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Archive for the ‘The Greeks’ Category

Patroclus and Achilles from a Greek drinking cup, circa 500 BC

How white was Ancient Greece? There are at least three answers, two short and one long:

Answer #1: They were white, just look at them: There is plenty of artwork from at least 600 BC onwards that clearly shows that the Greeks looked white – just like the people in Greece now.

Answer #2: They were part black. Some say that Egypt sent settlers or that the Pelasgians, the people who were in Greece before the Indo-European Greeks arrived, were from Africa. According to one DNA testing company Greeks are 5% black.

Now the longer answer:

Answer #3: Calling them white is anachronistic: “white” is a Western invention used to excuse slavery and colonialism during the last several hundred years. The ancient Greeks certainly did not think of themselves as white: they divided the world not by race but by language: those who spoke Greek were Greeks, those who did not were barbarians.

More: “White” is based not just on looks – it is based on culture too. You see that with Arabs: in the Middle East they are  not seen as white by Americans, but if they come to America and take on White American ways, they are – like Steve Jobs and Ralph Nader.

In that sense, then, the Ancient Greeks were no more white or Western than the British are “Nigerian” or “Australian”. It is backwards thinking.

Thinking that leads to some strange and curious things:

  1. The West “begins with the Greeks”. Not because it does – despite the way some White Americans talk, civilization is not a white invention. Their civilization comes from Egypt and the Middle East by way of Greece and Rome. But they see it as starting with Greece because it was the first “white” country to be civilized. And it was first only because it was closest to Egypt.
  2. The Greeks seem to have amazing intelligence. Because Westerners are taught to turn a blind eye to the Egyptian roots of Greek civilization: the columns, the paper, the science and mathematics, etc, all came straight out of Egypt. Even before Alexandria became the centre of Greek learning, people like Plato, Pythagoras, Solon and Thales all studied in Egypt. “The glory that was Greece” was built not on some kind of amazing Greek grey matter but sailing times to Egypt.
  3. Ancient Greeks are seen as “universal”, not “ethnic” by Anglos, who play up what they have in common with the Ancient Greeks. They do not apply that kind of thinking to the Greeks of the past 1500 years, who they look down on as unimportant, even the Byzantine Empire.
  4. The Ancient Greeks were seen as white before Greek Americans were. Just as Jesus was seen as white before the Jews were. In the 1920s laws were passed to keep Greeks and other such undesirables from coming to America in large numbers – in part to keep them from destroying the country culturally and genetically.

Yes, this is another example of the white lens, of reading history while white.

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