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Among contemporaries, rbe \vorks of Maulana Karenga,
Chinwelzu, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, J. A. Sofala, Aboubaay
Moussa Lam, Terry Kershaw, Wade Nobles, Walter Rodney,

~ !Cf f<f f/ol. I :fl:-/ Leachim Sernaj, Marimba Ani, Jacob Carruthers, Kariamu
Wei.sh Asante, Clenora Hudson-Weems, C. Tsehloane Keto,
Theophile Obenga, and Cheikh Ama Diop have been most
helpful and inspiring in defining the nature of the Afrocentric
school of thought. I hasten to add that they have all been
activists. not men: armchair theorists. The principal motive
behind all of their works seemed to have been the use of
kno..vledge for the cultural, social, political, and economic lib-
eration of African people by first recentering African minds.
Afrocentricity, Race, They believed that without such liberation there could be no
social or economic sa:uggle that \vould make sense. None
and Reason by Mo!efi Ke1e Asante wrote simply for the sake of self-indulgence; none could afford
to do so because the dispossession was so great and the myths
so pervasive. Passion is never a substitute for argument, just as
argument is not a substirution for passion; in the intellectual
There e.'<.istS a long line of activist and intellectual precur~ arena we may disagree over finer points of interpretation, but
sors to the theory of Afrocentricity. Indeed, it is in these early the overall project of rdocation and reorientation of African
\VOrks, organizational and theoretical, that Afrocentriciry is action and data has been the rational constant in all of the
first suggested as a critical corrective to a displaced agency tvorks of these activist scholars. I claim heir to that tradition
among Africans. A few of the more prominent names that are tvith all of its contradictions.
used in my own corpus of \vork are Alexander Crummell, Although a number of t'lriters and community activists

Martin Delaney, Edward Wilmot Blyden, Marcus Garvey, gro\ving out of the Black Power Moven1ent of the 1960s had
Paul Robeson, Anna Julia Cooper, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Larry increasingly seen the need for a response to marginality,
Neal, Carter G. Woodson, Willie Abraham, Frantz Fannon, Afrocenoicity did not emerge as a critical theory and a literary
Malcolm X, the later W E. B. Du Bois. This is not intended practice until the appearance of tvvo small books by the
to be a comprehensive listing of individuals who have influ- Amulefi Publishing Company in Bulfalo, New York. The press
enced the Afrocentric idea, but more precisely the aim is to published Kariamu Welsh Asante's Textured 11'omcn, Cowrie Shells
identify the kind of people who have leaned in the direction of and Beetlestidu in 1978 and my book Afacentrialy in 1980. These
African agency as a positive statement against the de-agenciz- \Vere the first self-conscious markings along the intellectual
ing character of hegemonic Eurocentricity. Carter G. path of Afrocentricity, that is, \vhere the authors, using their
Woodson's The Mi.reducahon ofthe Negro, first published in 1933, otvn activism and community organizing, consciously set out
\Vas one of the earliest accounts of Lhe dislocation of the to e..xplain a t.heory and a practice of liberation by reinvesting
African person. Harold Cruse's The Crilli ofthe Blm:k Intellectual African agency as the fundamental core of our sanity. Welsh
continued the description of the attitudes, behaviors, and Asante's book \Vas a literary practice grotving out of her chore
thoughrs of African intellectuals particularly as they related oivaphic method/t.echnique, umfandalai, ;vhich had been pro-
their scholarship and intellectual development to the c.heories jected in her dances at the Center for Positive Thought, tvhich
of \Vhites, often the theories of racist 1.vhites. Both Woodson she directed. On the other hand, .1!ftocentnGiy \Vas based on my
and Cruse are considered godfathers of the new thinking ;vork as leader of Lhc Los Angeles Forum for Black Artists, the
about agency.

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UCLA chapter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Essentially, these have remained the pri.ncipal features of
Committee, and as Director of the UCLA Center for Afro- the Afrocentric critical theory since its inception although a
American Studies in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as well as number of brilliant thinkers have added dimensions to the
my observation and textual analyses of what people like Welsh original conceptualization. By this, I mean the \YOrks of Norm
Asante and Maulana K=nga and Haki Mahdubuci were Harris, C. T_ Keto, Ella Forbes, Patricia Hill Collins, Linda
doing with social transformation at the grassroots. Based on James Myers, Terry Kershaw, Wade Nobles, and Arna
the lived experiences of African people, and my o\vn peasant Mazama, among others. What all of these scholars have seen
background from Georgia, and from what I saw in North is the revolutionary caliber of this idea as it relates to a reorder-
America, the Caribbean, and Africa, the Afrocentric idea had ing of perspectives around questions of African action, politi-
to be concerned with nothing less than the relocation of sub- cal, economic, rulrural, or social. There is a serious difference
ject-place in the African world. In my view1 more adamant now between commentary on the activities of Europeans, past and
than ever, this was the only approach to any other liberation present, and the revolutionary thrust of gaining empowerment
for a people dislocated by circumstances of white racial through the reorientation of African interests.
