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A Thorough Debunking of Dawkins’ Racist Retweet

As we mentioned yesterday, Dawkins has been on a racist tear lately. One of his most batshit tweets fights the tyranny of cultural appropriation — meaning the people criticizing cultural appropriation are tyrannical, not the other way around. I know. Stay with me.

euro racist dawkins

 

The meme assumes that without Europeans, life would be a living hell because the world would be missing the following items:

Computers
Al-Biruni invented the first mechanical geared lunisolar calendar astrolabe and Ismail al-Jazari from Turkey created what is considered to be the first programmable analogue computer in the Middle Ages but there are too many milestones like these in the history of computers to mention every one. So instead I’ll just point out that the device you’re reading this one was most likely assembled in Asia and when something goes wrong you’ll inevitably talk to a person in Asia to fix it.

Airplanes
One of the earliest attempts at flight may have been Abbas ibn Firnas, an Arabic inventor. He was Andalusian, which for the purposes of this racist meme I’m assuming he’ll be considered “European.” But let’s all just take a moment to acknowledge the wishy washy nature of that word.

Trains
Yep, trains are pretty Euro.

Automobiles
The first steam-powered “car” was designed and possibly built by a European — who was living in China, working for the Chinese emperor.

Bicycles
Yep, bikes are also pretty Euro.

Pants
Originated in Western China as a better way to ride horses.

Aspirin
The earliest written evidence of people using medicinal willow bark comes from Sumeria, aka Iraq.

Wine
Folks in Iran were making wine as early as 5000BCE, and Armenians had it figured out 8,000 years ago.

Beer
The oldest beer was brewed in Egypt and Mesopotamia

Spirits
China was probably distilling spirits at the same time that Europe figured it out.

Coca Cola and Pepsi

The kola nut comes from the tropical rainforest of Africa, where it was consumed by ancient Africans for its caffeine.

Pizza
Mmm, deliciously Euro!

Fried chicken
Originated in West Africa, brought to the US South by slaves.

Hot dogs and hamburgers
Wrapping meat up in a carb comes to us courtesy of the ancient Jews.

Corn
Discovered and cultivated in the Americas

Tomatoes
Discovered and cultivated in the Americas

Apple Pie
Definitely European! British, to be exact.

Chocolate
Discovered and cultivated in the Americas

Western architecture
Yes, Western architecture is a product of the West (i.e. Europe). This is known as a tautology.

Prada, Cartier, Chanel, Polo
Yes, these European fashion designers would not be possible without Europeans. Tautology #2!

Mathematics
Babylon, Egypt, China, and India were all doing math before Greece came to the party and here’s another timeline for fun.

Philosophy
Every culture throughout history has had its own philosophy. I assume you wanted to say “Western philosophy” but three tautologies would be too many for one racist meme.

Psychology
Originally practiced and developed in Egypt, China, Persia, India, and Greece.

Biology
Traces back to medicine in ancient Egypt.

Physics
The foundation of physics is in ancient astronomy, brought to us by the Egyptians and Sumerians.

Literature
The first novel in the history of world literature was probably written by a Japanese woman.

Democracy
Greece is known as the birthplace of democracy, but the US system of governance was heavily inspired by the Iroquoian League of Nations.

+++

Thanks to everyone behind the scenes at Skepchick HQ for chipping in and helping turn an ignorant, racist meme propagated by an ignorant, racist man into a delightful history lesson! The most important thing to take away from all this is that we should all give thanks to ancient white people while riding our bikes to the pizza parlor this week.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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22 Comments

  1. November 25, 2015 at 4:51 pm —

    Wow, look at that Dawkins, most of that shit comes from the Middle East, back where some of the first settlements were! How weird!

    Also, I thought for SURE we’d go a few days before he tweeted something else awful, but now I’m the one looking ridiculous for not believing in him!

  2. November 25, 2015 at 5:57 pm —

    This turned out to be rather long. It’s just off the top of my head, so feel free to inform me if I’m missing something.

    First, I’m not sure I agree that the dominant culture even can be appropriated. When marginalized people adopt the trappings of the dominant culture, it doesn’t threaten the dominant culture. On the contrary, it validates it as the norm.

    Contrast that with what happens when people from the dominant group adopt trappings from a marginalized culture: That culture is further marginalized; shown as being “exotic” and different; commercialized for the use of the dominant culture as a plaything. The original meaning of the culture is lost and replaced by the meaning that the dominant culture enforces.

