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Will the Real Father of Afrocentricity Please Stand

Article excerpt

The Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) attributes human accomplishments to the activities of "Great men." He describes these great men as "the modelers, patterns, and in a wide sense creators, of whatever the general mass of men contrived to do or to attain; all things that we see standing accomplished in the world are properly the outer material result, the practical realization and embodiment, of Thoughts that dwelt in the Great Men sent into the world." (Varieties of History: 101). Carlyle, therefore, defines history as "the biography of Great men." This Carlylean perspective shaped historical interpretations for centuries. Although, later generations of historians--Herbert Spencer, E. H. Carr, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Staughton Lynd and Jesse Lemisch broadened the purview of history to acknowledge the lives and contributions of the common people; faint, and sometimes loud, echoes of the Carlylean perspective continue to resonate. A more recent exemplification is Molefi K. Asante, formerly chair of the Department of African American Studies, Temple University, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A mention of his name today quickly reminds one of the concept Afrocentricity. By some account, he has published thirty-six books, and over a hundred articles, on the subject. By his own estimate--forty books, and over two hundred and fifty articles. The sheer volume of his scholarship, coupled with his bold, abrasive and often caustic defense of Afrocentricity, has undoubtedly compelled many to proclaim him to be "The Father of Afrocentricity." Asante has since claimed this title, and on several occasions, has proudly proclaimed himself indeed, the father of Afrocentricity. One such proclamation can be found in a lecture titled, "The Future of African Gods: The Clash of Civilizations," that he delivered at the Accra--W. E. B. Du Bois Center in Accra, Ghana on the 10th of July 1998. At the end of this lecture, Asante describes himself as "The father of Afrocentricity" (Asante, 1998). Attempting to refute someone else's claim to the paternity of a historical phenomenon may appear superfluous on the surface, such exercise, however, seems justified, in this particular instance because, left unchallenged, such claim has a tendency to acquire popular, but more significantly damaging historical, legitimacy; thus telescoping and obscuring, complex historical movements, events and personalities.

Since Afrocentricity is a child of Afro-American history, the search for its roots and evolution has to occur in the context of the rise and development of that history. To locate Afrocentricity in its proper historical context, however, it is necessary to establish a working definition, and there is no better definition available than that of Asante himself. He defines Afrocentricity as "a frame of reference wherein phenomena are viewed from the perspective of the African person. The Afrocentric approach seeks in every situation the appropriate centrality of the African person" (Asante, 1991: 171). In another forum, Asante describes Afrocentricity as a "simple idea ... at its base it is concerned with African people being subjects of historical and social experiences rather than objects in the margins in European experiences" (Asante, 1992). Tsehloane Keto, a member of Temple s African American Studies Department, defines Afrocentricity as "an encapsulating term that is used to describe the complex theoretical process of knowledge formation which places Africans at the center of information about themselves ..." (Keto, 1995: vii). The Afrocentric paradigm, Keto contends, "provides a framework for the process of centering knowledge about Africans, at home and abroad, on the experience of Africans as subjects of history who occupy center stage in the construction of knowledge about Africans. It produces knowledge about Africans in the human sciences in which Africans occupy the center and are therefore the subject, the main players, if you wish, and the makers of their own history rather than peripheral players who inhabit the margins of other people s history" (Ibid). …