supremacy. Perhaps because of the rise of this idea at a time when
A journal cicled The Afacentric iffu-ld &view had been pub- Eurocentric scholars seemed to have lost their way in a dense
lished in three issues in Chicago in the 1970s. To my kno\vl- forest of deconstructionist and postmodernist concepts chal
edge, however, Afrocennic merely appeared as a part of the lenging the prevailing orthodoxies of the Eurocentric para-
title; the ani9es were about the political and social issues con- digm, we have found a deluge of challenges to the Afrocentric
fronting African people. No attempt was made to lay out a the- idea as a reaction to postmodernity. But it should be clear that
oretical basis for analysis. Thus, the tvvo books 1.extured 1#nnen the Afrocenoisrs, too, have recognized the inherent problems
and Afioclmfridly formed the early documents of what was to in structuralism and Marxism with their emphasis on received
become the most discussed African intcllectual idea since the inr.erpretations of ph~ as different. as the wdfare state
Negrirude Movement They posed two important questions: and e. e. cwrunings's poetry. Yet the issues of objectivity and
How: do we see ourselves and bow have others seen us? VVhat subject-object duality, central pieces of the Eurocentric project
can we do to regain our own accountability and to move in interpretation, have been shown to represent hierarchies
beyond the intellecrual plantation that consrra.ins our econom- rooted in the European construction of the political world
ic, rulrural, and inrellecrual development? These became the fact, in The Afivcentric Idea I wrote that "objectivity is a sort of
crucial questions that aggravated our social and political collective subjectivity of Europeans." This was quite in line
worlds. They led ultimately to the question that Haki with Marimba Ani's observation in her dephant work Yurogu:
Madhubuti posed for the black intellectual in Enemies: The Clash An Afam-G11tered Critique qf F.uropean Thought and Behavior that
o.f&a.r. Is it in the best interest of African people? This was a the reification of object is about control.
critical question in a white supremacist society where Africans The aim of the objectivity argument, it seems, is always to
were marginalized_ Madhubuti, much like Harold Cruse in protect the status quo because the status quo is never called
previous years, wanted to know whether a particular project upon to prove irs objectivity; only the challengers to the starus
led to a recentering of the interests of African people. quo are asked to explain their objectivity. And in a society
\vhere white supremacy has been a major component of cul-
rure, the African 'vill always be in the position of challenging
As a cultural configuration, the Afrocentric idea was
the white racial privilege starus quo unless, of course, he or she
discinguished by five characteristics: (I) an intense inter-
is co-opted into defending the status quo, which happens with
est in psychological location as detennined by symbols,
enough regularity in this country.
mocifs, rituals, and sigrts; (2) a .commitment to finding the
In an extensive discussion of the subject-object, speaker
subject-place of Africans in any social, policical, economic,
audience relation.ship, I explained how the subversion of that
or religious phenomenon with iinplications for questions
con.figuration \Vas necessary in order to establish a playing
a
of sex, gender, and class; (3) defense of African cultural
field based on equality. But to claim that those who take the
elements as historically Valid in the context of art, music,
speaker or the subject position vis-i-vis others counted as audi-
and literature; (4) a celebration of "centerednessn and
ences and objecrs are on the same footing is to engage in intel
agency and a commitment to lexical refinement that elim-
lectual subterfuge without precedence. On the other hand, it is
inates prjoracives about Africins or other people; and (5)
possible, as the Afrocentrists claim, to create conununity when
a poWerful imperative froni his.torical sources to revise the
one speaks of subject-subject, speaker-speaker, audience-audi-
collective text of African people.
ence relationships. This allo\vs pluralism "vithout hierarchy.
As applied to race and racism, this formulation is equally land? The Afrocentrists ask, How can the African create a lib-
clear in iLS emphasis on subject-subject relationships. Of erative philosophy from the icons of mental enslavement?
course, the subject-subject relationship is almost impossible in There are certainly political implications hen: because the
a racist system or in the benign acceptance of a racist con- issue of African politics throughout the world becomes one of
struction of human relationships as may be found in the seruring a place frum which to stand, unimpeded by the inter-
American society and is frequently represented in the literature ventions of a decadent Europe that has lost its own moral way.
of several scholars \vho have African ancestry but \Vho are Th.is is not to say that all Europe is bad and all Africa is good.