    In extension of that, if you’ve spent several centuries trying to force your culture on other people and generally preaching that your culture is objectively best and everyone should do thing the way you do them, you don’t get to complain when people take you on your word.

    Furthermore, I don’t think strictly technological advances fall into the category of culture at all, at least in this context. Using a technology doesn’t appropriate anyone’s culture, unless it’s used in a culturally specific way.
    E.g. fermenting crops into alcoholic beverages isn’t cultural. Making specific types of alcoholic beverages in specific traditional ways and drinking them in a specific ritualistic manner might be.

    • November 26, 2015 at 9:44 pm —

      The classic European beer – lager – is fermented with a yeast which has been genetically identified as coming from South America – so Dawkins can’t even have his pint of lager as a good white supremacist.

  3. November 25, 2015 at 6:24 pm —

    Great job researching all that! =) Although a thorough debunking is definitely being handed down here, I can’t help but feel that we’re all missing the point a bit:

    Who gives a jet-powered economy-class fuck which race invented these things? It stretches the bounds of credibility to say that no person of color or non-european descent has made meaningful contributions to these things in the modern age. But likewise, can we really say that white people haven’t contributed to, and evolved, say hip hop (to take a low-hanging fruit example)?

    No. We all own these things together, we make them awesome together.

    Now enough with the butt-hurtedness, it’s distracting me from what Donald Trump just said ;)

    • November 25, 2015 at 7:10 pm —

      Take a look at this: https://youtu.be/O1KJRRSB_XA for a pretty good breakdown of what cultural appropriation means. It also includes the rap example.

      • November 25, 2015 at 8:21 pm —

        Thanks Namidim, that was a thoughtful video, and I get where it’s coming from–I’m just not sure that I agree. Even within the clip, there were things that honestly didn’t seem bad to me (why do black people care how Kendall Whoever does her hair), and others that were just fucking poor taste from dumb people (Katie Perry nomming on watermelon, and…well Franco *intended* to be a dumb white guy who acts black in that movie anyways, so mission accomplished? I guess?).

        So where’s the line between admiration/emulation and appropriation? Are we saying that only black people can have cornrows because it’s functional to their particular kind of hair? So then only white people can walk into REI? (I’m kidding ;) )

        Anyways, I’m perhaps getting off-topic. As I read it, Dawkins was saying “if you’re saying white people can’t use/do certain things because black people invented them, here are all the things white people invented” – it’s the ugliest, stupidest kind of racial one-upmanship from a guy who should know that things aren’t that simple.

        What I’m saying is that regardless of what color the inventor, other ethnicities have more often than not contributed to these inventions to enable their modern-day incarnations to exist. To paraphrase Newton, we all stand on the shoulders of giants, of our own culture–AND others’. This cross-cultural mechanism works both ways, so we should all quit it with the shitty “this is ours and you can’t have it” attitude.

        • November 25, 2015 at 9:40 pm —

          I think the video already addresses everything you said here so I’m just going to point back to it and check out.

        • November 25, 2015 at 10:13 pm —

          Well no actually, the problem comes when whites (like Kendall Jenner) are applauded for adopting a hairstyle that people of color (especially blacks) have always been disparaged for using.

          Of course whites have contributed to the furtherance of all those things that started as culture from people of color. It would be absurd to further that Eminem for example didn’t contribute to hip-hop/rap or Elvis didn’t advance Rock and Roll. However that does not erase the fact that so, so many of white American’s “cultural” advances aren’t appropriated from people of color.

          But since you asked, appropriation comes with assuming that your culture is the pinnacle of something that was “borrowed” from another culture. While appreciation is using and including the culture of others while acknowledging that the influences are outside your own, see Adele.

  4. November 25, 2015 at 7:47 pm —

    Buh?
    I’m curious… does Dawkins, and, probably more importantly, the person who originated that nonsensical image, believe that smoking is cultural appropriation? After all, tobacco was used ceremonially and socially by North American tribes before the Europeans ever arrived there, and apparently cultural appropriation is… simply using a thing that was supposedly invented somewhere?

    It’s been a very long time since I considered Dawkins to be a skeptic in any legitimate sense, but surely the concept of cultural appropriation is simple and clear enough for anyone to have a basic understanding of it if they simply but in 10 minutes of research? I mean, honestly, everything you need to have the most rudimentary understanding is right there in the term – cultural appropriation. Appropriation. Of culture. The taking of a meaningful thing, and wearing or displaying or somehow using of that thing without consideration of the meaning of the thing.
    Fine, the author of the original image was clearly an intellectually lazy fool with more interest in lashing out against something they don’t care to understand, but Dawkins at least likes to think of himself as a thinker; as a smart, rational person. So why does he not think it worth his time to understand that which he would deride? What could he possibly gain by ignorance? Understanding grants your criticisms a keen edge that can slice through any counter argument. Ignorance makes them dull and worthless. I don’t understand why he’d choose ignorance so often.

