What was the 1st thing that popped in your mind when you saw that title?
How about when you see this picture?
I wish I could read all of your minds. But I can’t. (But I could, if you would comment below. IJS.) This picture is a representation of how the mother of modern mankind may have looked. She represents Eve.
Say what now?
On January 11th, 1988 anthropologists announced that the “probable” ancestor of homo sapiens was found in East Africa. This ancestor, the mitochondrial mother of modern mankind, they named her “Eve.” Eve lived approximately 220,000 years ago and it is believed by some that everyone on earth can trace their mitochondrial DNA to her.
So sidebar; this Eve is older than the other Eve. You know the one in the Bible. That Eve is about 2000 years old.
I first learned about Eve and the Out of Africa theory in 2010, when, because I am a nerd, I decided to take an African-American History elective class at Medgar Evers College. I wanted to develop a new way to engage my students in the study of world history and I figured if I took a class from a non-western European perspective I would be able to decenter whiteness from the teaching of history and teach in a way that centered the students who sat in front of me daily, students of the Diaspora.
The class was on Saturday mornings at 10 am. At this point I had two Masters Degrees and really chose to take this class for enrichment purposes. I sat in a classroom with mostly freshmen, who were required to take this class but didn’t necessarily want to be there. The professor, an elder Black man walked in, cloaked in African garb, an Afro and a kufi on his head. His voice boomed as he began his lecture, before taking off his coat. He asked us what we knew of our ancestral heritage, if we knew we invented math and science, medicine, architecture…he wasn’t asking, expecting us to answer.
He knew the answer.
We did not know a damn thing. After 20 minutes or so of chastising us, he told us the rest of the class would be spent watching a documentary to which we had to respond, in writing that would be due the following Saturday. The lights went off and the documentary began.
So needless to say, I was amazed. As I stated earlier, I had never heard of the “Out of Africa” theory or this “Real Eve” theory but I decided right then and there that I would engage my students with both theories and this would be how I would start ALL of my classes. At the time I was teaching a year long Global History course that ended in a Regents exam, and two elective courses; intro to Sociology and an English writing course I named “Auto-ethnography.” I made the decision that starting the following September and every September after, I would start with the Real Eve.
My intent was/is to teach history from a decolonized perspective, one that decenters whiteness and centers the Diaspora, not in an attempt to wrestle power from whites… well, let me think about this. Lol.
My intent then and my intent now is to help students develop their sense of self. Our current schooling system makes it so that Black children’s self-identification starts with slavery and ends with the penitentiary. We are conditioned through school to be seen as slaves, savages, docile nincompoops, aggressive beasts, ghetto ‘hoodrats, and threatening Black nationalists and then of course there’s the 1% who are good negroes because they have mastered whiteness and have internalized Black inferiority.
For me, The Real Eve is a way to begin to rewrite the story of the African and center us as the origin of mankind. That way slavery is no longer the beginning of our story but just a chapter of it, somewhere in the middle of the book. The Real Eve is a great contrast to racist “scientific ideology” that was developed to help solidify white supremacy. (Have y’all read “Stamped from the Beginning” yet?)
My students loved learning from this documentary. They had so many questions and wonderings about their ancestral heritage. I wish at that time, that I had the wherewithal to do some DNA testing so that they could have further developed their connection to Africa. But you do! My family and I took our African Ancestry DNA test last Thanksgiving and I’m telling you, there’s a feeling you get when you open up that envelope and you learn who your people are. You learn your tribe, your region, your language. It’s so emotionally overwhelming and wonderful at the same time. And it’s an important experience which will strengthen our Diasporic community.
This past summer Colin Kaepernick held a “Know Your Rights” Camp for Black kids and as a parting gift, he gave them and their families a free DNA test, because he knows the importance of connecting to the motherland. He also gave them all a copy of the Autobiography of Malcolm X. Also, do you know this man just gave away all his sneakers to fund homeless shelters in his hometown? Ok, y’all wanna talk about making Black History RIGHT NOW? You want to talk about teachable moment for our kids? Colin Kaepernick needs to be celebrated, analyzed and a part of our curriculum. But I digress.
Here’s what we want you to do; engage in CREAD Commandment #5: Expand your repertoire of resources and in honor of the 28th anniversary of the discovery of the Real Eve, the mother of modern humankind, I ask you dear educator, CELEBRATE it! Because you know Black History Month is right around the corner….I’m just saying.
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