Do You Remember … that Egypt is in Africa?

Joie:  So, Willa … I was thinking about how we’re already into our third year of this blog and all the wonderful posts we’ve done and the amazing conversations we’ve had. You know, we’ve talked about so many different aspects of Michael Jackson’s artistry, from his songs and short films to his impact on an entire generation of people and his contributions to music, fashion, pop culture and humanity. And during all those conversations, there’s actually a topic we haven’t really touched on at all, and I’m amazed that we’ve overlooked it. I’m talking about Remember the Time, both the song itself as well as the short film. In all of the conversations we’ve had the past two years, I don’t think we’ve mentioned it much. Have we?

Willa:  No, we haven’t, and it’s a great one to talk about!  But we haven’t talked about a lot of incredible work – short films like Beat It and Billie Jean and Scream, as well as other visual art and music and dance. Not to mention the unreleased songs and films, or the classical music he composed that hasn’t even been recorded yet. He left behind a huge body of work.

Joie:  So, Remember the Time is actually one of Michael’s greatest short films, in my opinion. Partly because it has such a wonderful and entertaining cast – Eddie Murphy, Iman, and Magic Johnson all simply shine in their roles in this video.

Willa:  That’s true, and the relationships between them and the characters they play is interesting as well. For example, Iman’s character, an Egyptian queen, is married to Eddie Murphy’s character, the Pharaoh. But you get the impression she really wants Michael Jackson’s character, a magical/musical mystery man with many hidden talents. The Pharaoh realizes this and feels very threatened by it, so he orders his guards. But while they’re running around chasing this mysterious figure, he’s off having a passionate moment with the Queen in her private chambers.

This is all kind of funny if you remember that, in the 1980s, Eddie Murphy repeatedly made fun of Michael Jackson on Saturday Night Live and in his comedy routines on the Delirious tour and others, implying in not so subtle ways that Michael Jackson wasn’t “masculine” enough. But watching Remember the Time, you get the impression his “wife,” the Queen, doesn’t agree.

Joie:  That’s funny, Willa. I had never made that connection before. Of course, I’ve seen those Eddie Murphy skits over and over, but I never thought about them in terms of the Remember the Time video. That’s interesting.

Willa:  It is interesting, isn’t it? You know, they really seemed to respect each other a lot, professionally, but there was an edge to it sometimes – just like there’s some animosity between their characters in this film. And there’s definitely an edge between the magician/musician and the Queen as well. It’s presented as an illicit romance, but there’s more to it than that. The Queen demands to be entertained, and when the first two performers don’t please her, she has them executed. So then the magician/musician tries his hand, and he’s drawn to her but seems kind of angry with her too – and you can see why.

Joie:  Hmm. Actually I’m not sure that I know what you mean, on either point. With Eddie Murphy, I don’t feel like there was an edge to their friendship at all. I think it seemed really genuine. Those old skits you were talking about before, Michael said once that he thought they were really funny, and he was impressed with Eddie’s singing voice when he would mimic him. So I don’t think there was an edge to it at all.

Willa:   Well, you’re right – Eddie Murphy does have a wonderful voice …

Joie:  And in the video, the interaction between Michael’s character and Iman’s – I don’t feel that he’s angry with her. To me, the storyline created by the video is one of lost love. They obviously share a romantic history with each other, she is surprised to see him there in the palace that she now shares with her husband the Pharaoh, and he is subtly (or maybe not so subtly) asking her if she remembers “them” – how much in love they were, what they meant to one another. I don’t see him being angry with her.

Willa:  That’s funny that we see this all so differently, Joie!  My feeling is that Eddie Murphy respected Michael Jackson a lot for his talent and his charisma and his massive sales, but he didn’t understand him at all. According to Randy Taraborrelli, Murphy told him once, “I love Michael, but he is strange.”

Joie:  Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t give too much credence to anything Taraborrelli says.

