On the Rhetoric of Afrocentricity
Strother-Jordan, Karen, The Western Journal of Black Studies
One of the many current challenges posed to scholarship is that of the historicity of scholarship itself. One manifestation of this challenge can be seen in critical researcher's contention that current interpretations of the ancient world are themselves the product of modern European historical developments and more particularly of certain intellectual events of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Since the historical development of Eurocentrism is at the base of most discourse within the American academy, researchers' task should be attentive to transforming ideas and problematic values of the Eurocentric tradition. However, advocacy of critical approaches, which finds one expression through multiculturalism, has failed to recognize the changing nature of a diverse society until the development of Afrocentricity. Afrocentrism, as Molefi Asante conceives of it, challenges the Eurocentric position. In theory, Asante sees Afro-centricity involving the interpretation analysis from the perspective of African people as subjects rather than objects (1983). In practice, Afrocentric principles are used to interpret and explain issues in the search for understanding within the historical context associated with underrepresented groups overlooked for generations.
This paper explores the theory of Afrocentricity through a Burkiean analysis utilizing cluster analysis, antithesis, and pentadic analysis. This paper will illustrate the underlying motives of Asante's rhetoric challenging the notion of persuasion between the bipolar opposites of Afrocentrism and Eurocentrism. The purpose of this examination is not to evaluate the theory/ methodology of Afrocentricity, but to illustrate its purpose. Using a traditional rhetorical method does not limit the scope of the analysis, but provides a useful construction of knowledge to describe and explain the critique.
Dramatism is a method of textual analysis designed to show that the most direct route to the study of human relations and human motives is via inquiry into cycles or clusters of terms and their functions (Burke, 1968). This analysis concentrates on the clusters that revolve around the key terms of Afrocentricity, Afrology, and Ideology/Reality that are used throughout Asante's discourse. The frequency of these terms determined their significance as key terms. The interpretations from the text will be linked to the key terms that Asante uses to convey his message. Although cluster analysis helps critics to ground their interpretations in the text through an inductive investigation that meets the criterion of empirical verifiability, Conrad (1984) believes that it cannot guarantee that the insight will be either representative or comprehensive. In order to meet the other criteria of representativeness and comprehensiveness, this analysis will also identify the representational anecdote to satisfy the representativeness criterion, and complete a pentadic analysis to satisfy the comprehensiveness criterion. The objective of cluster analysis is to uncover the representative key terms which will reveal other terms that are clustered around them, based on the frequency, intensity, and representativeness of their usage in the text. This phase will specifically identify the pivotal terms and clusters evident in Asante's texts, which will provide the foundation for illustrating how Asante accomplishes symbolic action through his language choices. Burke (1968) argues that symbolic acts simultaneously express a rhetor's dreams and shape her or his sense of community with others. Rueckert (1963) argues that clusters are spontaneously generated and/or deliberately contrived as a result of a process of identification or association that operates under all conditions and in every human activity.
Every cluster is unified by the presence of a conscious or unconscious master motive. Although the motive leads to the rhetorical activity that results in the clusters, the structure of interrelationships which constitutes a cluster is fixed to the master motive which generated them (Rueckert, 1963). Thus, cluster analysis should begin to reveal Asante's motives in his discourse. Characteristic of Asante's writings is the rhetorical strategy of description in the abstract. That is, Asante uses abstractions to illustrate a theme that he associates with his philosophical approach. Asante's use of abstraction in his discourse makes pinpointing meaning difficult since there are very few concrete claims that he makes. The use of abstract ideas is a rhetorical strategy Asante has perfected which allows him to make assertions in his claims without the support to back up what he states. Rueckert (1963) argues that there is symbolic action in the language human's use and there tends to be a driving tendency toward higher and higher levels of abstraction that culminates in god-terms. Throughout Asante's first text, Afrocentricity, three key terms appear regularly, the first two of which might be considered god-terms: Afrocentricity, Afrology, and Ideology/Reality. These are the key terms that Asante uses to develop his philosophical position.
