Afrocentrism, Afrocentricity, or Africentrism is a world view that emphasizes the importance of African people, taken as a single group and often equated with black people, in culture, philosophy, and history. The roots of Afrocentrism lay in a reaction to the repression of black people throughout the Western world in the 19th century and as a backlash against the scientific racism of the period, which tended to attribute any advanced civilization to the immigration of Proto-Indo-Europeans and their descendants. Part of this reaction involved reviewing history to document the contributions that black people made to world civilization.
- 1 History
- 2 African-centered education
- 3 Afrocentric theology
- 4 Views on race and the Pan-African identity
- 5 Pre-Columbian Africa-Americas contact theories
- 6 Afrocentrism and Ancient Egypt
- 7 Human evolution
- 8 List of prominent authors
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
During the Colonial period Europeans encountered Africans in Africa living with relatively elementary technology. Based on their self-appraisal of the value of technology, industrialization, Western-type infrastructure and Western-type culture, these European nations assumed themselves to be superior to the peoples and cultures they encountered in Africa. Afrocentrists commonly contend that this initial Eurocentrism has led to the subsequent neglect or denial of the contributions of African people.
Modern Afrocentricity has its origins in the work of African and African diaspora intellectuals in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, following social changes in the United States and Africa due both to the end of slavery and the decline of colonialism. Wanting to further establish their own identities and distinguish African achievements from the influence of European peoples, African Americans gathered together in communities, established their own church congregations, emphasised the importance of education and increasingly took more active public roles despite severe discrimination and segregation.
As an ideology and political movement, Afrocentrism has its beginnings in activism among black intellectuals, political figures and historians in the context of the US American civil rights movement.  According to US professor, Victor Oguejiofor Okafor, concepts of Afrocentricity lie at the core of disciplines such as African American studies.
The origins of the term "Afrocentrism" date to 1961 or 1962. The term "Afrocentric" appears in a typescript proposal for an Encyclopedia Africana. W. E. B. Du Bois may have been responsible for inserting the word.
In 2000, Molefi Kete Asante, chair of the Department of African American Studies at Temple University gave a lecture at the University of Liverpool entitled "Afrocentricity: Toward a New Understanding of African Thought in this Millennium," in which he presented many of his ideas:
- Africa has been betrayed by international commerce, by missionaries and imams, by the structure of knowledge imposed by the Western world, by its own leaders, and by the ignorance of its own people of its past.
- Philosophy itself originated in Africa and the first philosophers in the world were Africans.
- Afrocentricity constitutes a new way of examining data, a novel orientation to data, it carries with it assumptions about the current state of the African world.
- His aim is “to help lay out a plan for the recovery of African place, respectability, accountability, and leadership.”
Asante also stated:
|“||As a cultural configuration, the Afrocentric idea is distinguished by five characteristics:
|“||Thus, if historical myths and legends, or an invented history, play such a major role in the founding of every national reconstruction, the question that should concern us here is the nature of the distinct style in which black Americans imagine their past. The answer to this question is that radical Afrocentrism, the subject of this study, which plays a central role in shaping the modern historical world-view of a large section of the African-American (or Afro-American) community, is far more than an effort to follow the line taken by many ethnic groups and nations in modern rewriting, inventing or developing collective identity and national history. Rather, it is a large-scale historical project to rewrite the history of the whole of humankind from an Afrocentric point of view. The result is a new reconstruction of world history: it is a universal history.||”|
Martin Bernal, Professor Emeritus of Government and Near Eastern Studies at Cornell University, has published several works advancing Afrocentric ideas, including a three-volume work entitled collectively Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization. According to Bernal, ancient Greece was colonized by northern invaders mixing with a colony established by Phoenicia (modern Lebanon). A major theme of the work is the alleged denial by Western academia of the African and (western) Asiatic influence on ancient Greek culture.
The claims made in Black Athena were disputed in Black Athena Revisited (1996), a collection of essays edited by Mary Lefkowitz, Professor Emerita of Classical Studies at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, and her colleague Guy MacLean Rogers. Martin Bernal wrote a response to Black Athena Revisited in his book Black Athena Writes Back: Martin Bernal Responds to His Critics.
