This article appeared in the
in The Textbook Letter, July-August 2000.
The Chinese were weaving silk and making beautiful artifacts when
most Europeans were living in caves and wearing animal skins.
That isn't history. It is multi-culti hokum, and its only purpose is to denigrate Europeans by misrepresenting the findings of archaeologists. According to the archaeological record, Europeans began to weave textiles from flax fibers and from hemp fibers before any Chinese wove any silk.
Multi-culti propagandists devote a lot of energy to inventing stories that denigrate Europeans -- and unscrupulous writers often inject such stories into schoolbooks, so that the books will appeal to teachers and school-district officials who have embraced the multi-culti brand of racism. The racist fantasy that I have quoted above appears in The First Americans, a schoolbook written by Joy Hakim. The First Americans is Book 1 of A History of US, a series of eleven small volumes, published by Oxford University Press and dated in 1999, that purport to describe the history of America. Oxford promotes A History of US for use in elementary and middle schools.
Joy Hakim has spiked The First Americans with lots of multi-culti rubbish, and I recently have described, in these pages, one of her most repugnant stunts: Eagerly pandering to the multi-culti crowd, she promotes two different fables about when and how America originated, even though the two fables plainly contradict one another [see note 1, below]. I now shall consider some other feats of trickery that Hakim has performed in The First Americans, starting with her silk-and-skins shtick.
Ideas seemed to be in the air, and inventions, too -- like the compass.
Actually, the compass had been around for thousands of years. The ancient Chinese discovered that a magnet, swinging freely, will always point north [sic]. Arabs brought that knowledge to Europe. . . .
Then, in a box in the margin of page 71, Hakim elaborates:
Do you notice that the Chinese seem to have thought of a lot of things before Europeans did? The Chinese were weaving silk and making beautiful artifacts when most Europeans were living in caves and wearing animal skins.
Since Hakim wants us to "notice" things, let's notice how vague and slippery her claim is -- and let's ask some questions. Why doesn't Hakim say anything about chronology? In what millennium were the Chinese weaving silk while "most Europeans were living in caves and wearing animal skins"?[note 2] And if "most" Europeans were wearing skins, what were the rest of the Europeans wearing? And what does her allusion to "beautiful artifacts" signify? That the Chinese were able to make beautiful things while the skin-clad Europeans could only make ugly stuff?
Hakim's claim is so vague that it is meaningless, but (in the context of her book) this matters not. Her claim suffices to create the false picture that she wants to convey -- a picture in which savvy Chinese cruise around in silken garments while dumb Europeans, wearing shabby pelts, huddle in caves and grunt at each other. The multi-culti racists love such claptrap.
Hakim's picture is a vicious fiction. To get some facts, I have consulted Endymion Wilkinson's compendium of Chinese history [note 3] and Elizabeth Barber's renowned book on ancient textiles [note 4], and I have spoken with Barber. Here is a digest of what I have learned:
When I told Elizabeth Barber about Joy Hakim's silk-and-skins fable, Barber replied: "The vector points the other way. The Chinese learned about weaving from Westerners."
Some historians think that by the time Columbus got here, there may have been as many as 75 million Indians living in South and North America. That is a lot of people -- almost a third of the population of the United States today.
Why does Hakim tell what "Some historians" think but not what other historians think? Why does she give a maximum ("as many as 75 million") but no minimum? She clearly is dealing in distortion and selective omission, but why?
The apparent answer is this: Hakim is dispensing propaganda which resonates with multi-culti views of Amerindians and which will appeal to fanciers of multi-culti images. Let me explain:
During the past few decades, questions about how many Indians existed before Europeans discovered the New World have been deeply politicized by racial ideologues who promote high estimates and revile low estimates. They revile low estimates because, they imagine, low estimates say that Indians were inept in dealing with local environments (and thus were unable to attain high population densities). They promote high estimates for two reasons: High estimates supposedly say that Indians were smart and competent -- and high estimates, by implying that correspondingly high numbers of Indians died after the Europeans arrived, help to amplify the image of The Indian As Victim [note 6].
In considering how many Indians may have dwelt in the New World in the 15th century, an honest writer makes clear that published claims about the size of the pre-Columbian population vary over a huge range -- a range that spans several tens of millions, with the highest numbers exceeding the lowest numbers by more than 50%. An honest writer also explains that this variation exists (partly) because some of the numbers have been put forth by scholars who used radically different approaches to estimating population densities, and (partly) because some of the numbers have been devised and propagated by people who were much more interested in racial politics than in scholarship.
Joy Hakim has failed these tests of honesty.
When European men and women arrive in the Northeast, they learn of the Iroquois League. Men like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson understand that the Iroquois tribes form one nation, but each also keeps its own identity. The American states do the same thing.
We have seen such tripe before. Glencoe's multi-culti high-school book History of a Free Nation, for example, contains this passage about "the League of the Five Nations, also known as the Iroquois Confederacy":
One remarkable aspect of the league was its ruling council in which each nation had a single vote. This early form of "government based on the consent of the governed" influenced the course of early American democracy. The United States began as a confederacy of states much like the Iroquois Confederacy.
When Angelo M. Codevilla reviewed History of a Free Nation for TTL, he proffered this derisive rewrite of Glencoe's rubbish: "Where did our American form of federalism come from? Why, the Founding Fathers borrowed it from the Iroquois! And never mind that the voluminous records of the Constitutional Convention contain not a single word about any such thing." [note 7]
Nor do any other primary sources furnish any support for the claim that America was modeled after an Iroquois precursor. The Federalist and other primary documents show us that the Founding Fathers, as they designed their new republic, examined models and precedents provided not by Amerindian polities but by European states -- e.g., ancient Athens, ancient Rome, the republic of Venice, and the United Provinces of the Netherlands. To the extent that the Founding Fathers gave any attention to Amerindian polities, they viewed these as prospective threats, not as exemplars of representative government.
To learn more about Joy Hakim and her series A History of US, see Earl Hautala's article "Textbook-Writers Promote Religious Tales as 'History' " in TTL, March-April 2000. Hautala describes how Hakim has used the second book in her series for promoting, as historical facts, her personal religious fantasies about characters who appear in myths in the Hebrew Bible.
During the State of California's schoolbook-adoption proceedings of 1998-1999, A History of US was adopted for use in public schools in grades 5 and 8. Those proceedings were deeply corrupt, as California adoptions typically are, but the handling of A History of US provided some comic relief: The California State Department of Education, in its final report on the adoption [note 8], first declared that A History of US had been adopted but later said that A History of US had not been adopted and was the sole item in a category titled "The Following Programs [sic] Are Pending Review of Publishers' Responses." The Department did not explain or even acknowledge the contradiction. I can't resist speculating that there was some confusion about who was supposed to pay what to whom to secure the adoption of A History of US, and that the proper inducement wasn't delivered until the adoption report was being written, and that someone forgot to delete the "Pending Review" category before the report was locked up. Whatever may have happened, A History of US now appears on the State's list of adopted items, so California school districts can spend the State's cash to buy A History of US for use in classrooms -- and California students presumably are learning that the Chinese were weaving silk while Europeans were running around in animal skins.
William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes often about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.
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