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Afrocentricity And Its Critics

As could be expected, however, Afrocentricity's growing paradigmatic ascendancy over African-American studies also prompted serious critiques, which fall within five broad categories. First, critics have disagreed with some of Afrocentricity's premises, in particular the notion of an African essence that undergirds the notion of center. This criticism is often heard in poststructuralist circles, since the very idea of a center is antithetical to the poststructuralist paradigm. Often associated with this criticism is the additional claim that in its search for Africanness, Afrocentricity does not allow for cultural change. In fact, some argue, Afrocentricity's inability to deal adequately with cultural change prevents it from understanding that being African today also means being at least partly European as a result of colonization and widespread Westernization. Afrocentricity, then, is perceived as too restrictive and incapable of grasping the dialectical complexity of modern African identities. While he denies being an "immutabilist," Asante's response has been that Africans need a place to stand in order to challenge oppressive White structures and systems of knowledge and therefore cannot afford postmodern, evanescent, fluid selves. In any case, any discourse on identity is necessarily essentialist. Afrocentrists also point out that far from denying the Westernization of many Africans' consciousness, they recognize it as a destructive force that must be circumvented.

Second, some have taken issue with Afrocentricity's main category, culture. black feminists and black neo-Marxists advance gender and social class, respectively, as the primary contradiction in African-American life. With regard to feminism, however, Afrocentric scholars who tackle gender issues question the relevance of feminist philosophical and political assumptions for African people, including African women. Concerning the question of class, while it is quite feasible and necessary to articulate an Afrocentric economic theory, Afrocentricity maintains that race/culture remains the most socially relevant category in American society.

Third, Afrocentricity has also been criticized for making untenable historical claims, especially in relation to ancient Egypt. This argument, probably the most publicized, has stemmed from European classicists who, having subscribed to the Greek Miracle theory, became disturbed by two related developments associated with the spread of Afrocentricity: first, credit was being taken away from Europe for the great civilizations of the Nile Valley (in particular, Egypt); and second, as a consequence the original intellectual achievements of Greece itself were revisited and diminished. For instance, it was pointed out that many Greek philosophers had studied for long periods of time in ancient Africa, and were in reality indebted to their African teachers for many of their ideas. Therefore many European scholars in the United States and Europe proceeded to refute those "Afrocentric" claims. However, it must be noted that the debate over the racial identity of the early Egyptians predates the emergence of Afrocentricity by several decades and is not, therefore, an issue germane to Afrocentricity per se. It must be more correctly understood within the context of Diopian historiography, which places Egypt at the beginning, both chronologically and conceptually, of African civilization. In fact, several of the scholars associated with this thrust, such as Martin Bernal, have never claimed to be Afrocentric.

Fourth, Afrocentricity has also been criticized for intellectual bad faith because of wrong attributions and associations. For instance, Afrocentricity has been associated with biological-deterministic arguments (such as that around melanin) that were never part of its premises.

Finally, criticism of an ideological nature has been voiced. In one instance, Afrocentricity has been blamed as reversed Eurocentrism. Some scholars contend that Afrocentricity merely seeks to replace one geopolitical hegemonic center, Europe, with another hegemonic one, Africa. However, as even a cursory reading of Asante's texts would reveal, Afrocentricity is fundamentally nonhegemonic and welcomes the existence of a multiplicity of cultural centers. It is precisely that position that allowed Afrocentricity to challenge Eurocentrism in the first place. Some have also contended that Afrocentricity undermines the very fabric of American society. By emphasizing the Africans' prerogative to be human as Africans, Afrocentricity is said to threaten the unity of American society, including the American academe. However, Afrocentrists remark that the unspoken fear is not so much about a shattered national unity (which, given racism, could have never truly existed) but about the threat that Afrocentricity poses to Europe's self-serving monopoly over reason.

While Afrocentricity continues to exercise a significant influence in the United States, it has also been receiving increased attention in Europe and Africa, where a vigorous intellectual movement has emerged informed by Afrocentric tenets and referred to as the "African Renaissance," thus creating the possibility for Afrocentricity to be transformed into a Pan-African school of thought in the years to come.


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——. Kemet, Afrocentricity, and Knowledge. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 1990.

——. The Afrocentric Idea. Rev. and expanded ed. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998.

——. "The Afrocentric Idea in Education." Journal of Negro Education 60 (1991): 170–179.

Conyers, James L., Jr. ed. Afrocentricity and the Academy. London: McFarland, 2000.

Fanon, Frantz. A Dying Colonialism. New York: Grove Press, 1967.

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Lemelle, Sydney J. "The Politics of Cultural Existence: Pan Africanism, Historical Materialism, and Afrocentricity." In Imagining Home: Class, Culture and Nationalism in the African Diaspora, edited by Sidney J. Lemelle and Robin D. G. Kelley. New York: Verso, 1994. A Marxist critique of Afrocentricity.

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Ama Mazama

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Adrenoceptor (adrenoreceptor; adrenergic receptor) to AmbientAfrocentricity - Historical And Intellectual Context, Afrocentric Organizing Principle And Concepts, Afrocentricity As The African-american Studies Metaparadigm