One of Diop’s most controversial issues centers on the definition of who is a true Black person. Diop insisted on a broad interpretation similar to that used in classifying European populations as white.
He accused his critics of having used the narrowest possible definition of “Blacks” in order to differentiate various African groups such as Nubians into a European or Caucasoid racial zone. Under the “true negro” approach, Diop contended that those peoples who did not meet the stereotypical classification were attributed to mixture with outside peoples, or were split off and assigned to Caucasoid clusters.
He also claimed that opponents were hypocritical in stating that the race of Egyptians was not important to define, but they did not hesitate to introduce race under new guises. For instance, Diop suggested that the uses of terminology like “Mediterranean” or “Middle Eastern”, or statistically classifying all who did not meet the “true” Black stereotype as some other race, were all attempts to use race to differentiate among African peoples.
Diop’s presentation of his concepts at the Cairo UNESCO symposium on “The peopling of ancient Egypt and the deciphering of the Meroitic script”, in 1974, exposed the inconsistencies and contradictions in the way African data was handled. This exposure remains a hallmark of Diop’s contribution. As one scholar at the 1974 symposium put it:
|“||While acknowledging that the ancient Egyptian population was mixed, a fact confirmed by all the anthropological analyses, writers nevertheless speak of an Egyptian race, linking it to a well-defined human type, the white, Hamitic branch, also called Caucasoid, Mediterranean, Europid or Eurafricanid. There is a contradiction here: all the anthropologists agree in stressing the sizable proportion of the Negroid element—almost a third and sometimes more—in the ethnic [i.e. biological] mixture of the ancient Egyptian population, but nobody has yet defined what is meant by the term ‘Negroid’, nor has any explanation been proffered as to how this Negroid element, by mingling with a Mediterranean component often present in smaller proportions, could be assimilated into a purely Caucasoid race.||”|
A majority of academics disavow the term black for the Egyptians, but there is no consensus on substitute terminology. Some modern studies use DNA to define racial classifications, while others condemn this practice as selective filling of pre-defined, stereotypical categories.
Diop’s concept was of a fundamentally Black population that incorporated new elements over time, rather than mixed-race populations crossing arbitrarily assigned racial zones. Many academics reject the term black, however, or use it exclusively in the sense of a sub-Saharan type. One approach that has bridged the gap between Diop and his critics is the non-racial bio-evolutionary approach. This approach is associated with scholars who question the validity of race as a biological concept. They consider the Egyptians as (a) simply another Nile valley population or (b) part of a continuum of population gradation or variation among humans that is based on indigenous development, rather than using racial clusters or the concept of admixtures. Under this approach, racial categories such as “Blacks” or “Caucasoids” are discarded in favor of localized populations showing a range of physical variation. This way of viewing the data rejected Diop’s insistence on Blackness, but at the same time it acknowledged the inconsistency with which data on African peoples were manipulated and categorized.