Racism in the Ancient World

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Updated: Apr 12, 2022
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The first episode in the Basil Davidson series, Africa a Voyage of Discovery, titled “Different but Equal” outlined the rich, ancient history of the continent of Africa. Davidson mainly focused on the ancient history of the continent of Africa. Davidson focused his points on the ancient metropolises of Africa. This includes civilization in Nubia and Egypt. The episode opened with a discussion of the initial discoveries in which the explorers attributed the ruins to people other than Africans. Davidson talked about how European imperialists rejected the possibilities that African natives were able to construct structures just as the ones being discovered.

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The video then highlights the discoveries of cave paintings which were painted by ancient Africans. Davidson went into detail about what the paintings depicted and what they meant. Davidson then discussed the migration of Africans from the Sahara and into the more fertile lands and finally to the south and east after the Sahara began to dry. The video finally went on to discuss in detail, the major civilizations of African past, their relations to one another, other civilizations of the times and their likeness to African cultures of today’s society.

For over four centuries the continent of Africa was seized and carried off by the slave trade. Our answer to Africa and its history has been contorted by this and confused by modern day racism. Basil Davidson goes back to Africa’s earliest origins. This view shared by the leading thinkers of the Enlightenment period, some of the world’s greatest early civilizations have had their origins in the heart of Black Africa. This includes that of the Pharaohs of the Nile Valley. Their achievements were highlighted by the Ancient Greeks who described them as different but equal.

An interesting point made in this video was that before the Atlantic slave trade, Europeans weren’t as racist or prejudice as they were until after the incident which in turn destroyed the mutual respect between white and black individuals. In the video it was also recognized that Europeans who visited have usually made the mistake of judging the level of civilization among the different people by the numbers of materials they possessed. However, these are once again ethnocentric views, because they are self-sufficient by depending on themselves. Also, their animals do not make the African culture less civilized than that of the European culture.

Then the question came up of, whose standards should be used to critique one’s culture. Would it be the European standards because they came up with the idea first? Or on the other hand should it be the African standard because they are the core focus of the study? I don’t believe anyone’s standards should be used to critique, rank, judge or rate one’s culture, because every culture on this earth is in one way or another different; although, it does not mean one is superior in quality than the other. Thus, just because one can dance naked in public and one deems it as primitive, does not mean their assumption is true. On the topic of naked dancing in Africa, it is a tradition that was more noted in Egypt than the rest of Africa. So, on one hand it is deemed as primitive based on the ignorance and prejudice of the modern world. On the other hand, it is deemed as part of the world’s heritage, because of the writings of ancient Egypt. One culture may eat with their hands and another with utensils. Yes, there is a difference, however no matter the situation, we are all equal. Just like Basil Davidson said, it is a mistake to judge one’s level of civilization among different individuals by their amount of possessions. Based on the video Africa: Different but Equal a few things stood out to me. One thing that really upset me about past European historians is the Stone built City found in Africa. They fabricated the story as an ancient city built by King Solomon because of their ethnocentric views they did not want to admit that Africans had their own history before the colonialists invaded.

One of the things that I found most interesting about this video was a quote by Davidson early in the video. The quote states as followed, “Racism is a rather modern sickness.” This quote was stated when Davidson was discussing how ancient African rulers were treated with respect and dignity by their European counterparts. He explained that in Renaissance paintings, black individuals were showcased in the very same ways that white individuals were depicted. I did not realize that this was the case in this situation. Learning about this made me feel somewhat bittersweet, and sad that we as people have recently evolved to oppress and bring under domination one another based on the social construction of race. However, at the same time having some hope that one day we can again return to a time where people were fully respected as people no matter their racial background or culture.

When it comes to how we look, the way we talk, and what we choose to do, we are all different in so many ways due to the morals and values we have been socialized with our society. Although, when it comes to the ability to contribute to history in our given nations we should be seen as equal; but that was not the case when it came to African History in the eyes of Colonialists.


  1. Ndiaye, Ousmane. YouTube, 1984, www.youtube.com/watch?v=X75COneJ4w8.
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Racism in the Ancient World. (2022, Apr 12). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/racism-in-the-ancient-world/