Willa:  Well, ok, but it is true that Eddie Murphy ridiculed Michael Jackson a lot in his comedy sketches. I remember seeing a skit on Saturday Night Live a long time ago where he was holding a Michael Jackson doll and basically talking about how effeminate it was. And then at the end of the skit, he pulled the pants off the doll, pointed out it didn’t have any man parts – as if dolls generally do – and said something about it being anatomically accurate. It kind of shocked me, to be honest, just how harsh it was. I haven’t been able to find a clip of it so maybe I’m remembering it as worse than it was, but as I remember it had a very ridiculing tone to it.

I think Eddie Murphy did things like that primarily because he’s a guy-guy, a masculine fellow in a very traditional sense of the word, and he mocked Michael Jackson for not conforming to that – for attempting to redefine what it means to “be a man,” as we talked about with Bad in a post last fall. But while Michael Jackson may not have been macho in the traditional sense, he had an uncanny power that he exercised in gentle ways. We see a glimpse of that in this clip from the 1989 American Music Awards:

It’s a funny clip, but it’s interesting that Eddie Murphy starts to help him with the microphone “like I was working for him or something,” and then stops himself, like it’s beneath his dignity: “Wait, what am I doing?”

But even more importantly, I think, is that they see themselves, their careers, and their cultural function in very different ways. Eddie Murphy sees himself as an entertainer, while Michael Jackson was both an entertainer and an artist – and that’s a huge difference. An entertainer tries to please his audience and give them what they want – like the entertainers who try to please the Queen in the video. And as an entertainer, I think Eddie Murphy thought Michael Jackson was “strange” for not doing that – for not just giving us what we want.

But Michael Jackson had the vision of an artist as well as an entertainer, and artists don’t always try to please us. In fact, sometimes they defy us or make us angry or uncomfortable, or even reshape our desires and force us to question what it is we really want, and why – kind of like his character does with the Queen. He doesn’t just entertain her – he unsettles her as well.

Joie:  I understand what you’re trying to say, Willa. But I think it’s a little presumptuous of us to state that we know for certain how Eddie Murphy sees himself, his career or his cultural function. I think it’s much safer to say that you feel this is how he sees things, but you don’t really know that. In fact, for all we know, Eddie Murphy doesn’t even think of himself or his career in terms of his “cultural function” at all. That thought may never have even crossed his mind before. It’s simply an idea that you’re placing on him.

And I would be willing to bet that Eddie Murphy does think of himself as an artist. After all, he does have two albums under his belt and is currently working on a third. He’s provided background vocals for other artists, and sang several songs in the Shrek film franchise. Here’s a link to his new single, a reggae tune called “Red Light,” featuring Snoop Lion.

Willa:  You’re right, Joie, I should state things more carefully. I don’t know how he sees himself, but based on the projects he’s done in the past, my feeling is that he’s more an entertainer than an artist. And I say that in large part because, in his work, in general, he seems eager to please his audience and not really challenge us or alter our perceptions or beliefs in any way. His comedy routines can be pretty edgy sometimes – I would say he challenges his audience more through his comedy than his music or films – but he never comes close to bringing about the kinds of deep cultural shifts Michael Jackson did. Michael Jackson challenges us constantly in so many ways – how we think about race and gender, money and power and global inequality, animals and ecosystems and the natural world, children and marriage and family relationships, as well as romance and sexuality and desire. In fact, there are times where he really forces us to question why we desire the things we do.

I see this all playing out in interesting ways in Remember the Time. Iman’s character, the Queen, is bored and fickle and cruel. She wants an entertainer who will amuse her, and when the first two entertainers don’t please her, she casually has them killed, as mentioned before. It’s presented in a comic way, but it’s still chilling.

Then Michael Jackson’s character appears, but he’s way more than just an entertainer. He doesn’t look like much when he first appears in his simple robe and sandals, and the Pharaoh kind of mocks him – just like Eddie Murphy himself mocked Michael Jackson: “And what is it you’re going to do?” But this unimposing figure has uncanny abilities – like Michael Jackson himself – and he both exceeds and defies their expectations.

