Why I Refuse to Embrace the Label “Afrocentric”

First, A Question:

I have a question for everyone who embraces Afro-centrism- an honest question. How many of y’all would learn Wolof or Igbo?  (FYI I learned some Xhosa for my Senior Thesis) To my dear Afro-centrists: How many of you are willing to go beyond talking and start doing? Make Africa great. Do it.  Africa is not some abstract concept to be mythologized and theorized. It is a continent w/ 53 countries, 2000+ languages (countless dialects and creoles), great histories.

Afrocentrism is ethnocentrism.

Afrocentrism is ethnocentrism. In principle, it does not differ from eurocentrism. Chauvinism predicated on the notion of particularity.  It seals off the variegated cultures of the African diaspora and fails to understand the connectedness and hybridity of humanity.  If you expect everyone to know the names of every Black scholar and warrior who ever lived, why don’t you make the effort to know the names of Asian/Hispanic/Middle Eastern/Pacific Islander/Indigenous American warriors and thinkers?  Yes, there are Africans on every continent except Antarctica- and at one time, where was one there. I strongly reject ethnocentrism, as it lends itself to myopic thinking and belly-button gazing. (Yeah, I said it)  To be frank, most of the “afrocentric” folk I have met were African-Americans completely divorced from Africa as it is.  Some think that a dashiki is a West African fashion (not) and think that Egyptians had afros (afros are South African in origin)

This doesn't make you any "blacker."

Afrocentrism: “a mythology that is racist, reactionary, essentially therapeutic and is eurocentrism in black face.”

That’s a quote from UC Davis African-American studies professor Clarence E. Walker. I’m inclined to agree w/ it except for the “racist” part.  I tend to accept the definition of racism as power + prejudice.  Persons of color on the receiving end of oppression are capable of internalizing racism and projecting those biases or prejudices on other members of their group.  I would edit that to say that afrocentrism is prejudiced.

I encourage a global, internationalist way of looking at world history.

The world does not revolve around Africa, Europe, Asia or N. America.  How can you claim to have a full-bodied knowledge if you can’t even name a single Asian/Hispanic/Middle Eastern scholar?  Yes, Africa has a rich history of empires and trade that precedes European and Arabic conquest, enslavement and colonialism.  Yes, Africa is the next frontier of neoliberalism and globalization; As African nations’ national interests are privatized and restructured we will see greater Asian, Eurasian and South American investment on thte continent of Africa.  In fact, India just signed a deal with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to extend a $42 million credit line for building a hydroelectric plant. China and Rio Tinto just closed a mining deal in Guinea (West Africa) last week.  Last week’s Forum for Africa’s Young Leaders at the White House is further evidence of the increasing importance of Africa.   No, Africa is not the land of myth that some people talk about. Africa as a site of diasporic Blacks’ imaginings has never sat well w/ me.  Many Afro-centric thinkers borrowed Western forms- patriarchy, chauvinism, Western notions of nationalism and imposed them on Africa.

How can borrowed forms be emancipatory?

I ask this honestly.  At some point, the chauvinism and ethnocentrism translates into a belief that being Black is superior to being anything else.   Really? My thinking is that we are all humans. No one is better or worse. Why foster division in the guise of “empowerment?” If your “empowerment” is predicated on the denigration of “others” it is not empowerment at all. Consider that afrocentrism can be “eurocentrism in blackface.” Just think on it. If you’re offended, there’s some truth to it.  Audre Lorde said: “The Master’s Tools Can Never Dismantle the Master’s House.”

Afrocentrism just borrows the massa’s tools and builds the same house, instead of painting it white, it paints it black.

By no means am I a self-hating Black woman when I say these things. I am a student of history who recognizes the vastness of humanity.   I don’t need my beauty to be affirmed particularly. Everytime I look in the mirror, my beauty is affirmed.  I don’t need my “blackness” to be affirmed by those who share my skin color. Blackness is a constructed identity contingent on experience.  Race is also a construct. These “afrocentrists” who embrace the contrived construct of “race” and emphasize difference change nothing.

I will ask again: “Can borrowed forms of thought be emancipatory?” My answer is NO.

So when some afrocentrists swap out the “euro” for the “afro” they change nothing. There is no innovation or creativity.  I explore the question of whether borrowed forms of thought can be emancipatory in a post entitled The Problematic and Thematic of Nationalism in the Post-Colonial Context: Possibilities, Limitations and Emancipation.