Afrocentricity, Asante states, "is the centerpiece of human regeneration" (1988, 1). Afrocentricity, Asante believes, is a revolutionary position that liberates a true sense of collective destiny based upon knowing the facts of history and experience. In Afrocentric terms, the power of knowledge resides in how close African peoples are to their centers. Afrocentricity promotes the need for African Americans to understand their own reality based on the history and experience of African peoples. Afrocentricity also introduces relevant values, denounces non-Afrocentric behavior, and promotes Afrocentric scholarly methods. Asante represents Afrocentricity primarily as an orientation to the world that privileges the position, values, and experiences of African and African American peoples.
The second key term is Afrology, which Asante defines as the Afrocentric study of concepts, issues and behaviors with a particular basis in the African world (1988). Afrology is associated with the method of what Asante calls a Black orientation to the social sciences and humanities. Afrology makes possible the conceptualization of Black perspectives and attitudes and suggests a new methodology. Asante states "Afrology is not merely the study of Black people, but an approach, a methodological and functional perspective" (1988, 60). Afrology includes three elements: competence, clarity of perspective, and understanding of the object (Asante, 1988).
The third key term is ideology/reality that Asante defines as "the construct of a person's image, symbols, lifestyles, and manners which have been developed through their history and heritage" (1988, 102). Asante distinguishes between traditional/dominant ideology that is problematic, and the Afrocentric ideology that proposes a cultural reconstruction incorporating the African perspective as a part of an entire project of human transformation (1987). Asante (1990) claims that ruling ideologies continue to abuse power when it comes to questions of knowledge.
Afrocentricity is a philosophical position that originates from an African centered point of reference. Afrocentricity, as Asante concedes, is another centrism, but one which is defined as the groundedness allowing researchers to investigate African phenomena and to view the world from the standpoint of the African. Thus, Afrocentricity presupposes the possibility of an African being at the center of existence. Four prominent terms that revolve around the key term of Afrocentricity are collective consciousness, truth, science, and universalism/essentialism.
Asante refers to collective consciousness throughout the text as a requirement for one to become Afrocentric. Collective consciousness is significant because of the frequency with which Asante uses it in his discourse. Burke (1968) defines repetitive form as the restatement of the same thing in different ways. Asante uses repetition as a rhetorical strategy to win assent to his view of collective consciousness. Collective consciousness is an awareness which allows a person to interpret phenomena differently based on a shared understanding of "truth." Asante uses collective consciousness as a new and improved version of what "Black consciousness" was. As he states: "A new consciousness invades our behavior and consequently with Afrocentricity you see movies differently, you see other people differently, you read books differently, you see politicians differently; in fact, nothing is as it was before your consciousness" (1988, 7). Asante believes that, as this new consciousness emerges with the embrace of Afrocentricity, different truths will become evident.
Truth is the second clustered term of Afrocentricity. Asante identifies truth as the knowledge that has been concealed, ignored, and rejected because it contradicts the force and message of Eurocentric ideology. He claims "the force of our truth must be so deafening that even the bureaucrats will have to change their language to accommodate the reality" (1988, 34). Asante anticipates that "Afrocentricity will emerge in the presence of other ideologies because it is from the African person. It is truth, even though it may not be their truth" (1988, 43). Truth, then, is used to symbolize knowledge that has always been known, but has been suppressed by the dominant ideology.
Science is the third clustered term of Afrocentricity. Asante identifies science as a quasi-religion within the dominant ideology that takes as its goal the search for absolute knowledge. He posits that "Western science, with its notions of knowledge of phenomena for the sake of knowledge and its emphasis on technique and efficiency, is not deep enough for the African humanistic and spiritual viewpoint" (1988, 80). Asante represents Western science as establishing its identity by stressing the differences between scientific study of material phenomena and non-scientific study of metaphysical and spiritual phenomena. Afrocentricity, on the other hand, combines the spiritual and the material in science, reconciliation the West (European) does not acknowledge. Asante asserts that "the Afrocentric perspective upholds the significance of science; indeed in the sense that it is based upon history and heritage; Afrocentricity is itself a science" (1988, 80).
The last clustered term of Afrocentricity is a cross between universalism and essentialism. Asante uses universalism as a construct representative of Western European thought. He believes that there exist powerful Eurocentric myths of universalism, objectivity, and classical traditions that retain a provincial European cast (1987). He argues that universalism is another of those words that has been used to hold the enemy in the Africans' brain (1988). Asante describes situations where African American writers are accused of not being universal when writing about their experience or speaking on matters that relate directly to the Black experience. However, when European critics rely on white images or a Eurocentric framework, they are not held to the same standard because the Eurocentric writer, as Asante observes, is assumed to be expressing what is universal. Therefore, the universal is a unquestioned value in Eurocentric thought. As the first stage of an Afrocentric intellectual liberation, Asante urges the rejection of the belief that European particularism is the only true universal.