First he transforms himself into an indeterminate figure who’s wearing both modern black jeans and a transparent Egyptian skirt. It’s the kind of skirt you see Egyptian figures wearing in ancient murals, and I really kind of like it, actually, but it’s not very macho in a traditional sense. But then the Pharaoh realizes that his Queen is seriously turned on by this new kind of man, and his eyes practically bug out at the sight!  And soon after we see Michael Jackson’s character surrounded by a ring of dancing harem girls – not bad for a guy in a skirt …

This magician/musician also challenges them both, especially the Queen – the woman who killed his predecessors. After he transforms, he brushes off his arms and juts out his jaw like he’s going into a fight. Then he swipes his mouth with the back of his hand – just like he did in Bad before telling the street thugs that they’re “doing wrong,” and in Ghosts before telling the Mayor and villagers that they’re “doing wrong” also. So this character is far more than an entertainer trying to please his audience. It’s much more complicated than that.

Joie:  Well, that’s an interesting interpretation, Willa. And I agree with what you said before about us seeing this so differently because we really do. I believe that this one is simply mirroring the tale that the song is telling, and the Queen becomes hot and bothered when she recognizes her former lover, who is standing there asking her if she remembers the time they spent together. The King is obviously upset about this, and he decides to have him killed once he sees the connection this strange man has to his wife. As I’m fond of saying, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and not everything always has an underlying, symbolic meaning.

Willa:  Well, that’s true, Joie, but to me there are a lot of unsettling little details that don’t really add up if this is just a love story. Like, why does he begin this video by showing us that the Queen is a murderer?  That’s not very romantic!  And why does he set it up so she’s married to someone else?  And why does he spend so little time with her?  He actually spends a lot more time dancing with the harem girls than he does with her. That doesn’t really fit a love story either.

Joie:  I don’t think he’s trying to show us that the Queen is a murderer. I just think he’s trying to show us the culture and the time period that this short film is set in!  And she’s married to someone else because she’s the Queen. I don’t know why he chose to set this particular short film in this particular setting. Would it be more romantic if he had set it at a modern-day church where he’s interrupting a wedding to ask the bride if she remembers how much in love they used to be?  Maybe. And then he could have spent some time dancing with the wedding party instead of the harem girls!

Willa:  But queens don’t have to be married!  Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra was a powerful Egyptian queen who had passionate affairs with both Julius Caesar (played by Rex Harrison) and Mark Antony (played by Richard Burton) and she wasn’t married to either one of them. And you know Michael Jackson must have seen that movie, as much as he loved old movies and Elizabeth Taylor.

But my point is, if he simply wanted to make Remember the Time a steamy romance he easily could have, but he didn’t. I mean, there’s a love scene in it, but overall it just doesn’t feel like it’s primarily a love story to me. It seems to me that once again he’s evoking that double relationship we see so often in his songs and videos of a man with his lover as well as a performer with his audience. We’ve talked about that double relationship before in posts about the My Baby songs (songs like “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” “Dirty Diana,” and “Dangerous”) as well as a lot of the Invincible songs (like “Invincible,” “Don’t Walk Away,” “Butterflies,” “Whatever Happens,” and “Speechless”) and in videos like You Rock My World, Who Is It, and Give In to Me. Over and over we see him creating this double narrative that, on one level, seems to be talking about the relationship between a man and his lover, but on another level is talking about the relationship between a performer and his audience.

And to me, this double relationship is perhaps spelled out more explicitly in Remember the Time than in any other video – after all, he really is playing both roles simultaneously. He is both a man trying to reconnect with a former lover and an entertainer trying to please his audience, all at the same time. I don’t think we see that in any other video.

And if we approach this video that way – as both a lost romance and a story about a performer and his audience – then all those things that really bothered me before make perfect sense. For example, I can understand why he would depict the Queen as fickle and cruel, because audiences really are fickle and cruel. They love Charlie Chaplin or Shirley Temple or Michael Jackson or Justin Bieber one day, and then take great delight in tearing them down the next. And I can understand why he wipes his mouth with the back of his hand like he’s about to go into battle, because I imagine that a lot of times dealing with some members of his audience, especially critics, must have felt like a battle.