Afrocentrism has prompted challenges and criticism. Some mainstream Western scholars have assessed some Afrocentric ideas as pseudohistorical. They find fault with such claims as that Ancient Egypt was a black civilisation, and that it contributed directly to the development of Greek and Western culture (on the grounds that the times of development do not align) and that African civilizations were founding influences on such distant civilizations as the American Olmec and the Chinese Xia cultures.
Other critics contend that some Afrocentric historical research is grounded in identity politics and myth rather than scholarship. In The Skeptic's Dictionary, philosophy professor Robert Todd Carroll labeled Afrocentrism "pseudohistorical". He argued that Afrocentrism's prime goal was to encourage black nationalism and ethnic pride in order to effectively combat the destructive consequences of cultural and universal racism. Similarly, African-American professor Clarence E. Walker, who teaches history at the University of California, Davis, has described Afrocentrism as "a mythology that is racist, reactionary, essentially therapeutic and is eurocentrism in black face."
Mary Lefkowitz, Professor Emerita of Classical Studies at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, has rejected George James's theories about Egyptian contributions to Greek civilization as being faulty scholarship. She notes that his sources predated the deciphering of Egyptian hieroglyphs, and that he failed to acknowledge that many of his theories were overturned by later findings. She contends that ancient Egyptian texts show little similarity to Greek philosophy. Lefkowitz also pointed out that Aristotle could not have stolen his ideas from the great Library at Alexandria as James suggested, because the library was founded after Aristotle's death. Because of such fundamental errors of fact, Lefkowitz has criticized Afrocentrism as "an excuse to teach myth as history." In 1994 the Manhattan Institute, a public policy forum, published Alternatives to Afrocentrism, a collection of highly critical essays by, among others, Lefkowitz, Gerald Early, Stanley Crouch, Wilson Moses, and Frank Yurco. Early, an African American, has been especially vitriolic, dismissing Afrocentrism as just another North American experiment in "group therapy," intellectual fast food for his less sophisticated brethren.
A 2002 book review published by the American Historical Review notes that
|“||The word "Afrocentric" has been traced by Derrick Alridge to W. E. B. Du Bois, who employed it in the early 1960s. During the 1970s, Molefi Kete Asante appropriated the term, insisting that he was the only person equipped to define it, and asserting that even the holy archangels Du Bois and Cheikh Anta Diop had an imperfect and immature grasp of a concept that finds ultimate, unfalsifiable expression in his own pontifications. Subsequently, it became a catchall "floating signifier," nebulous, unstable, and infinitely mutable.||”|
- Demonizing categorically all white people, without careful differentiation between persons of goodwill and those who consciously perpetuate racism.
- Adopting multiculturalism as a curricular alternative that eliminates, marginalizes, or vilifies European heritage to the point that Europe epitomizes all the evil in the world.
- Gross over-generalizations and using factually or incorrect material is bad history and bad scholarship.
Nathan Glazer writes that although Afrocentricity can mean many things, the popular press has generally given most attention to its most outlandish theories. Glazer agrees with many of the findings and conclusions presented in Lefkowitz's book Not Out of Africa. Yet he also argues that Afrocentrism often presents legitimate and relevant scholarship. Similarly, Owen Alik Shahadah defends the historical reactionary need for Afrocentric world view while also warning that "Continually viewing history through a modern racial lens distorts the historical timeline and creates academic anachronism."
Not all the claims of Afrocentrists are widely accepted within the African-American academic community, and some Afrocentrists reject those works, which critics characterize as bad scholarship. But as Adisa A. Alkebulan notes, Afrocentric scholars are constantly hampered by the fact that critics use the claims of "a few non-Afrocentrists" as "an indictment against Afrocentricity."
"Eurocentrism" and the "American Cultural War"
Stephen Howe understands the original "Hamitic Hypothesis" as "Eurocentric". Howe starts part two of his book "Afrocentrism" with a summary of the Hamitic hypothesis. After summarizing the hypothesis' development in the 19th and 20th centuries, he describes how some Afrocentric writers adopted 'their version' of it, and in this context he calls the original Hamitic hypothesis "Eurocentric". Howe also distinguishes three clusters of controversies surrounding ancient Egypt. About the third cluster he says, that these are "controversies that have been especially salient in relation to the United States, have interacted heavily with sensitive issues of current public policy, and involve questions both wide and fundamentally about the United States."