Essentialism is not defined specifically in the text, but the language Asante uses in describing universalism offers clues to what he means. An essence, or whatness, is in a sense neither universal nor particular (Husserl, 1962). For example, the essence purple is given in the universal concept of the color. The differences between universal and particular meaning come about only in relation to the objects in which essence resides (Husserl, 1962). Asante argues that "the phenomenologist's search for essence by questioning all assumptions about reality is similar to the Afrocentrist's search for essence by questioning all assumptions about reality that are rooted in a particularistic view of the universe." (1987, 26).
Asante's use of universalism/essentialism is most evident as he explains consciousness. Asante, as well as Du Bois, believes in an essential African American consciousness, but he does not consider it to be universal. This consciousness arises from a shared history, a shared fate of being Black men and women in America, and having shared experiences based on political, social, and economic history. Although Asante stresses that not all African Americans have had similar experiences, he does believe by virtue of the oppression endured by African Americans that a shared consciousness could exist. Asante's use of universalism/ essentialism illustrates the tension that exists when generalizations are used to support claims about differences and similarities between diverse perspectives. To claim that an African essence ties together all peoples of African descent is problematic, but to claim that the experiences and history of oppression are shared among African peoples suggests a unifying essence. Asante emphasizes the latter in the cluster of terms around universalism/essentialism.
Afrology is the study of concepts, issues, behaviors, and methods of Black oriented social scientists and humanists from an Afrocentric perspective. Asante states that "since Afrology is based upon an Afrocentric interpretation and a particular conception of society, the results of our work will alter previous perceptions and set standards for future studies of African peoples" (1988, 60). Asante recommends Afrology as another name for Black Studies, African Studies, or African American Studies (1988). This second key term can be best understood as the means by which Afrocentricity influences scientific and humanistic inquiry. Four terms are also clustered around Afrology that together help to clarify the nature of Afrological studies.
The first clustered term of Afrology is misrepresentation. Asante develops Afrocentricity partly as a reaction to the misrepresentation of Blackness in Eurocentric thought. Misrepresentation is an awareness or consciousness that requires a "breakdown" of facts. Asante states "you experience in the breakdown a certain tearing away from mental and psychological habits that held you enslaved to Eurocentric concepts" (1988, 101). Misrepresentation encompasses all the limited and distorted knowledge that resulted from not having access to African centered history. Misrepresentation is the first of four clustered terms that interconnect as the circular force of Afrology.
The second clustered term from Afrology is reconstruction. Reconstruction is the process of gaining awareness of the misrepresentation of truth and the breakthrough to a conversion of consciousness. Reconstruction involves the recognition that a conversion at the level of the soul must take place. Asante argues that "Afrocentricity is a transforming power which helps to capture the true sense of one's souls" (1988, 49). Reconstruction, likewise, involves a cultural transformation. Asante maintains that "Afrocentricity reconstructs our families, reorganizes our values, and protects our culture" (1988, 55). Reconstruction obligates one to adopt an Afrocentric awareness and to make a total commitment to African liberation. Asante contends that "Afrocentrists are in the best position to call for reconstruction of our values since they are keenly aware of the dangers which still cloud our reconstructive paths" (1988, 86).
The third clustered term of Afrology is total conversion. Asante believes the conversion to Afrocentricity becomes total as one reads, listens, and talks to others who share the collective consciousness (1988). Conversion to Afrocentricity, Asante asserts, "does not equal a hatred of Western European thought. On the contrary, the conversion articulates a new consciousness" (1988, 61). Although conversion to Afrocentric awareness is preferred, Asante does not believe total conversion to Afrocentricity by all people necessary. Asante holds that "what is necessary is the persistent pressure of the Afrocentrists on other relationships to create in art, literature, science, music, etc., in order to counteract the reign of intellectual deviation among our creative people" (1988, 54).