Joie:  Ok, Willa, when you explain it that way, I can see where you’re coming from. And your interpretation actually makes a lot of sense. I can see the double relationship you’re talking about with the Queen representing the fickle audience here. You’re probably absolutely right. That double relationship was one that Michael used over and over again to get his point of view across and to attempt to educate the rest of us about our behavior. It was a “go to” sort of tactic for him, and one that served him well, I think. I wonder if other artists use it so effectively.

Willa:  That’s a good question, Joie. I know it’s fairly common for artists – poets especially – to present the relationship between an artist and his muse as a love affair, but I don’t know about the relationship between an artist and his audience. Hmmm … that’s interesting.

But you know, I don’t mean to say this is the only way of approaching this video. I’m really intrigued by this interpretation, but I feel like I’ve been pushing it too hard. There are a lot of other really interesting ways to approach it as well. For example, I’d like to go back to a question you raised earlier when you said, “I don’t know why he chose to set this particular short film in this particular setting.”

That’s a really good question – why did he choose to set this video in ancient Egypt? It reminds me of something he said in an interview with Jesse Jackson in March 2005:

Michael Jackson:  I really love Africa, and I love the people of Africa. … I spend more of my vacation in Africa than any other country. … They never show the sandy, white sugar beaches, and it’s there. … They never show how beautiful the place is, and it’s really stunningly beautiful!  And I want to heighten that awareness with what I’m doing, and that’s been my dream for many, many years. …

Jesse Jackson:  You know, we know about the high points of Rome because we see it on film.

Michael Jackson:  That’s right.

Jesse Jackson:  We know about the high points of Britain and the palace. We see it on film. Or on Paris. We don’t see much of Africa on film. We see Africa as misery, and Africa as problems. We do not see it as being this phenomenally endowed continent of sand and sea and oil and resources. …

Michael Jackson:  The world is jealous of Africa for many centuries because the natural resources are phenomenal!  It really is. And it is the dawn of civilization. Our history, a lot of our Bible history, is right there in Africa. And King Tut, all these great civilizations, that is right there in Africa. Egypt is in Africa!  And they always try to separate the two, but Egypt is Africa.

That’s a long quotation, but I think it helps explain why Egypt was so important to him. We see this fascination with Egyptian art and culture running throughout his adult life, and I wonder if that stems in part from an urge to reclaim Egypt as part of black history and culture.

It’s interesting in this context to think about the fact that the Egyptian royal couple played by Eddie Murphy and Iman are black. We don’t usually see that – for example, Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra was white. But in Remember the Time, the Egyptian royalty are black. In fact, the entire cast is black. I can’t think of another Michael Jackson video where that’s true. And I wonder if he set it up that way in part to emphasize the idea he expresses in the Jesse Jackson interview that “Egypt is in Africa … Egypt is Africa.”

Joie:  That’s a great quote, and I completely agree with what he said in that quote, “they” do always try to separate Egypt from Africa, but it can’t be done. And I think you’re right in suggesting that perhaps that was part of his motive here – to bring an awareness or try to educate us about Egypt being Africa.

Willa:  You know, I’d never thought about that before – that Egypt is often separated out from Africa – until I listened to this interview. That’s really interesting, and it adds a whole other dimension to Michael Jackson’s longtime interest in ancient Egypt and Egyptian art. For example, we see it in the Bashir documentary when he talks so enthusiastically about the Egyptian sarcophagus, and we see it in this portrait from the HIStory album, which is modeled after a sculpture of Pharoah Khafre and his protector, the god Horus, who often appears as a falcon:

MJ and Khafre

Interestingly, this sculpture of Khafre and Horus is seen by many scholars as the model for the Sphinx.

Joie:  I’ve always thought that was a very interesting picture of him. The likeness is remarkable, I think.