In the December 1996 issue of the Journal of American History:, August Meier describes "Not out of Africa: How Afrocentrism became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History" by Mary Lefkowitz as "Eurocentric", because in his opinion Lefkowitz almost completely neglects the African-American literature of the 19th and 20th century. Meier believes she fails to take the African-American experiences into account, to the extent that she "fails to answer the question raised in this book's subtitle".
Maghan Keita is more direct, and explains the controversy using the term cultural war. For Keita, there are certain "epistemologies" warring with each other, one of them is an "epistemology of blackness", which argues for the “responsibilities and potential of black peoples to function in and contribute to the progress of civilization.”
Eugene D. Genovese, in his work “The Southern Front: History and Politics in the Cultural War”, states that the decadence within American society is not only the consequence of modern liberalism but its actual agenda, and that the cultural elites who control American campuses mean to destroy Western civilization (p. 132). Genovese attempts to demonstrate maltreatment of things and thoughts Southern by America’s cultural elite, and he links this to a concerted culture war of some sort.
According to Radical Afrocentrism, Africans were responsible for many of the great innovations in ancient philosophy, science, and technology, which were later stolen by Middle Eastern European peoples. Some of the scholars who are considered to be radical are Dr. Ben, and Leonard Jeffries.
In its most radical form, Radical Afrocentrism is associated with Black Supremacy.
The premise behind African-Centered Education is the notion that human beings can be subjugated and made servile by limiting their consciousness of themselves and by imposing certain selective aspects of alien knowledge on them. Afrocentrists claim that what educates one group of people does not necessarily educate and empower another group of people.
The term "mis-education" was coined by Dr. Carter G. Woodson to describe the process of systematically depriving African Americans of their knowledge of self. Dr. Woodson believed that mis-education was the root of the problems of the masses of the African-American community and that if the masses of the African American-community had been given the correct knowledge and education from the beginning, they would not be in the situation that they find themselves in today. The problem concerning formal education is seen by Afrocentrists to be that African-American students are taught to perceive the world through the eyes of another culture, and unconsciously learn to see themselves as an insignificant part of their world. An Afrocentric education does not necessarily wish to isolate Africans from a Eurocentric education system. It wishes to assert the autonomy of Africans and encompass the cultural uniqueness of all learners. A school based on African values, it is believed, would eliminate the patterns of rejection and alienation that engulf so many African-American school children, especially males. The movement for African-centered education is based on the assumption that a school immersed in African traditions, rituals, values, and symbols will provide a learning environment that is more congruent with the lifestyles and values of African-American families.
In recent years Africana Studies or Africology departments at many major universities have grown out of the Afrocentric "Black Studies" departments formed in the 1970s. Rather than focusing on black topics in the African diaspora (often exclusively African American topics), these reformed departments aim to expand the field to encompass all of the African diaspora. They also seek to better align themselves with other University departments and find continuity and compromise between the radical Afrocentricity of the past decades and the multicultural scholarship found in many fields today.
The black church in the United States developed out of the creolization of African spirituality and European-American Christianity; early members of the churches made certain stories their own. During the antebellum years, the idea of deliverance out of slavery, as in the story of Exodus, was especially important. After Reconstruction and the restoration of white supremacy, their hope was based on deliverance from segregation and other abuses. They found much to respond to in the idea of a personal relationship with Jesus, and shaped their churches by the growth of music and worship styles that related to African as well as European-American traditions.
"Africentric approaches" to Christian theology and Christian preaching have been more deliberate. Writers and thinkers emphasize "Black presence" in the Christian Bible, including the historically unsupported idea of a "Black Jesus". "Africentric theology" is the cornerstone of the self-proclaimed identity of the Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago, the former church of U.S. President Barack Obama. Jeremiah Wright, the pastor for more than 30 years, based his emphasis on James H. Cone's Black Theology & Black Power (1969).
Views on race and the Pan-African identity
Afrocentricity contends that race exists primarily as a social and political construct – that is, that race is important because of its cultural rather than its biological significance. Many Afrocentrists seek to challenge concepts such as white privilege, so-called color-blind perspectives, and race-neutral pedagogies. There are strong ties between Afrocentricity and Critical race theory.
Afrocentrists hold that Africans exhibit a range of types and physical characteristics, and that such elements as wavy hair or aquiline facial features are part of a continuum of African types that do not depend on admixture with Caucasian groups. They cite work by Hiernaux  and Hassan that they believe demonstrates that populations could vary based on micro-evolutionary principles (climate adaptation, drift, selection), and that such variations existed in both living and fossil Africans.