The fourth clustered term of Afrology is tactics. Asante defines tactics as the measures and methods employed to advance one toward the Afrocentric objective. Asante does warn against relying only on tactics. Asante argues that "all of our philosophers have understood the distinction between tactics and strategy" (1988, 85). He believes that tactics without strategic objectives can be self-deceiving. Asante exhorts African peoples to study the history of African contact with Europe to understand the pathology of the tactic which drives Europeans toward avarice and exploitation in relationship to others. The strategy, on the other hand, calls for the Afrocentrist seeking to uncover the falsehoods, to expose fake issues, and to demonstrate the overpowering effect of committed will in changing behaviors (Asante, 1988).
The third key term is ideology/reality. Four terms are also cluster around this key term. The cluster of ideology/reality represents the values or presuppositions of Afrocentricity as a theme. Ideology is placed together with reality because in Asante's writings they are regularly linked. However, ideology, as Asante uses this term, appears to be synonymous with reality. Ideology, as used by Asante, includes ideas, attitudes, beliefs, myths, truths, falsehoods, hopes, justifications, goals, traditions, and symbols. Since all of these aspects of ideology are rooted in human experience, they are perpetually changing and cannot be logically ordered. A critical ideology of the sort Asante advocates exists partly through its opposition to the values of the dominant culture, and either seeks a total transformation of those values or a total withdrawal from them (Plamenatz, 1971).
The first clustered term of ideology/reality is centrality. Centrality is used frequently and strategically throughout the text. Asante states in the preface of Afrocentricity that "the centrality of the classical African civilizations in African reconstruction has been underscored by the work of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilization" (1988, IX). Asante uses centrality here to illustrate the absence in the traditional history of any account of the African centered existence and culture. Centrality further emerges as an associational cluster with history when Asante contends "Afrocentricity is the belief in the centrality of Africans in post-modern history" (1988, 6). Centrality, in this way, emerges as a rhetorical redefinition of history that promotes liberation and self-worth among African American thought. Asante avers that "those who have truly acted from their own Afrocentric centers have always had admirable records of excellence and efficiency," which is to say Afrocentric centrality leads to liberation from Eurocentric collective consciousness and acceptance of Afrocentric collective consciousness.
Asante is aware that there are those who might not accept an African centered perspective in history because they interpret it as yet another reincarnation of an ethnocentric enterprise. This also could be true of Afrocentricity as a philosophical perspective which seeks to restructure social knowledge from an African center. The oppositional discourse associated with Asante's call for an alternate center could be best understood as resistance to the hegemonic European centered perspective. The terms African centered and Afrocentric refers primarily to the centering of a framework of inquiry and is in no way associated with the denial of the validity of other perspectives.
The second clustered term of ideology/reality is history. History is used all through the text in relation to the misrepresentation of events and facts. Asante states "our facts are in our history and we need to use them the same way their facts are in their history and they have certainly used theirs" (1988, 42). He believes that Afrocentricity is a science of both history and heritage. Asante claims that Marxism has over-simplified the significance of African history by reducing the history of the world to merely the record of the struggles of classes. This account dismisses the racist factor in non-homogenous industrialized nations. In other words, Asante believes race should be weighted as much as class in historical writings. Asante stresses that African American peoples are a historic people, and that knowing one's history is the starting point towards liberation.
The third clustered term of ideology/reality is liberation. Asante conceives of liberation as a phenomenon that cannot be external to the African/African American. Liberation is fundamentally a seizure of the instruments of control. Liberation is the involvement in the struggle for one's own consciousness. Asante uses the term throughout the text as a motivation to victorious thought. Asante states that "Afrocentricity is a liberating ideology. To be victorious, one needs to use liberating language as well" (1988, 33). Asante's rhetoric is an example of using liberating language to motivate people to challenge the status quo.
The fourth clustered term of ideology/reality is victorious. Asante asserts that a victorious consciousness is only attainable when Afrocentricity is adopted. A victorious attitude, drawn from a victorious consciousness, is also a means to gain liberation. Asante states "the victorious attitude shows the Africans on a slave ship winning" (1988, 51). Asante believed that Africans were enslaved, but Africans were not slaves. Enslaved Africans were able to overcome the oppressive conditions of slavery to liberate themselves as a result of their victorious consciousness. This victorious attitude continues to contribute to the liberation of African peoples. Being victorious means, then, that you have realized your consciousness as an African, which necessarily leads to a victorious attitude.