And it is interesting, isn’t it? How the western world attempts to separate the great civilization of Egypt from the brown skinned people who built and ruled it. And that’s just the sort of African (and African American) history that Michael Jackson always seemed to be very drawn to and interested in. The history that he always tried to educate us about.

Willa:  That’s true, Joie, and he continues our education in subtle ways in Remember the Time.


About Dancing with the Elephant contributors

Joie Collins is a founding member of the Michael Jackson Fan Club (MJFC). She has written extensively for MJFC, helping to create the original website back in 1999 and overseeing both the News and History sections of the website. Over the years she conducted numerous interviews on behalf of MJFC and also directed correspondence for the club. She also had the great fortune to be a guest at Neverland. She has been a Michael Jackson fan since she was three years old. Lisha McDuff is a classically trained professional musician who for 30 years made her living as a flutist, performing in orchestras and for major theatrical touring productions. Her passion for popular musicology led her to temporarily leave the orchestra pit and in June 2013 she received a Master’s degree in Popular Music Studies from the University of Liverpool. She’s continuing her studies at McMaster University, where she is working on a major research project about Michael Jackson, with Susan Fast as her director. Willa Stillwater is the author of M Poetica: Michael Jackson's Art of Connection and Defiance and "Rereading Michael Jackson," an article that summarizes some of the central ideas of M Poetica. She has a Ph.D. in English literature, and her doctoral research focused on the ways in which cultural narratives (such as racism) are made real for us by being "written" on our bodies. She sees this concept as an important element of Michael Jackson's work, part of what he called social conditioning. She has been a Michael Jackson fan since she was nine years old.

Posted on November 21, 2013, in Michael Jackson and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 29 Comments.

  1. I just love the way you two spar with each other when you come at Michael’s art from different angles – which gives us alternative views also.

    “not bad for a guy in a skirt” has to be one of the funniest comments yet Willa – I also love that ‘skirt’ and think it very effective – the shimmer of the fabric is great..

    On the whole I go with Willa’s comments because we have learned, from this blog, and other sources, that Michael never did anything simply, and that there are always layers and layers and layers to all his work, and I believe that Remember The Time is no exception. Having lived in South Africa now for 28 years, I love that he made a short film based in Africa – as well as Liberian Girl of course, because he did so love coming here, and I know why!! but I do still sometimes wonder what the short film has to do with the words of the song – another one of those Who Is It conumdrums for me, but this blog has helped yet again.

    Two stories that I have gleaned and love about Remember The Time is 1) how Michael hid the headdress that Bush had made for him to wear for the film shoot because he didn’t like it and didn’t want to wear it, and 2) how Eddie Murphy took off from his throne when the falcon took flight, and Iman just went on sitting there. He explained that Iman came from Senegal and knew that when an animal was startled or threatened by you then you just stayed still, but he said “I am from Brooklyn” – very funny.

    • Hi Caro. I’d forgotten those stories! But you’re right, they are funny. I went back and looked at a clip of Eddie Murphy and the falcon, and it’s interesting that Murphy frames that as a question of “masculinity” also, but in a funny way. As he says, “I don’t want you all to think that I’m running and I’m a punk because Iman didn’t move from the bird…. She’s as horrified as I am.” btw, here’s a clip for those who haven’t seen it:

  2. I can’t find this documented, so I’m wondering if Michael was also making an important statement about HIV/AIDS by including Magic Johnson. Magic’s announcement that he was HIV-positive was made in November ’91, and the short film was released in February ’92, which seems a short time to make the film. In any case, by the time the film aired, it would have been widely known that Magic was HIV-positive.
    An interesting piece of trivia: one of the dancers was Wylie Draper, who played the adult Michael in “The Jacksons: An American Dream.”