Furthermore, nationality is understood as an imported European idea. Elie Kedourie points to the great dilemma of Eastern (non-European) nationalism, the paradox of appropriating alien ideas to facilitate a rejection of that same “alien intruder and dominator.” Kedourie termed it as confining oneself within the paradigms of “European intellectual fashions,” while simultaneous attempting to move beyond the dominant discourse of colonialism, which is, in this case, a European one. The appropriation of nationalism is to “accept the claim to universality of this ‘modern’ framework of knowledge. It thus simultaneously rejects and accepts the dominance, both epistemic and moral, of an alien culture.” It is important to acknowledge that both the discourse of colonialism and post-colonialism occupied the same epistemic space. The existence of one did not preclude the existence of the other- they were not mutually exclusive. However, this space they share is the same space where discursive elements attempt to maintain or change the “relations of power within the society under colonial domination.”

See also: The Dilemma of Nationalism: Another Excerpt from My Thesis

What’s Your Point, Arri?

You may ask “What sparked this?”  These ideas and thoughts germinated over the last four years.  As a Black student at the University of California, Berkeley, where Black students were 1.3% of the student population, I had a modicum of interest in joining Black student organizations like the Divine 9 fraternities and sororities, the Black Recruitment and Retention Center and the National Congress of Negro Women, but none of these organizations offered the diversity and opportunity I was looking for.  Having grown up in a multi-kulti area, being socialized in social circles where 5-6 languages were spoken, I am not familiar w/ the monolingual, monocultural understandings of Blackness that I encounter from American-born Blacks.  In fact, when I chose to study French and German, I was ridiculed by my black peers- who gave nary a thought to Afro-Germans or North Africans, or even African-descended French and Belgian citizens.  If you’re going to make the point that French and German are the languages of the “oppressor” and the “colonizer” you have to understand that the language you are speaking now- English- is also the language of the oppressor.  Who do you think colonized Nigeria?  Yes, the British.

The final straw was yesterday when I was accosted by someone on Twitter who identifies strongly as an afrocentrist.  She accused me of hating Black men because of my past choices to date interracially.  Certainly my rejection of the singular and essentialist concept of “Black Love” does not mean that I hate “Black Love.”  Also, my choice to join a majority-White sorority was used to question my “blackness.”  Then she went on to accuse me of loving the colonialist powers because of my affinity for Indo-European and Romantic languages.  Of course, she didn’t put it that elegantly.  Resorting to ad hominem, she called me a “simpleton”  “coconut” and a “Sister SoldjaOut.”  Lumping me w/ Bryant Gumbel and Carlton (from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) she accused me of “trying to make other Black people assimilate.”

Now, if you’ve read this blog at all, I do not advocate assimilation.  I advocate acculturation, mastery of languages, ability to code-switch depending on social situations and settings.  Assimilation isn’t as simple as adjusting your language to your settings.  Assimilation is adherence to essentialist ideas of what is “acceptable.”  Paradoxically, this is exactly what Ms. Afrocentric does.  She polices my “blackness” and expects me to relate to her because we share a skin color.  I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way.  Identity is much more complex than one’s racialised phenotype or ascribed race.

See Also:

  1. On Afro-Futurism: A Hope for a Future (Even in a Dystopic Society)
  2. On Afro-Futurism: Or I’m a Black Womam From the Future
  3. On The Topic of “Black Love:” Or Why I Don’t Find It Exceptional
  4. Challenging Societal  Constructions of Black Masculinity/Femininity
  5. Performing Blackness: Thoughts
  6. “Not Black Enough”: Or Challenging My Middle Class Sensibilities
  7. Questioning Blackness: The Politics of Authenticity
  8. Ontologically Colonized Bodies: African-American Women as the Discursive “Other”
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19 Comments

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19 responses to “Why I Refuse to Embrace the Label “Afrocentric”

  1. Akeem

    Something tells me you don’t go through all of these great lengths to dispel Eurocentrism and the hatred, xenophobia, and racial discrimination it celebrates and promotes. Based on the very resentful and condescending tone of this blog, you sound like you PROMOTE the Status Quo as you sound very much like the White Liberals that always try to silence those who speak up against the system of White Supremacy.

    You claim “Afrocentrism just borrows the massa’s tools and builds the same house, instead of painting it white, it paints it black.” What I find troublesome is that you’re willing to “stay in the massa’s house” in the first place.That, and the fact you really believe that “massa” haven’t done anything wrong.

    Why would you want massa to continue to own and mistreat others that look just like you just because he feels entitled to do so? What is it about massa that you adore so much you would attack anyone that dares speak up against him? In short, come out the closet already! Just say “I love White people” and get the shit over with.