Afrocentrists have condemned what they consider to be attempts at dividing African peoples into racial clusters as new versions of what they deem older, discredited theories, such as the "Hamitic Hypothesis" and the Dynastic Race Theory. These theories, they contend, attempted to identify certain African ethnicities, such as Nubians, Ethiopians and Somalis, as "Caucasoid" groups that entered Africa to bring civilization to the natives. They believe that Western academics have traditionally limited the peoples they defined as "Black" Africans, but used broader "Caucasoid" or related categories to classify peoples of Egypt or certain other African ethnicities. Afrocentrists also believe strongly in the work of certain anthropologists who have suggested that there is little evidence to support that these populations are closely related to "Caucasoids" of Europe and western Asia.
Afrocentric scholar Cheikh Anta Diop expressed a belief in a double standard as follows in 1964:
|“||But it is only the most gratuitous theory that considers the Dinka, the Nouer and the Masai, among others, to be Caucasoids. What if an African ethnologist were to persist in recognising as white only the blond, blue-eyed Scandinavians, and systematically refused membership to the remaining Europeans, and Mediterraneans in particular—the French, Italians, Greek, Spanish, and Portuguese? Just as the inhabitants of Scandinavia and the Mediterranean countries must be considered as two extreme poles of the same anthropological reality, so should the Negroes of East and West Africa be considered as the two extremes in the reality of the Negro world. To say that a Shillouk, a Dinka, or a Nouer is a Caucasoid is for an African as devoid of sense and scientific interest as would be, to a European, an attitude that maintained that a Greek or a Latin were not of the same race."||”|
French historian Jean Vercoutter has claimed that archaeological workers routinely classified Negroid remains as Mediterranean, even though they found such remains in substantial numbers with ancient artefacts. (Vercoutter 1978—The Peopling of ancient Egypt)
More recent work by geneticists, however, provides evidence that Eurasians likely are descended from populations that migrated north and east out of the Horn of Africa. Hence, certain shared genetic and phenotypical characteristics exist among Eurasians and Northeast African groups such as Ethiopians and Somalis. Some phenotypical similarities among Somalis and Eurasians exist at a higher structural level, such as orthognathism, tooth size, keen facial features and skull shape and size. According to anthropologist Loring Brace:
When the non-adaptive aspects of craniofacial configuration are the basis for assessment, the Somalis cluster with Europeans before showing a tie with the people of West Africa or the Congo Basin.
Genetic analyses of male DNA in the 21st century have also indicated that Somalis carry considerable E1b1b, a Y chromosome haplogroup characteristic of Northeast African, Berber, Arab, Jewish, Mediterranean and Balkan populations. See also Archaeogenetics of the Near East.
Afrocentrists argue against the classification of people they deem indigenous "Black" Africans as Caucasoid. They advocate use of the term Africoid to encompass the varying phenotypes of African populations, as well as phenotypically Negroid Australasian populations. They contend that it is more appropriate to name Africans in a manner that reflects their geographical origin, as are Asians as Mongoloids (or to some in recent years Turanians), and Europeans as Caucasians (or Aryans earlier in the 20th century). Afrocentrism has sometimes included Puerto Ricans and other Caribbean Hispanic peoples, although Latinos and Latin American culture is multiracial of European (Spanish) and indigenous American origins, in addition to the cultural African/Afro-Caribbean imprint.
Some Afrocentrists have adopted a pan-Africanist perspective that people of color are all "African people" or "diasporic Africans," citing physical characteristics they exhibit in common with Black Africans. Afrocentric scholar Runoko Rashidi writes that they are all part of the "global African community." Some Afrocentric writers include in the African diaspora the Dravidians of India, the people of the rest of the Indian subcontinent, "Negritos" of Southeast Asia (Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia); and the Africoid, aboriginal peoples of Australia, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.
A few Afrocentrists claim that the Olmecs of Mexico were a hybrid society of Native American peoples and Africans, although mainstream historians of Mesoamerica reject that view with detailed rebuttals.
