Diversity of the past; enrichment of the present

member of Imperial Guard-cropped2When we think of the Holy Roman Empire we do not think of Africans —yet Africans contributed, and enjoyed positions of power as the picture above, (believed to be) of a member of the imperial guard, makes clear.

And the BBC says of the Roman Empire, “emperors themselves came not just from Rome and Italy, but Spain, Gaul, North Africa, the Danubian provinces, and the Near East, so the waves of economic prosperity spread over time outwards in ripples.”

We remember empires and great civilizations often through icons—icon-making books, movies, artwork. But great empires and civilizations were never simple, straightforward, homogeneous affairs.

In America, we think of the 18th and 19th century northeast, and we think of Puritans and founding fathers. But every port in the northeast was awash with sailors and merchants from all over the world—walking their streets, sampling their fares.

We think of the Ming dynasty in China and neglect the Muslim diplomat and explorer Zheng He who rose to the top of its imperial hierarchy.

We think of the Greeks and forget the Ptolemies in Egypt; think of early Christendom and neglect to note that St Augustine was North African.

Our icons of the past simplify; our narratives should enrich.

Some people see calls for diversity and multiculturalism as part of a war on whiteness.

That is not true. A war on over-simplification is more accurate.

Less simplified views of history allow us to see that the truth is always more complicated and more interesting than icons. Not only does such simplification rob us of great stories and erase the interconnectedness of all peoples—fostering the idea that we can entirely go it alone–but can lead us to pursue false ideals of the past rather than embracing the enriching complexities of the present.

Evolution requires greater and greater degrees of complexity from which to choose.

Neglecting diversity from historical education and children’s literature hobbles us; embracing diversity will enrich us. (by Alan Bradshaw, BGB)

Building a Bliss Community

Do you have any favorite examples of individuals or movements that complicate simplistic views of history?

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