A map of Africa with Egypt highlighted and Will Smith as a meme gesturing toward it

Yes, in my novel, the Ancient Egyptians are Black

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with an indie publisher[1] about an anthology project they’ve been wanting to do for a long time: speculative fiction stories set in Ancient Egypt where the only rule about the stories is that the authors must make it clear that the Egyptian characters are Black people. They told me every time they get ready to put the wheels in motion for this, they pull back after they ask themselves “Do I really want to deal with the grief and attacks I’m gonna get because of this?”

If your first thought upon reading this is “But of course the Ancient Egyptian characters should be Black Africans because the Ancient Egyptians were Black Africans…” or “But why would people give the publisher so much grief over this that the project keeps getting put on the shelf?” then you belong to the group of people who are attempting to live in a rational world where truth is real and things make sense. Not everyone lives in this world.

How do I know this? Well, there’s Fox News. But also, as previously mentioned, I’ve been researching Ancient Egypt off and on for over a decade, and in academic circles you will still find people arguing for how the Egyptians weren’t really African, or weren’t sub-Saharan African (which I guess is where all the Black Africans live. Above the Sahara they are so totes white), which is a holdover from the beginnings of Egyptology and archaeology in the West that are built on white supremacist ideas. The pyramids, the Great Sphinx, the many wonders of Egypt are very clearly the work of advanced, intelligent people. But Black folks are just tribal savages rolling around in the mud. Therefore…

Now, you won’t find too many modern academics being quite this blatant with their racism. You will find the average Joe from that forum you frequent wallowing in this nonsense while pretending that isn’t racist as fuck. For some more recent evidence of this, I invite you to venture into the comments of Scott Woods’ post on why The Gods Of Egypt is a terrible, racist movie. You will find therein people who argue vehemently that Ancient Egyptians were not Black like those other Africans, are kind Greek, or some other ridiculousness that I have likely erased from my memory. This is not new. Armchair historians who learned everything they know about the past from watching The Mummy[2] have been giving us this chin music for years.

So yeah, it is a bit of a radical act to stipulate that stories set in Ancient Egypt should have Black Egyptians and I can sort of understand not wanting to walk into that particular hornet’s nest willy nilly. Still though. I’m ready and waiting for this anthology to become a reality because I will just write a story set in the Steampunk Egypt world my novel is set in. Because, other than wanting to ensure the culture I crafted is matriarchal, my other base reality is that all the native Egyptians in the book are Black. I intend to mark their dark skin colors as often as I can get away with, and using language that makes it clear they and other people in Egypt consider that skin to be beautiful. Hell, everything about their features will be marked as the epitome of beauty and the standard by which people of nearby countries judge themselves by.

And if someone out there has a problem with it, I will compose a special song to sing for them that will go something like:

Just keep steppin’ / just keep steppin’ / get that racism out of my waaaaaay!

Just keep steppin’ / stay in your lane / or go right to hell to-daaaaaay.

And yeah, the next time you see me at a con I’ll sing that for you if you like.

Cuz look: Hollywood is gonna keep trying with this Egyptians Were White business. They haven’t lost enough money yet to stop. So other forms of art are going to have to carry this for now. So I challenge you to write stories with Black Egyptians and create art with Black Egyptians and sing songs about Black Egyptians. I know that’s what I plan to do.

Footnotes

  1. Whose name I won’t reveal here because they might not want everyone and their mama to know they have this opinion.[]
  2. Pick a version. Any version.[]
divider with ancient egyptian scarab I'm writing an Afrofuturist novel set in a matriarchal ancient Egypt where queer women of color rule the sand and sky. Want to know more? Read about it here. Want to help make it happen? Become my patron (& get free fiction)!

4 thoughts on “Yes, in my novel, the Ancient Egyptians are Black

  1. There’s plenty of debate about this, but certainly the Nubian culture was black African, and plenty of evidence suggests that at least some Egyptians were, too. (The non-Greek ones; after the Greeks conquered Egypt, and then the Romans, it might have been a multicultural society). It’s also the case that you’re writing fantasy. Interestingly, in my own novel, I have a black African culture in what’s essentially Tunisia; it seems totally reasonable, given that I’ve written an alt-history to begin with! Good luck with your novel and I’ll look forward to it.

  2. I’m a bit confused. All the pictures I see of modern Egyptians look rather Middle-Eastern, not black. There have also been discoveries of Egyptian mummies that had red or blond hair too. I have trouble seeing how the Egyptians could have been that dark skinned when the modern ones are so much lighter. It does seem a bit offensive to modern light-skinned Egyptians to say that this anthology about Egyptians can’t contain people with their skin tone.

  3. Rebel Rider,

    The reason why you’re confused is because you don’t understand history. And I suggest, before you get offended on behalf of people in modern Egypt, you do some research to understand history. It will answer your questions.

    To start: are you aware that the majority of people living in Egypt today are descendants of the Arabs who invaded Egypt and other parts of Northern Africa a few hundred years ago? The majority of Egyptians are not descendants of the pyramid builders. Not all, mind you. There are some ethnic groups who are proudly and distinctly African or of a more clear visual African descent who live in Egypt today. But yes, the majority came from the invaders.

    Next, we come to the mummies. Since you gave no specifics of which mummies where and from what time, I can only offer the following suggestions on why you might have heard that:

    1. They were talking about mummies from the Ptolemaic or Roman eras in which (again) invaders from outside ruled the country and were accorded the honor given rulers and aristocracy, namely being mummified as part of being the honored dead.

    2. There are some Black people–Black Africans, even–with natural red and blond hair. All human life comes from Africa, after all.

    3. Depending on the time period, Egypt’s major cities were the center of the civilized world, and thus attracted people from all over the world within reach, meaning there was a mixture of “races” as we understand them in aristocratic bloodlines. It may even be that the mummies you mention were of people who weren’t Egyptian, but were accorded the honor of an Egyptian burial for some reason. Perhaps even marriage.

    4. Egyptology has a long history of being extremely racist and attempting to prove with falsified, mischaracterized, or poorly understood bits of fact that the Egyptians were not Africans because, as we know, Africans are uncivilized when compared to white Europeans. I mentioned this in the blog post above. Perhaps you should read that part again?

    Those are the easy explanations I can cite. Without more data I wouldn’t venture to conjecture more.

    And last, while I always encourage people to engage me in discussion on this or any other topic, it would be useful if you came at this with an acknowledgement that you haven’t put much thought or research time into this, and therefore pull back on the attitude and the “it seems offensive what you’re doing.”

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