is no evidence that Pythagoras existed, no evidence that he provided a proof of proposition named after him or what that proof was, and certainly no evidence for the colour of his skin. As Bertrand Russell explained over a century ago, even the proofs of the “Pythagorean theorem” found in “Euclid’s” Elements are NOT valid formal proofs. They are no different from the proofs available in Indian tradition. Further, the useful version of the Pythagorean calculation, as found in African and Indian string geometry (Manava sulba sutra 10.10), involves square roots, known to Egyptians and Indians but unknown to Greeks, who lacked even fractions.
The non-textual evidence runs counter to the racist history of “Greek” achievements based on late, accretive, and unreliable sources. Inferior Greek arithmetic led to inferior science: for example, “Greek calends” was a common Roman witticism, though the Roman (Julian) calendar too was defective.
Our current calendar, based on its 1582 Gregorian reform, still uses leap years instead of precise fractions, hence gets the tropical year right only on a thousand-year average: not from year to year. Likewise, there is nil evidence for, and much counter-evidence against, other famous Greek myths such as Aristotle, Archimedes, etc. The Greeks lacked the social conditions to develop science since they were a superstitious lot, believed in oracles, and condemned Socrates to death on the charge of doing astronomy, like Anaxagoras.
To end racism we must first eliminate what sustains it – the racist history in our school texts – by checking facts, and public debate.
(CK Raju, PhD (ISI), TGA Laureate, is Honorary Professor, Indian Institute of Education; Emeritus Professor, SGT University; Tagore Fellow, Indian Institute of Advanced Study. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)