When Did Black History Begin?

Black history didn’t begin with the arrival of the first African slaves in America. It didn’t start with the Ghana Empire or the Nubian Kingdom of Kush in Africa. Black history began in the Garden of Eden.

When we think about the most important figures in Black history, we tend to think about African leaders like Kwame Nkrumah or Black American heroes like Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. When we think about Black history, we think about those people and many more—except the most important person of them all: Adam.

Many of us have unintentionally accepted the racist belief that there is more than one human race. We’ve adopted a semi-polygenist understanding of race that segregates us from our common identity in Adam.

Our modern understanding of “race” was constructed by scientific racism and White supremacists in the 17th century. Before that time, the world’s conception of race was strictly related to human biology and nationality, not physical appearance.

Essentially, the word “race” was interchangeable with the words “species” or “citizens”. All humans were considered either members of one biological race or members of one national race. For instance, British people routinely referred to themselves as the “British race”.

However, European scientists later constructed a newer definition for “race” to justify slavery and segregation. They divided the human species into five species according to physical characteristics. And they reasoned that just as humans should have dominion over animals, the “Caucasian race” should have dominion over the less developed “races” too, especially the “negroid race.”

Scientists have since abandoned this understanding of race. But the divisive legacy of their pseudoscientific conclusions persists. Many people today still believe there are major biological differences between Black people and White people. Many of us still describe people with different physical characteristics than we have as members of another “race”. And many of us—especially we Black people—seem to believe Black people have a radically different history than White people and other groups.

And there’s some truth to that. Black people have perhaps the most complex histories in the world today. The story of how dominant North and East African groups produced descendants that became vulnerable and dispersed groups across Africa and the entire world is full of tragedy and triumph. But that is African history, Caribbean history, and Black American history—not Black history.

Blackness isn’t a history or a culture, it’s a skin colour. My skin colour is black. My nationality is Ghanaian and Canadian. My ethnicity is Fanti and Akan. And my race is human.

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We cannot be mistaken about this: there is one human race and many ethnicities. You and I may not share the same immediate relatives, but we share the same distant relatives. You and I may not share the same parents, but we share the same ancestor.

We may not share the same culture, but we share the same biology. We may not be members of the same ethnic group, but we are members of the same race. Black people and White people, Asians and Brown people, we’re all just as alike and unalike as Ghanaians and Nigerians.  Our differences are not greater than our similarities.  

I was born in Ghana. But I was created in the Garden of Eden—with you. We’re all made like Adam, and we’re all made in the image of God.

So, when did Black history begin? It began in the same place Brown history, Asian history, and White history began: the Garden of Eden.

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