  5. November 25, 2015 at 10:14 pm —

    Apple pies might be British in origin, but pies originated back in Egypt so there’s that as well.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pie#History

  6. November 25, 2015 at 11:30 pm —

    Mathematics? Physics? Seriously?

    Hey Dawkins! Ever notice that the word “algebra” and the names of, like, two-thirds of the star we can see come from Arabic? Ever wonder why that is?

    And come on. I’m not what I would call a serious student of food history but even I know that corn, tomatoes, and chocolate were all cultivated in the pre-Columbian Americas.

  7. November 26, 2015 at 1:55 am —

    I’m pretty sure white cultural appropriation is things like beauty pageants for preschoolers, writing on your hand in biro, various drawling accents, golf, horseracing, tweed and afternoon tea as well as doing bad diy in a house where everything needs mending, and basically shuffling about in that house in an old jumper with leather patches on the elbows and unfinished bits of toast everywhere and calling your cats Mrs Tiddles III. And for a real life example of appropriation of white culture gone sour: the Cosby show anyone? Ew.

  8. November 26, 2015 at 4:33 am —

    Nice list! However I do have one slight quibble — I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it. It is generally acknowledged that the Greeks invented the first analog computer. The oldest example we have is the famous Antikythera Mechanism, which dates to the 2nd or 3rd century BCE and could track the positions of the sun, moon, and the five known planets as well as predict lunar and solar eclipses (and even keep track of the Olympic games) using what appears to be Babylonian arithmetic. So it’s kind of the perfect merging of Middle Eastern knowledge with European craftsmanship:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antikythera_mechanism

  9. November 26, 2015 at 5:21 am —

    re – “The meme assumes that without Europeans, life would be a living hell because the world would be missing the following items”

    hmmm not so sure, I’m more inclined to think that culture is just as much a popularisation of something, not necessarily being the inventor of it.

  10. November 26, 2015 at 5:59 am —

    Has he ever been to the east at all? Seems like he has never visited China, Japan, India or any of the other countries. If he has, he clearly didn’t bother attempting to research culture or history. Fcking ignorant dick.

  11. November 26, 2015 at 6:00 am —

    BTW he should read “Guns, germs and steel” by Jared Diamond

  12. November 26, 2015 at 3:08 pm —

    Pizza
    Mmm, deliciously Euro!

    Just try to imagine it without tomatoes…
    I mean, my very own local cuisine would be 90% less without potatoes and I’m as European as you get*

    *My fucking last name stems from a village 15 miles from here, so now you know.

    • November 27, 2015 at 12:19 pm —

      You actually can get pizza without tomato. Usually you just get it with spinach, mushrooms, and cheese then, but it’s possible.

      Plus, I know of a few pizza places that are a bit stingy with tomato sauce.

      • November 27, 2015 at 2:38 pm —

        There’s also garlic bread, but that’s not a true pizza. Anyway, tomato garlic bread is still much tastier.

  13. November 27, 2015 at 12:18 pm —

    Arctic peoples also wear pants.

    Richard Dawkins just wants to see me in a loincloth, doesn’t he?

    Anyway, the original point of the term, before Tumblr started getting this hilarious notion that it meant non-Japanese couldn’t watch anime (Seriously, kids. Just stop.), was to refer specifically to hippies, New Agers, Men’s Movement types, etc. co-opting indigenous religious rituals.

  14. November 27, 2015 at 2:19 pm —

    This whole thing was going great until the last bit. The idea that American democracy was strongly influenced by the constitution of the Iroquoian confederacy is pure fiction. This story has been going around for a very long time, credited to Benjamin Franklin and his belief implementation of their policies. However, there was no such constitution and the Iroquois policies were never considered in the formation of the American constitution. Someone for got to look it up.

  15. December 5, 2015 at 12:37 pm —

    A “debunking” in this manner seems to just promote the idea that the “examples” listed are in fact genuine examples of cultural appropriation. I freely admit I am no expert in the matter, but I don’t think these actually are even valid examples, right?

    If someone creates a strawman to attack, point out it’s a strawman, don’t defend it.

    As someone who doesn’t really under cultural appropriation, I was hoping to learn something. Instead I just feel more ignorant.

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