    • aconerlycoleman

      If you take the time to look more closely at my blog, I actually do write quite a bit about challenging and de-centering eurocentrism. Just click the “race” tag. You’ll see a number entries that examine and challenge white supremacy in American and global contexts.

      Recently I wrote a post entitled “Can The Free Market Ensure the Rights of Marginalized Groups? This post challenges neoliberalism and neocolonialism in global south, tying the plight of People of Color around the world to the plight of African-Americans within the Prison-Industrial Complex. Everything is connected.

      As a student of history, I eschew ethnocentric narratives- eurocentric, afrocentric, whatever. To study history fully, we have to reject epochal, ethnocentric, and nationalist narratives. We’ll never move away from flawed subjectivity if we do not challenge our own finite knowledges. Yes, many knowledges can exist simultaneously.

      I don’t believe that I have stayed in the “master’s house.” If I had, no doubt, I’d be far less vocal about challenging institutional and interpersonal racism, sexism, etc. Trust me, I’m far from assimilated. (to be continued)

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Why I Refuse to Embrace the Label “Afrocentric” « Defying History: Christian and Womanist Perspectives -- Topsy.com

  3. Akeem

    Another thing, you look at Black Empowerment from the same lens of White Empowerment, and that’s why you’re so confused as to what Afrocentrism really is. White empowerment is about hate. Black Empowerment doesn’t have to hate, terrorize, or kill people outside the ethnic group to show we’re proud of who and what we are. White Power however does. Even Malcolm X , Louis Farrakhan, and the Black Panther Party didn’t go around beating-up and killing White people. Can you say the same about the KKK, Neo-Nazi, Aryan Brotherhood, and other White Empowerment groups? Didn’t think so.

    • aconerlycoleman

      Search “Malcolm X” “El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz” in the search bar on my blog, and you’ll get a post or two. If I had to pick one Black man in history that I admire, it’d be a toss-up between El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz and Paul Robeson.

      I never state that afrocentrism advocates violence or murder. If I did, please quote it verbatim. I merely state that afrocentrism borrows its form from eurocentrism. It’s practice may not be the same as eurocentrism, and it may not manifest as eurocentrism has, but afrocentrism does borrow its form from eurocentrism. Ethnocentrism is ethnocentrism.

      The Black Panther Party is a mixed bag, though. I admire their direction and purpose, but I do not admire the way women were belittled, side-lined and abused at the hands of the brothers who said that they’d protect them. Please note that this criticism comes from a place of love. I want to embrace the history of the BPP, but I cannot ignore the rampant sexism that affected women like Elaine Brown and Regina Davis. This was IN SPITE of the BPP leadership’s admiration of Mao Tse Dong’s Red Book Quotations of Chairman Mao (and even their modeling The Eight Points of Attention and the Three Main Rules of Discipline off of this book).**

      **one of those 8 points was “Do Not Take Liberties With the Women.”

  4. aconerlycoleman

    Also, Let’s think outside of the Black/White binary, shall we?

    The opposite of eurocentrism is not simply afrocentrism. The opposite of ethnocentrism is a global perspective that does not foster division and selective empowerment contingent on one’s melanin levels. There are many other groups on this planet. Europeans are less than 30% of the global population. Africans are less than 16% of the world population.** In the 1960s, post-colonial nations whose nationalistic aspirations were couched in terms of the ethnocentrism saw the division of their country along those ethnic faultlines (which had been all but cemented under the colonial regime). Kenya is a good example. The Gikuyu were favored by the British and they continued to occupy important roles in government after Independence. In Rwanda, the Tutsis were favored by the Belgians, given top posts within the colonial regime. After the collapse of the regime, the Hutus responded to this ethnic factionalization, fueled by hatred that festered from their colonial past.

    And we all know what happened there. Even in Southeast Asia, we can see examples like that. Between 1953-1975, the US provided military support to the Hmong in the Hills of Laos to fight a proxy war against the Communist-lead Pathet Lao, and after the Communists took power, the Hmong fled Laos in THOUSANDS, fearing the backlash, and possibly genocide.

    Just food for thought. This is why I argue so strongly against ethnocentrism. (Which by no means suggests that we are not entitled to our individual identities influenced by class, race (a contrived construct), gender, etc.) The two are NOT mutually exclusive. Such reductive logic must be abandoned if we’re going to have a nuanced debate.

