Did You Know? (repost)

Popular culture has a way of obscuring facts. Our generation is being usurped by the ideologies of modern day pop culture. Words of celebrities and ill-informed narcissistic politicians have become the gospel of the people. 

Our societies are bombarded with misleading information and libraries have become white elephants. Gone are the days when kids relished the pleasure of knowing their history. Nowadays social network sites have replaced once cherished acts of sitting around the fire place listening to stories told by our elders. 

Though many of such tales were devoid of fact, they served our communities well in that they helped build the moral fibre of our societies. Kids learnt the lessons of life from what now seems like frivolous sources like fairytales. Many stories told by our elders or learnt in pre-schools in yesteryears had a moral message behind them.

With society getting more lazier to do their own research it’s worrying that some misleading information fed to us by the media and pop culture might end up being believed as facts. For instance; many people believe that Oprah Winfrey is the first black female billionaire in the world. 

If many who believe this took the time off watching E! and reading Tabloid magazines they would know that this is far from the truth. In the spirit of saving our brothers and sisters from the dumbing-up of pop culture let’s debunk false myth in pop culture.

Though modern day history will dub Oprah as the first female black billionaire, before the Queen of talk there was Madame C J Walker. Guinness Book Of Records cites this formidable woman as not only the first black female millionaire but the first self made female millionaire. 

Born Sarah Breedlove in Delta, Louisiana in December 1867 she married Charles Joseph Walker in 1906 and changed her name to Madam CJ Walker. She established a manufacturing company that sold hair products and cosmetics which by 1917 had become the largest company owned by an African-american in the United States. 

Much like Oprah she was a philanthropist who gave large sums of money to charity organization. She died in 1919 of kidney failure as a result of hypertension aged 51 leaving behind a lucrative company, properties and personal fortune in excess of $1mil. That does not sound like much now but in those day it was a lot of money, for a black woman or any black person.

Shiela Crump Johnson 
Madame CJ Walker was the first female black millionaire; the first billionaire title though goes to Sheila Crump Johnson. She co-founded BET, a channel that caters to black entertainment, with ex husband Robert Johnson and sold it to Viacom in 1999. They divorced in 2002. The youngest black female billionaire is 27 year old CEO of H. Couture Beauty, Taysha Smith Valez… not Beyonce.

Taysha Smith Valez
Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt, now this is a little controversial. Revered as Africa’s greatest Queen and idolized by women all over the world, this woman’s identity is clouded by mystery and misinformation. She was made famous in popular culture by Elizabeth Taylor who played her in a movie and more recently by Beyonce. 

In recent years racial politics have raised some questions about Cleopatra’s identity with people like Spike Lee claiming that she is “pure black” and should be played by black females. I remember when I was still in secondary school and was developing a love for Shakespeare, mainly because of my wonderful English literature teacher, that I could not understand why Cleopatra was known as an African Queen. 

Yes she ruled Egypt which is in Africa but upon learning more about her ancestry I learned that she was of Macedonian descent. So, was Cleopatra black or white? In the 1920s when Hollywood was becoming more and more popular the role of Cleopatra was played by white actresses thus creating this perception that she was white. 

The notion that she may have been white suited the racists bigots who could not believe that noble “white” men like the roman Caeser and Mark Anthony could find a black woman desirable. In recent years, she has been depicted by the media as a black woman.

For people who judge situations based on facts and not racial bias Cleopatra being black is a bit far-fetched. The known facts prove that Cleopatra’s ancestry is of Ptolemaic dynasty, in that token it raises doubt in her being black. 

It was as impossible for a black Egyptian to be a descendant of Ptolemy and sit on his throne just as it was for a protestant to sit on an English throne before Queen Elizabeth I. Cleopatra was the last of the Ptolemaic dynasty to rule Egypt, a dynasty that was known for incest, conspiracy and murder. 

The Ptolemies ruled from the enclave fortress of Alexandria named after Alexander the Great who was Greek. No one who was not Greek, Macedonian or a slave was even given free access to the city of Alexandria, not to mention the palace. 

The royal family of Ptolemies was as inbred as any European royalty and the name Cleopatra was reserved for the daughters of most noble of the Greco-Macedonian families. So with these facts it would have been impossible for a Macedonian Ptolemy king or Queen to have a black offspring.

The other historical figure that intrigues me is Queen of Sheeba. Did she really exist? Was she black?

I do not want to dwell on the Queen of Sheeba story because to debate the issue of The Queen of Sheeba, you will have to debate King Solomon and to debate King Solomon you will inevitably have to debate the Bible and that's one debate I refuse to engage in.

It is hard to separate facts from emotions when debating anything that has to do with The Bible. Either way I still find her ancestry and existence in history fascinating.


Someone was making fun of the fact that black South Africans call every plastic bag, Checkers and every tooth paste Colgate. Fact is when everybody say something it ends up catching on and being the norm. Even in “western culture” some things developed names that had nothing to do with them. 

For example, Americans call fried chips, French fries. That is misleading because France has nothing to do with chips, in fact amachips originated from Belgium. They only got the name French fries because they were popular in French part of Belgium.

Once in Newscafe while having those yummy Buffalo Wings I asked myself why they were called Buffalo wings when they are chicken wings. A buffalo doesn’t have wings. Of course I later found out that that they called Buffalo Wings because the recipe originated in Buffalo, New York.

*This was a re-post. The article was posted originally in 03 March 2010 on PhilMphela.com


Anonymous said...

I was trying not to make comparison but now that the more famous blogs are back online I just had to. My verdict is that you doing a great job. Your content is so varied for someone who is only doing this alone. You are talented Phil please use this to make money. Your blog is better than most magazine we pay money for. It is fun and also informative. It's very refreshing. I'm hooked. I will just visit other blogs to laugh but when I want serious and versatile blog I will be back. Keep up the good work.

PhilMphela said...

Thank you

Anonymous said...

Hey Phil.

What I love most about your blog, is that you are not lazy to use good grammar and punctuation, something that can't be said for most of your counterparts in the blogging arena. And your blog posts are interesting and informative.

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