    • “I’m wondering if Michael was also making an important statement about HIV/AIDS by including Magic Johnson. Magic’s announcement that he was HIV-positive was made in November ’91, and the short film was released in February ’92”

      That’s interesting, Midnite Boomer. I’ve never heard anything about that but it makes sense, and it also makes sense that Michael Jackson would want to support him, personally, during that time since they were apparently longtime friends. According to an interview Magic Johnson did with Jimmy Kimmel, he had “unbelievable fun with Michael and the Jackson family and the brothers,” and even went on the Victory tour with them. He also says this about Remember the Time: “he said, I want to do something with the two MJ’s – Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan – and he ended up doing a video with both of us.”

      Here’s a clip of the Magic Johnson interview:

  3. Thanks for another good post.

    I must say that I’ve always felt that Eddie or any other comedian has an easier time of making fun of a subject if they don’t know them personally. Seems Eddie’s days on SNL were before he became friends with Michael. I also feel that Eddie’s comments questioning Michael’s masculinity come from a place of confused sexuality from Eddie…again, just a feeling and my opinion.

    I’m also going to have to re-listen to the song and watch the video back – to- back because I also never made the connection between the two.

    Thanks again, ladies!

    • That’s a good point, Destiny – that Eddie Murphy’s harshest criticism probably came before he really knew Michael Jackson. I hadn’t thought about that. And even when he was ridiculing him, he always acknowledged what an amazing performer he was, with an incredible voice, and he asked him to join him on his Whazupwitu video.

      And it’s true that while Eddie Murphy mocked Michael Jackson for not being “masculine” enough, he kind of plays with gender roles himself a bit in his comedy. So it’s complicated.

  4. Yet another MJ video with a cat!
    1. The tabby appears in the opening sequence, along with another larger cat.
    2. The tabby is shown again in the throne room right before the queen asks to be entertained.
    3. The queen says, “throw him to the lions” (a big cat).
    4. The queen is in her bed with the larger cat when MJ appears in her bedroom
    5. Right after the big group dance, when MJ is alone again, you can hear drums and a cat meowing
    6. The tabby meows and walks to where MJ has just disappeared in a cloud of dust

    Cats are in so many of his videos – he turns into a big cat (Panther) in Black or White, there is a cat in the Billie Jean video, there is a cat on the piano keys in Smooth Criminal.

    • You’re right, Sandra. There’s a lot of cat imagery, here and throughout his work. And I think you can add Thriller to the list as well. I read an interview with one of the Thriller special effects people a while ago (I think it was in the Douglas Kirkland book, Michael Jackson: The Making of “Thriller,” but I might be wrong about that) and he said that the main character, Michael, doesn’t really transform into a werewolf. It’s actually more of a cat – a werecat.

      • I am thinking also about how cats were worshipped in ancient Egypt:
        Bast, Perfumed Protector, Cat Goddess…

        In early times Bast (written as ‘Bastet’ by scribes in later times to emphasise that the ‘t’ was to be pronounced) was a goddess with the head of a lion or a desert sand-cat and was regarded as mother of Mahes, a lion-headed god. She was usually depicted as a cat, or as a woman with the head of a cat or lion. She was also connected to Hathor, Sekhmet, Tefnut, Atum (her father) and Mut. It was only in the New Kingdom that she gained the head of a house cat and became a much more ‘friendly’ goddess, though she was still depicted as a lion-headed woman to show her war-like side.

      • At 8:43 in the video, I think there is a cat god on the wall (and there is a cat meowing too)

  5. I was doing some google searches on this video and came across this: “Remember The Time”‘s music video was loosely based on Eddie Murphy’s hit comedy movie Coming To America (1988).”
    So I looked up that movie, and it is about Eddie Murphy as Prince Akeem Joffer, an African prince who comes to the United States in hopes of finding a woman he can marry. The plot doesn’t seem even close, except for the role of Murphy as African royalty.

  6. More on cats and MJ: I was just reading “Thriller 25, The Book”, published in 2008. At the end of the book is a section that starts out: “Michael Jackson would like to share some personal thoughts after a career of almost 40 years in the global spotlight.” included here is a poem by William Blake, and the last photo is the book is of a tiger.
    The Tyger
    Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
    In the forests of the night;
    What immortal hand or eye,
    Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

    In what distant deeps or skies.
    Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
    On what wings dare he aspire?
    What the hand, dare seize the fire?