    **(The world population is concentrated in East Asia and South Asia).

  5. Hi Arrianna. This is Jazzzyone from Twitter. First, you already know from our exchanges & (formerly) following each other via different networks that I agree with most of your points. Perhaps that is because we are both black women who have spent considerable time in the same region (Bay Area, CA). Where we live, it’s impossible to carry around an Afrocentric (as ethnocentric) mindset at all times. That would be the opposite of survival and cut us off from so many rich experiences (cultural and otherwise).

    That written, I understand if people react negatively to this post. To quote my dad, “When you’re dealing with a people who have been beaten down mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually, you have to speak in extreme terms to build them back up. If that means calling their oppressors “devils”, then so be it.” My dad is one of the most tolerant people when it comes to seeing Other People’s perspectives, especially in debate. He took this position in opposition of my position that some of what I hear from blacks sounds extremely bigoted to me (and then I went on to raise similar questions that you raise & address here).

    I hope that the people who commented above learn a lesson from my dad and really attempt to understand your POV. It’s a valid one that you supported well here. I think I will take a lesson from my dad’s book and refollow you. I have more to learn from you. Peace.

  6. Hey…where did your Twitter page go?! *finding your Tumblr*

  7. Akeem

    “The opposite of ethnocentrism is a global perspective that does not foster division and selective empowerment contingent on one’s melanin levels.”

    If so, why on Earth are you sticking up for global perspective that does the very thing you claim to be against? Europeans created the blueprint of what we call racism and global White Supremacy. This so-called ‘internationalist ‘ way of viewing the world is nothing but the back-door, passive-aggressive way to A.) assimilate into the Status Quo and B.) distance yourself from all things ethnocentric.

    How could you look at ethnocentrism in the same light as Eurocentrism when the negative affects of Eurocentrism is the reason WHY ethnic people when back to their original global and cultural perspectives in the first place?

    Black people ARE NOT the same as White people just like Asians & Latin Americans aren’t like either one of the former. “Color Blindness” and all of these other tools designed to enforce assimilation downplay our distinctive ethnic & cultural differences while highly discouraging any mention of diversity out of fear of making the Status Quo feel ‘uncomfortable’. Also, ‘internationalism’, ‘monoculturalism’ and other made up non-sense ultimately let offenders of the Status Quo off the hook because we’re not even allowed to have important race/cultural/diversity dialogs under these systems.

  8. my opinion is that our author here doesn’t want us to abandon our african focus, just widen it. sorry this was typed on cell phone

    • aconerlycoleman

      Yup. That’s exactly what I’m saying. In a globalized world, we CANNOT close off our historical understandings and identities from the rest of the world. Look at places like South Africa- the “black/white” binary doesn’t exist simply. The presence of the descendants of Chinese and Indian slave laborers in Durban and other parts of South Africa complicate that binary.

      By internationalist, I mean that we should have a fuller understanding of the politico-economic ties that bind today’s world. We cannot live in a mythologized world and expect others to cater to it or conform to it. The Africa of many Black Americans’ imaginings simply does not exist. You can cite Sankofa or Coming to America, but have you seen the Cairos, Abujas, Jo’burgs of today?

      Also, the African diaspora should be enough to make you consider broadening your knowledge. We have African descended peoples on the Pacific Islands who have been there for centuries (Papua New Guinea). Are they not Black also? Africans in Britain, Germany, Belgium, Russia, Spain… they’re all part of the African Diaspora. Does an afrocentric worldview allow for the complexities and hybridities of the identities of these people?

  9. musingsofastrongblackwoman

    Arri,

    This is quite a striking position and defense you have taken. Though I consider myself Afrocentric in some respects (see http://www.musingsofastrongblackwoman.com/2009/03/afrocentrism/) I definitely agree with you surrounding the danger of being Afrocentric in the same vein as Eurocentrists. I also hope that your critics will truly critique your argument and not just attempt to bolster their own views. Thanks for sharing.

    Rhonda
    author of blog Musings of a (Recovering) Strong Black Woman

  10. I have abandoned “Afrocentrism” years ago. While I am a Pan-Africanist, I am neither Afrocentric nor Eurocentric. Rather, I am “truthcentric.” Afrocentrism is nothing but a flip-flop on Eurocentrism. “White are genetically superior to Blacks” becomes “Blacks are genetically superior to whites.” “Blacks have no spiritual development” becomes “Whites have no spiritual development.” Then there are the crazy crackpot junk theories about melanin and veganism that seriously need to disappear from the Black American memeplex.

    • aconerlycoleman

      Thank you for stopping by!

      If I recall correctly, you coined the phrase “TofuDashikiism?” If so, you have my respect!

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