The Case against Afrocentrism
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Postcolonial discourses on African Diaspora history and relations have traditionally focused intensely on highlighting the common experiences and links between black Africans and African Americans. This is especially true of Afrocentric scholars and supporters who use Africa to construct and validate a monolithic, racial, and culturally essentialist worldview. Publications by Afrocentric scholars such as Molefi Asante, Marimba Ani, Maulana Karenga, and the late John Henrik Clarke have emphasized the centrality of Africa to the construction of Afrocentric essentialism. In the last fifteen years, however, countervailing critical scholarship has challenged essentialist interpretations of Diaspora history. Critics such as Stephen Howe, Yaacov Shavit, and Clarence Walker have questioned and refuted the intellectual and cultural underpinnings of Afrocentric essentialist ideology.
Tunde Adeleke deconstructs Afrocentric essentialism by illuminating and interrogating the problematic situation of Africa as the foundation of a racialized worldwide African Diaspora. He attempts to fill an intellectual gap by analyzing the contradictions in Afrocentric representations of the continent. These include multiple, conflicting, and ambivalent portraits of Africa; the use of the continent as a global, unifying identity for all blacks; the de-emphasizing and nullification of New World acculturation; and the ahistoristic construction of a monolithic African Diaspora worldwide.
match into a powder keg. The explosion was deafening. Before I could conclude my presentation, several hands went up, and for the next half hour or so, I endured repeated verbal assaults. Critics questioned my intellectual credentials and judgment for daring to suggest that the relation between Africans and blacks in Diaspora was characterized historically by anything other than harmony and consensus. A keynote speaker, then president of a historically black institution, could barely restrain
process of singling out color as the new identity for blacks by defining the very nature and qualities of blackness. When Europeans made the epochal decision to turn to Africa for slave labor, it was a conscious decision that would entail negating the identity and humanity of a people in order to impose a new identity tailor-made for the drudgery of enslavement. Though the slave raids, capture, and enslavement traumatized the captives, these experiences represented the first stage in what would
Africa and urged wealthy and enterprising blacks to consider relocating and assuming the African identity.92 Opponents of emigration such as Frederick Douglass objected strongly to externalizing the struggle. Douglass portrayed emigration as a dangerous distraction. In fact, the struggle between Douglass and Henry H. Garnet on African nationality and emigration was, in essence, a debate on conflicting consciousness of identity.93 Garnet, like Delany, advocated a new nationality in Africa based
line, faithfully advancing, and defending, at all times and under all circumstances, the interests and problems of blacks became the litmus test of racial identity. It is this allegiance that establishes one’s authenticity as a black person. It is also what distinguishes an authentic black person from an “Uncle Tom.”12 The conviction of confraternity evokes anger and resentment toward those who, either through actions or utterances, appear to com- 8 â•… introduction promise or undermine the
community in crisis and disarray, thus compromising the struggle at critical moments when the entire race was expected to stand together in harmony and unison. A good illustration is the responses of some black nationalists and scholars to the publication of Keith Richburg’s Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa. Published in 1997, the book immediately provoked anger and resentment among black Americans and Africans. In radio and television talk shows and on network news, angry respondents