    And what shoulder, & what art,
    Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
    And when thy heart began to beat,
    What dread hand? & what dread feet?

    What the hammer? what the chain,
    In what furnace was thy brain?
    What the anvil? what dread grasp,
    Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

    When the stars threw down their spears
    And water’d heaven with their tears:
    Did he smile his work to see?
    Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

    Tyger Tyger burning bright,
    In the forests of the night:
    What immortal hand or eye,
    Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

  7. re. Egypt and Blackness:

    I’m sorry to say it, but this discussion is all about race relations in the US, and very little about Egypt! 🙂

    Yes, Egypt IS in Africa, it is Africa’s greatest heritage.
    But Egyptians were NOT ”Black” (and certainly not ”White”).

    As thousands of drawings show, Egyptians were ”Brown”, perhaps like modern-day Berbers of Morocco. Here is an Egyptian drawing of an Egyptian, standing in front of White and Black people:

    I know Afro- and Euro-Americans have been trying to ”hijack” Egypt for centuries, but that has very little to do with actual history.

    • Oops, here’s the image:

      • BUT, for the sake of fairness, I should say that Egypt’s neighbours to the south, the Nubians, were probably ”Black Africans”. They built pyramids as well, and even conquered Egypt at one point in history. National Geographic did an issue about them, called ”The Black Pharaoh” or something. (I don’t remember the issue, but it should be easy to find for anyone interested!)

    • But race is just a cultural construct, right? It doesn’t really exist. What I mean is, the things we designate as racial differences are only significant because we make them significant.

      Is someone from India a different race than someone from Japan? Their hair color and eye color are similar – so are they the same race, or different? Is someone from Mexico a different race than someone from California? Californians seem to think so, but I’m not sure someone from China would see a difference.

      So, for example, people from Scandinavia tend to be taller and fairer than people from the rest of Europe, with lighter skin, blonder hair, and bluer eyes. There’s a fairly big difference between the “average” Dane and the “average” Brit, and especially the “average” Greek or Spaniard. Still, we don’t think of Scandinavians as a separate race from other Europeans. But we do think of Egyptians as a separate race from other Africans. Why?

      I think it’s because there has not been cultural pressure to separate out Scandinavian people and culture from the rest of Europe, but there has been cultural pressure to separate out Egyptian people and culture from the rest of Africa. I think that’s the idea Michael Jackson is getting at in the interview with Jesse Jackson when he says, “they always try to separate the two, but Egypt is Africa.”

      I’d never thought about that before, but it really intrigues me. Why is it important to us to differentiate between Egypt and Africa? Why do we emphasize that division so much we often forget that “Egypt is in Africa … Egypt is Africa,” as he tells Jesse Jackson? I think there are some really interesting cultural and political reasons for that insistence on separating the two.

      • Wiila, thanks for your response to Bjorn. You asked, “Why is it important to us to differentiate between Egypt and Africa?”. You also answered your own question at the start – because race is a social construct.

        • Hi Destiny,
          no offense, but who has said it is important to ”differentiate between Egypt and Africa”?
          To me, it has always been a part of Africa, just like Namibia, Liberia or Morocco.

          Kind regards,

      • Hi Willa,

        I agree ”race” is *largely* a cultural construct.
        I write *largely* because visible differences between two persons – like hair colour and skin colour – do exist. I once spent a holiday in Senegal, and all the children kept staring at me because my skin colour was different from theirs.

        If you pick 10 random Indian families and 10 random Japanese families, I’m sure many people around the world could tell which persons looked ”Indian”, and which persons looked ”Japanese”. There’s nothing wrong with that – there are differences between all ”original” populations. (With the word ”original”, I mean: before America was settled and a lot of people from all over the world became a part of the great ”melting-pot”!)

        Maybe we don’t need the word race to describe these differences. I can’t tell. If you want to talk about a ”Scandinavian race”, I would have no problem with that.

