The Path towards Literary Liberation: The Role of the African Worldview in Conducting an African Centered Analysis of Jacob's Ladder

Article excerpt

African/Black literature is one of the most co-opted bodies of knowledge in the discipline of Black Studies next to African/Black history. This is mainly because many of the literary theorists who analyze African/Black literature are from disciplines outside of Black Studies. These literary theorists are Eurocentrically trained and tend to unconsciously, automatically, and universally use the European worldview as the foundation for their theories, analysis, and discussions. African centered scholars in Black Studies know that using theories based on the European worldview to analyze African/Black phenomenon (in this case, African/Black literature) is "blatantly absurd." (Ani 9). Not only is this Eurocentric type of analysis faulty on many different levels; it also helps to further separate African/Black literature from the discipline of Black Studies by allowing the "external penetration" (Azibo 421) of anyone who "just happens" to analyze, interpret, and discuss African/Black literature, regardless of their background, training, or understanding of African/Black culture and the African worldview. In order to reclaim African/Black literature as a body of knowledge, more African centered literary theories must be developed and employed.

Contrary to popular belief, Black Studies does not need to look outside the discipline for these theories because they can be found in one of the other bodies of knowledge, such as African/Black Psychology and Black Sociology, or can be created by scholars in the discipline. Therefore, if African/Black literature is about to travel down the path toward literary liberation, the journey must begin with African/Black culture and the African worldview.

If it is difficult to discuss African/Black life without discussing the African worldview, than it is equally difficult to discuss African/Black literature without discussing the African worldview. This is especially true since African/Black literature is a direct reflection of African/Black life, regardless of the genre. Thus, proving how significant the African worldview is to any analysis of African/Black literature. Understanding the African worldview will not only help to recapture African/Black literature and return it to the discipline of Black Studies; but the African worldview will also help to eliminate the further co-option of this body of knowledge by ensuring its inclusion in future discussions of African/Black literature. Once this foundation has been laid, more African centered literary theories can be proposed and utilized in the future. Consequently, this article will begin the building process by conducting an African centered analysis of Jacob's Ladder by John A. Williams. Even though this is an example of one text where the African worldview is needed for an in-depth understanding of the story; this example is the rule in African/Black literature and not the exception.

Before anything else can be discussed, Black Studies must be defined. Defining Black Studies helps to ensure that all research conducted involving African/Black people not only represents the discipline of Black Studies, but also furthers the discipline. Therefore, Black Studies is the examination, analysis, and investigation of African culture, heritage, and traditions focusing on African people not only in America, but on the continent and throughout the Diaspora. According to Linda James Myers and Daudi Ajani ya Azibo, this examination and analysis should be from an African centered perspective; meaning that African culture and the African worldview is the primary lens for examination. Scholars in Black Studies must acknowledge the ancestors who came before by making connections back to Ancient African civilizations and to the African continent to understand the foundations laid for us to build upon today. Every discussion must also be brought forward to find the relevance and application to the African/Black community, both inside and outside the academy. …