clearly uncomfortable Mth this fact. White supremacy cannot To even think or pose the issue in rhat manner is to miss the
be accommodated in a normal society, and, th~refon:, when a point I am making. Yet I kno\v, from experience, that this will
\vriter or scholar or politician refuses to recognize, or ignores be misunderstood. So let me run to say that, for Africa, Europe
the African's agency, he or she allows for the default position- is dangerous; it is a live-hundred-years dangerousness, and I
\Vhite supremacy-to operate YVithout challenge and thus par- am not talking physical or economic danger, though that his-
ticipates in a destructive mode for human personality. If tory is severe enough, but psychological and culrural danger,
African people are not given subject place, then we remain the danger that kills the soul of a people. One kno\VS, I sur-
objects without agency, intellectual beggars without a place to mise, that a people's soul is dead when it can no longer breathe
stand. There is nothing essenti;illy different from this enslave- irs ovm air and when the air of another culrure seems to smell
ment than the previous historical enslavement except our sweeter. Following Frantz Fanon, the Afrocentrists argue that itl
ability to recognize the bondage. Thus, you have a white- is the assimiladoes, the educated elite, whose identities and
bject and black-object relationship e..xpressed in sociology, affiliations are killed first. Fortunately their death does not
thropology, philosophy, political science, literature, and llls- mean that the people are doomed; it only means that they can
[
ry rather than a subject-subject reality. It is this marginality no longer be trusted to speak what the people know because
that is rejected in the \vritings of Afroc.entrisLS of the Temple they are dead to the culrure, to the human project.
Circle, a grauP of Afrocentric scholars who represent centered Afrocentricicy stands as both a corrective and a critique.
critiques of culture, race, class, language, and gender and who Whenever African people, who collectively suffer the experi-
maintain an ongoing discourse \vith each other in symposia, ence of dislocation, are relocated in a centered place, that is,
colloquia, and who participate annually in the Cheikh Anta with agency and accountability, \Ve have a corrective. By recen-
Diop Conference and the invited Afrocentric theory confer- tering the African person as an agent, we deny the hegemony
ence. At the present time, the individuals who identify with the of European domination in thought and behavior, and then
school are Terry Kershaw, Arna Mazama, K.ariamu Welsh Afrocentricity becomes a critique. On one hand, \Ve seek to
Asante, C. Tsehloane Keto, Ella Forbes, Glendola Parker, correct the sense of plac.e of the African, and on the other
Ayele Bekerie, myself, and our graduate students. Th.is work hand, we make a critique of the process and extent of the dis-
is almost definitionally a narrative of liberation, a discourse location caused by the culnrral, economic, and political domi-
about centering, a freedom of thought and expression rooted nation of Europe. It is possible to make an exploration of this
_in a necessarily perspectivist vision. I have claimed that this critical dimension by observing the way European writers have
vision may represent an "essentialist" thrust, \vhich I am per- defined Africa and Africans in history, political science, and
fectly comfortable with (though I do not speak for the Cin:le)- sociology. To allow the definition of Af1icans as marginal and
to be essentialist is not ro be an immutabili.st. as fringe people in the historical processes of the world is to
The ancient African Egyptian term seba first found in an abandon all hope of reversing lhe degradation of the
inscription on the tomb of Antef I from 2052 B.C.E. had as its oppressed.
core meaning in the lvledu Neter the '\-easoning style of the peo- Thus, the aims of Afrocentricity as regards the race idea are
ple." The reasoning style of Eurocenrric \vriters often serves not hegemonic. I have no interest in one race dominating
the bureaucratic functions of "locking" Africans in a concepru- another; I am an ardent believer in the possibility of diverse
al cocoon that seems, at first glance, harm.Jess enough; never- populations living on the same earth without giving up their
theless, the reasoning supports the prevailing positions. How fundamental traditions except where those traditions invade
can an African liberate himself or herself from the racist scruc- other peoples' space. This is precisdy why the Afrocentric idea
rures? AfrocenrrisLS take the position that this is possible and, is essential to human harmony. The Afrocentric idea represents
indeed, essential but can only happen if \VC search for answers a possibility of intellectual marurity, a vvay of viewing reality
in the time-space categories that are anti-hegemonic. These are lhat opens new and more exciting doors tO\vard hui;nan under
~tegories that ~lace Africa at the center of analysis of African standing. I do not object to viev.ing it as a form of historical
I l5sues and Afncan people as agenLS in our own contexts. consciousness, but more than lhat, it is an attirude, a location,
Othenvi.se, how can we ever raise pr.:Ictical questions of an orientation. To be centered is to stand some place and to
improving our situation in the world? The Jev,is of the Old come from some place; the Afrocentrist seeks for the African
'Tc:Jfanu.71/ asked, How can you sing a new song in a strange person the conlenunent of subject, Jctive, agent place. Iii

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