Not Out of Africa

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

NOT OUT OF AFRICA provides a long-needed corrective to the theories advanced by extreme members of the Afrocentric school of scholarship. Among the claims discussed and challenged by Lefkowitz are that major developments in Greek civilization were really African in origin, that central figures of ancient history (including Cleopatra and Socrates) were black, that Greek society was incapable of developing the many innovations attributed to it, and that a conspiracy arose in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries to disparage African contributions to European heritage.

Lefkowitz explodes these theories, demonstrating in each case that scholars have ignored evidence to the contrary. Lefkowitz suggests many reasons why speculation has gained widespread acceptance: the tendency of scholars to rely upon translations rather than original texts causes them to misinterpret the statements of ancient authorities; the use of secondary rather than primary sources leads the errors made by a few scholars to be repeated by those who cite them; literary and historical scholars are untrained or unwilling to demand the same standards of evidence expected by their colleagues in the natural sciences; modern society dismisses literary studies as having little practicality, thus abandoning it to the political agendas of special interest groups; and university administrators are reluctant to challenge the claims of minority scholars, even when they are demonstrably false, because of a belief that self-esteem and “empowerment” are more important than academic standards.

Lefkowitz’s recommendations for solving these problems are rather few. She encourages scholars to demand evidence rather than ideology when their colleagues make claims about the past. She hopes that further debate, although acrimonious, will bring light to bear on controversial issues. The testimony provided by her text is, however, not encouraging that a solution is likely to arise soon.

Sources for Further Study

Atlanta Journal Constitution. April 7, 1996, p. L11.

Choice. XXXIII, July, 1996, p. 1846.

The Christian Science Monitor. March 11, 1996, p. 14.

The Chronicle of Higher Education. XLII, February 16, 1996, p. A6.

Commentary. CI, June, 1996, p. 70.

Journal of Black Studies. XXVII, September, 1996, p. 130.

Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. XI, Spring, 1996, p. 86.

Los Angeles Times. July 3, 1996, p. E4.

The Nation. CCLXIII, October 28, 1996, p. 42.

National Review. XLVIII, March 25, 1996, p. 54.

The New York Review of Books. XLIII, June 20, 1996, p. 67.

The New York Times Book Review. CI, February 25, 1996, p. 6.

Newsweek. CXXVII, February 19, 1996, p. 78.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLII, December 18, 1995, p. 37.

Time. CXLVII, February 19, 1996, p. 66.

The Wall Street Journal. February 14, 1996, p. A12.