        As far as the evidence goes, the ancient Egyptians did not look like people in Senegal (whom most people in the world call ”Black”, even the Senegalese themselves). The ancient Egyptians would probably have looked more like people in Morocco (for instance, their natural hair was black and straight).
        As the drawing I linked to indicates, the ancient Egyptians did not see themselves as ”Black” (like their neighbours to the south).

        THAT’s why most historians think of Egyptians as a ”separate race” from the other Africans, as you put it. Not ouf of malice, but because there actually was a visible difference.

        Eddie Murphy simply does not look Egyptian. Elizabeth Taylor does not look Egyptian either. And I don’t see the problem with that, unless you have a ”I want to adopt those cool Egyptians as my ancestors” complex! 🙂

        Egypt ĥas always been a place in Africa. If anyone has tried to deny Egypt its Africanness, they must be mad.

        Kind regards,


      • Sorry, Willa, I replied a bit too quickly. I agree with you that
        ”there has been cultural pressure to separate out Egyptian people and culture from the rest of Africa.”

        I still don’t think Egyptians were Black (as Ghanaians or Nubians), but I see what you mean. There was a time when Europeans (and European Americans) viewed everything coming out of Africa as ”barbarous”. Yet, they were still thrilled by Egypt!
        So, they literally tried to snatch it away from the continent.

        • Hi Bjørn. Yes, this is the idea I was trying to get across (not very well, I’m afraid). I’m not denying there are/were differences between Egyptians and Nubians, just as there are differences between Danes, Scots, Germans, Greeks, and Turks. But to me, the more interesting question is why do some differences matter and others don’t? And why has there apparently been a subtle but persistent impulse to separate Egypt from Africa?

          I think you’re exactly right that “There was a time when Europeans (and European Americans) viewed everything coming out of Africa as ‘barbarous’. Yet, they were still thrilled by Egypt! So, they literally tried to snatch it away from the continent.” That rings true for me, and I think there may have been insidious motives for that – basically, that whites wanted to justify the slave trade, and still wish to justify racism. If the countries involved in the slave trade – England, Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain, France, and the U.S. as well – could convince themselves that they were not taking slaves from an advanced civilization, then somehow it made their actions seem less barbarous. But of course, Egypt was a very advanced civilization – and so was Nubia, as you point out, and Ethiopia, and … So I think there was an effort, perhaps unconscious, to mentally draw a distinction between Egypt and the rest of Africa, and that still goes on today.

          btw, the book you referenced, The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality, sounds fascinating. It’s sure stirred up the reviewers on Amazon, which is very interesting to me. Why are people so passionate about this, on both sides? It suggests there’s still a strong emotional impulse to separate Egypt from Africa, just as Michael Jackson said, and that’s really intriguing to me. I’d never noticed that before.

          • ” It suggests there’s still a strong emotional impulse to separate Egypt from Africa, just as Michael Jackson said, and that’s really intriguing to me. I’d never noticed that before.”

            I think it’s because the western world is still exploiting Africa in a way we don’t exploit Egypt. Like outsource slavery or something. And just like in those old days we don’t care very much about the misery of the African people although we know very well about their needs. 😦 In fact Europe is preparing to really “fight” back the increasing refugee flows by installing quite questionable “tools” like Frontex or Talos.


    • p.s. This is interesting – a “blond map of Europe.” If it’s accurate, more than 80 percent of the population is blonde in parts of Sweden and Finland.

    • OK, one last comment about Egypt! 😉

      To my understanding, *most* Historians agree that the ancient Egyptians were not Black Africans (as in the Subsaharan lands).
      The Senegalese scientist Cheikh Anta Diop, however, thought otherwise.
      His book looks really interesting and might be worth reading:

  8. Is there any evidence that Egyptians were black? No, there isn’t. Africa is just a geographic designation. Who cares if Egypt is a part of it or not?

  1. Pingback: Dancing with the Elephant – Do You Remember … that Egypt is in Africa? – Michael Jackson Academic Studies

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