Blind "Afrocentricity" Likely To Lead Blacks Astray
by Norm R. Allen, Jr.
The following is an article by AAH executive director Norm R. Allen, Jr., which
appeared in The Buffalo News. It was also printed in the first issue of the AAH Examiner.
The term "Afrocentricity" was popularized by Molefi Kete Asante, professor
and chairman of the department of African-American studies at Temple University. He is the
author of two major books on the subject, Afrocentricity and The
Afrocentric Idea. In Afrocentricity, page 2, the author gives a brief
definition of the term: "There is first suggested the existence of an African
cultural system; then the juxtaposition of African and American ways; and finally the
values derived from the African-American experience."
Some scholars - notably Dr. Yosef ben-Jochannan, a leading Black historian - prefer the
term "Africentricity," which they believe better emphasizes the importance of
Africa as the center of Black awareness.
Many whites strongly attack Afrocentric thinking. They see it as undermining Western
values and destroying the curricula of Western schools. Many have gone so far as to label
such thinking "barbaric" or "primitive."
Much of the White reactionary hostility toward efforts to combat a purely Eurocentric
world view has arisen because many proponents of Afrocentricity have been as biased and
dogmatic as have their Eurocentric counterparts.
Asante, for instance, believes in the deification of African culture and history.
He implies that Blacks should be critically vigilant only when examining the history
and culture of other peoples.
Not only is this view wrong, it is dangerous.
If we are to deem all traditional African religions and religious concepts sacred and
beyond critical examination, we must inevitably accept the negative consequences of having
embraced such a simplistic view.
Let us cite a case in Ghana. In an essay, Emmanuel Kofi Mensah of Nigeria tells the
story of a guinea-worm epidemic that plagued a village in Ghana. A bore was made for the
village by the United Nations' World Health Organization and UNICEF to help prevent the disease, which originated in
a river. It was later discovered that the villagers refused to use the bore because they
believed that the river was inhabited by gods and that avoidance of it would result in
death. Consequently, the epidemic continued.
Would it not have been wiser to have critically examined beliefs that were largely
responsible for perpetuating the epidemic?
Should Afrocentricity be dogmatically embraced even at the risk of the health and lives
of the people?
Many Afrocentric thinkers are of the opinion that the only ideas that have value are
those conceived and developed within the Black community.
But if it is true that Western civilization is largely based upon knowledge derived
from the Africans of Egypt, would it not be prudent for Blacks to benefit from the
positive aspects of Western culture?
Should Blacks ignore or trivialize the great thoughts of Robert G. Ingersoll, Thomas
Paine, or Ralph Waldo Emerson simply because they were not Afrocentric thinkers?
Should Blacks be critical of the fact that many White Americans were responsible for
the killing of Indians, yet make a hero of Chaka the Zulu warrior, who, according to some
historians, killed two million Africans?
Should Blacks always try to rationalize their behavior while applying different
standards to other groups?
Can Blacks avoid the mistakes of their ancestors by pretending that their ancestors
never made mistakes?
Some scholars maintain that Blacks must demand African-centered multicultural
curricula. Conversely, many Whites are demanding European-centered multicultural
curricula. In many school systems there will have to be room for compromise. Those who
have accepted the slogan "free your mind" must remember that the mind must also
be freed from the confines of biased Afrocentric thought.