In 2003, geneticist Spencer Wells' findings confirmed a clear DNA link between indigenous Africans and the Australoid peoples of India, Australia and Southeast Asia, tracing the DNA of San bushmen from southeast Africa to India and on to Australia. However Wells' work indicates that the ancestors of Southeast Asian and Melanesian peoples migrated out of Africa before the ancestors of modern Europeans did, indicating they are less closely related to each other than many groups considered to be separate races. Earlier studies had shown that some of these darker-skinned ethnic groups cluster genetically more closely with neighboring East Asians than with indigenous Africans, due to millennia of intermingling with one another in relative isolation.
Critics of Afrocentrism note that the Afrocentric designation of Southeast Asians and Melanesians as "African diaspora" is also made without reference to the self-identities of the peoples in question, who may not generally consider themselves African, as well as the fact that ultimately, all humans are descended from Africans. More qualified anthropologists, however, have contended modern man hasn't evolved solely in Africa, but the field goes by the oldest fossil remains from Africa.
Pre-Columbian Africa-Americas contact theories
In the 1970s, Ivan van Sertima advanced the theory that the complex civilizations of the Americas were the result of trans-oceanic influence from the Egyptians or other African civilizations. Such a claim is his primary thesis in They Came Before Columbus, published in 1978. The few hyper-diffusionist writers seek to establish that the Olmec people, who built the first highly complex civilization in Mesoamerica and are considered by some to be the mother civilization for all other civilizations of Mesoamerica, were deeply influenced by Africans. Van Sertima said that the Olmec civilization was a hybrid one of Africans and Native Americans. His theory of pre-Columbian American-African contact has since met with considerable and detailed opposition by scholars of Mesoamerica. Van Sertima has been accused of "doctoring" and twisting data to fit his conclusions, inventing evidence, and ignoring the work of respected Central and South American scholars in the advance of his own theory, and his claims are not taken seriously by mainstream scholars.
Afrocentrism and Ancient Egypt
Several Afrocentrists have claimed that important cultural characteristics of ancient Egypt were indigenous to Africa and that these features were present in other early African civilizations such as the Kerma and the Meroitic civilizations of Nubia. Scholars who have held this view include Marcus Garvey, George James, Cheikh Anta Diop, Martin Bernal, Ivan van Sertima, John Henrik Clarke, Chancellor Williams, and Molefi Kete Asante. The claim has also been made by many Afrocentric scholars that the Ancient Egyptians themselves were Black African or Africoid people and that the various invasions on Egypt resulted in the Africanity of Ancient Egypt becoming diluted, resulting in the modern diversity seen today. Many scholars have challenged the various assertions of Afrocentrists on the cultural and biological characteristics of Ancient Egyptian civilization and its people. At a UNESCO Symposium in the 1970s, the vast majority of the delegates repudiated the Afrocentric assertions. Zahi Hawass has gone on record as saying that the Ancient Egyptians were not black and Ancient Egypt was not an African Civilization. It should also be noted that Egyptians themselves, both ancient and modern did not and do not refer to themselves as black.
Evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller states about Afrocentrism:
|“||It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: all of the significant evolution in our species occurred in populations with brown and black skins living in Africa. When language, music, and art evolved, they evolved in Africans. Lighter skins evolved in some European and Asian populations long after the human mind evolved its present capacities.||”|
|“||The skin color of our ancestors does not have much scientific importance. But it does have a political importance given the persistence of anti-black racism. I think that a powerful antidote to such racism is the realization that the human mind is a product of black African females favoring intelligence, kindness, creativity, and articulate language in black African males, and vice versa. Afrocentrism is an appropriate attitude to take when we are thinking about human evolution.||”|
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- Ishakamusa Barashango, college professor and lecturer; founder, Temple of the Black Messiah, School of History and Religion; co-founder and creative director, Fourth Dynasty Publishing Company, Silver Spring, Maryland
- Jacob Carruthers, Egyptologist; founding director of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilization; founder and director of the Kemetic Institute, Chicago
- Cheikh Anta Diop, author: The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality; Civilization or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology; Precolonial Black Africa; The Cultural Unity of Black Africa: The Domains of Patriarchy and of Matriarchy in Classical Antiquity; The Peopling of Ancient Egypt & the Deciphering of the Meroitic Script
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- African philosophy
- African Renaissance
- Ausar Auset
- Demographics of Egypt
- Grimaldi man
- Kingdom of Kush
- Melanin Theory
- Race in ancient history
- Race in the United States
- Race of Ancient Egyptians
- Reverse discrimination
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<ref>tag; name "Ortiz1997" defined multiple times with different content
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