Excerpts From Black History and Black Identity: A Call for a New Historiography

Precursor Black historians made he assumption that the name Africa was given to a large land mass by the millennial black people who lived there, and it was further assumed by them that these people called themselves Africans. First and Second Wave Black historians—virtually to a historian accept the same assumptions and write their historical works upon them. But the historical truth is, as will be detailed in Chapter 5, neither the words nor names of Africa or African have their origins with the millennial black people who lave lived on what history, for more than two thousand years, has called Africa. The word Africa is an ancient Greek word, and it was the ancient Greeks, as well as the Carthaginians and the Romans, who gave the name Africa to a land mass, that resulted in the people of the land being called Africans. Europeans after the Romans, and for centuries, used the words Africa and African, which were not even known or used by most people who were supposed to be the Africans and were known by other people in the world as Africans, living in Africa.” Pg. 16

“But on the other hand, early Black historians did not regard all Africans in what they understood to be Africa as being Negroes. For instance, in the first volume of his History of the Negro Race, George Washington Williams wrote, “But in our examination of African tribes we shall not confine ourselves to that class of people known as Negroes, but all attention to other tribes as well. In talking about the black people who came to America as slaves, Benjamin Brawley, a college teacher of English literature but also a lay Black historian of the early twentieth century, in his A Social History of the American Negro, remarked, “Those who came were by no means all of exactly the same race stock and language… A number of those who came here were of entirely different race stock from the Negroes; some were Moors, and a very few were Malays from Madagascar.”

“What Brawley and Williams were evidencing with their comments, which was also true with other lay Black historians, was confusion about race (biology), ethnicity, and nationality, mainly because this confusion existed widely among intellectuals in America and Europe. Race, ethnicity, and nationality were often projected in scholarship and other kinds of writings as being synonymous, even the word “nation” would appear in scholarly or other kinds of writings and would be employed to mean race or ethnicity. Precursor Black historians, like other intellectuals in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in America and European, did not appreciate the biological or physical variation that might appear in a given race, and this was particularly true when the focus was on the black race. In America, as in Europe, when white or black people thought, wrote, or spoke of black people, meaning the black race, they meant the people who were understood to be Negroes; that is, people with “Negroid” features, such as black skin, kinky hair, broad noses, thick lips, and rounded behinds. Racism was involved here to which even precursor Black historians acceded. Owing to their racism, white people in America and Europe felt that all black people looked alike, that is, they all had “Negroid” features, which of course, were denigrated in a racist manner, to demean and belittle them and to reinforce the notion of their singularity within the black race. People of the black race which white people (as well as Black people), called the “Negro race” or the “Colored race,” employing all terms interchangeably who did not have all Negroid…”

“The Spanish and the Portuguese, when initiating the use of the word negro, employed it primarily as an adjective for the purpose of distinguishing between the black people they knew as Moors and the new black people they were enslaving in Spain and Portugal, who were taken from Africa, which both countries sometimes [historically are] referred to as Guinea.” 

“The Greek word for Moors was Mauri, and for the Romans (i.e. in Latin) it was Maurus. These Greek and Roman words would appear in other European languages.” Pg. 97

“This development was aided by the traditional names for Moors in Spanish and Portuguese, but it was also aided by the serious inauguration of the African slave trade, which had initially taken such slaves to Spain and Portugal…” Pg. 100

“The Moors were clearly an object of this racist thinking, as well as a source or motivation for its development. The presence of black slaves in Europe during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance was another source. Pg. 99

“As will be noted in the case of Dutch, the above allows for dark (obscur) and brun to be subsumed under negro and uses French more (moor) as equivalent to a negro frm Guinea. The word negro or its equivalent in other European languages…..” Pg. 101

“Richard Hakluyt…..fifteenth century English traveler wrote, “In old times the people of Africa were called aethiops and negritae, which we now call Moores, Moorens, or Negroes.” Pg. 97

“The Greek Mauri and Roman Maurus referred to black people in northwestern Africa (as they had referred to Ethiopians in essentially northeastern and eastern Africa. In the Cantiga 185 of King Alfonso the Wise of Spain (1254-86), three Moors attacking the Castle of Chincoya are described as “black as Satan.” In Cantiga 320, an extremely black man who has stolen objects from a Christian church is identified as a Moor. In the Peoma de Fernan Gnzalez, devils and Moors are equally described as “carbonientos” literally the “coal-faced ones.” Pg. 98

Source: Black History and Black Identity: A Call for a New Historiography By William D. Wright