A Response to the Literature
Introduction to Africana Studies 101, Section 2
May 8, 2010
Afrocentricity, Race, and Reason:
A Response to the Literature
The philosophy of Afrocentricity is not a recent development. Its history can be traced to many precursor theories and ideologies. There were many intellectuals who have researched and theorized about Afrocentricity during its development. These intellectuals include names such as Alexander Crummell, Marcus Garvey, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and Willie Abraham (Asante). Among more contemporary intellectuals, there is Chinwelzu, Wade Nobles, Kariamu Welsh Asante, and Cheikh Anta Diop (Asante). This by no means is not an exhaustive list, but simply a sample of activists/intellectuals who have helped to define the Afrocentric way of thinking.
Afrocentricity is an ideology meant to be used as a corrective factor for Africans in Diaspora. It represents the possibility of intellectual maturity, a different way of viewing reality (Asante). This school of thought opens new and original avenues to understanding humans. Through the research on Afrocentricity done by the intellectuals and writers listed above, they hoped it would serve as a vehicle to liberation for Africans. Among them, there was a general consensus that cultural, social, political, and economic liberation desperately needed in the African community would only be realized through the re-centering of the African mind.
Though the Afrocentric idea had been an emerging philosophy for some time, Afrocentricity as a literary practice and critical theory was not apparent until the publishing of two central books. These books were Textured Women, Cowrie Shells, Cowbells, and Beetlesticks by Kariamu Welsh in 1978 and Afrocentricity, by Molefi Kete Asante in 1980 (Asante). These works had different inspirations. Welsh’s work was inspired by her choreographic technique called umfundalai while Asante’s work was rooted in his experience with the Los Angeles Forum for Black Artists (Asante). Though these works had different bases, both works were the first intentional acts by authors to explain the theory as well as emphasize liberation. Both works had the purpose of re-establishing African agency as the main core of sanity within the African community. Purpose and Importance
One driving objective of the Afrocentric theory was to alter the subject-place of Africans in the social and literary context. In the opinion of Asante, this change was the only option for African people, who were ruled by the constraints of white racial supremacy (Asante). This objective focused around two central questions: 1. How do we see ourselves and how have others seen us?
2. What can we do to regain our own accountability and to move beyond the intellectual plantation that constrains our economic, cultural, and intellectual development? The Afrocentric philosophy sought to answer these questions as well as change the position of the African. The Afrocentric idea was characterized by five main characteristics: 1) An intense interest in psychological location as determined by symbols, motifs, rituals, and signs. 2) A commitment to finding the subject-place of Africans in any social, political, economic, or religious phenomenon with implications for questions of sex, gender, and class. 3) A defense of African cultural elements as historically valid in the context of art, music, and literature. 4) A celebration of “centeredness” and agency and a commitment to lexical refinement that eliminates pejoratives about Africans or other people. 5) A powerful imperative from historical sources to revise the collective text of African people.
The argument for Afrocentricity certainly has certainly not developed without opposition and critique. These oppositions were not surprising because they came at a time when many concepts...