The terms clustered around the key term of ideology/ reality create a progressive understanding of the key term. For instance, the cluster around ideology/ reality includes history, centrality, liberation, and victorious thought. In order to be victorious, one needs first to know one's history, but unless that history is centered on the African American experience, liberation will not take place. Each of the terms, then, builds upon the previous term.
Burke (1937) argues that "by charting clusters, the critic gets cues as to the important ingredients subsumed in symbolic mergers" (233). The three clusters identified are linked together through Asante's use of symbolic meaning. Although they have been placed in three separate categories, there are associations among all of the terms. For instance, the terms within the first cluster of Afrocentricity--collective consciousness, truth, science, and universalism/essentialism--are connected to history since Asante believes that unless one knows her or his history, authentic African consciousness is not possible. Truth is also associated with the second cluster of Afrology. Misrepresentation becomes the clustered term that links the second cluster to the first cluster with the argument that historical truth has been misrepresented as the result of Eurocentricity.
Key Term Relationships
In identifying the key terms of the text, three themes have emerged as representative of the key terms. The first theme that best represents the cluster of Afrocentricity is philosophy. Afrocentricity, as Asante conceives it, is a reaction to what historically has counted as knowledge. Philosophy is committed to discovering some pattern of meaning which can be comprehended not merely as a compartmentalized collection of truths but as a composite and illuminating network of truths (Locke, 1989). Locke argues that philosophy is simply locating a pattern of meaning that illuminates truths. Asante maintains that Afrocentricity is synonymous with philosophy because it seeks to discover knowledge that has been ignored throughout history which will enable scholars to draw meaning and troth from that knowledge.
The second theme that best represents the Afrology cluster is the means or objective. Afrology is realized through the strategy of using the values of Afrocentricity to guide research. Thus, Afrology is the means to the end. Asante states, "Afrology is not merely the study of Black people, but an approach, a methodological and functional perspective. Black people have been the subjects of numerous studies but those studies have not been Afrocentric in method" (1988, 60). Asante adds that "If one takes anthropology, sociology, and psychology as examples of the social science enterprise, the perspective of those fields is almost always Eurocentric" (1993, 158). This means that the vantage point of theorists and researchers historically has been determined by a European-centered consciousness, which means that phenomena have been viewed almost exclusively from a Eurocentric point.
The third theme implicit in the ideology/reality cluster is values or presuppositions. Asante states that "once we dispense with the artificialities of `race' as a political concept we will have won one of the battles to reorder the social questions" (1988, 97). In this passage, Asante presumes that the deletion of the concept of race will suffice in eliminating the political meaning of racism. Asante argues that "perhaps most significant of all is the fact that Afrocentric love is victorious. A celebration of ourselves, our aspirations, achievements, and accomplishments accompany the victorious aspects of a relationship" (1988, 55). Afrocentric love as Asante asserts is a value of an ideology that Asante believes will lead to a victorious attitude. Asante further elaborates on the fact that the reality of Afrocentric love as a relationship does not speak of failure, losses, suffering or oppression. This statement is presumptuous in that to speak of the positive without recognizing the negative sets one up for failure.
The clustered terms illustrated in the previous section begin to give insight to Asante's strategies for appealing to his audience. Burke (1969) argues that communication among humans depends upon creating identification between speaker and audience. Burke (1969) further argues that it is through the manipulation of identification (either overt or covert) that one persuades others to accept the attitude or action that the rhetor desires. Understanding Burke's concept of identification requires examining his view of the self. Burke refers to identification as "one's way of seeing one's reflection in the social mirror" (1969, 29). The self seeks identity through acceptance and rejection of various symbols with which it is confronted, and these choices are continually made as the self moves toward a unity of being. Asante appeals to the individual self when he uses language that speaks directly to the experiences of Black men and women. Asante states that "while Eurocentricity has pushed its view as universal, including its male and female expressions, Afrocentricity does not argue from a mere geographical or biological base but from an axiological, epistemological, cosmological, and aesthetic foundation useful as a theory and method for humanistic interpretation of phenomena" (1993, 8). Using language such as "brothers" and "sisters" is an example of how Asante promotes identification with his views among Black men and women.
Asante uses identification throughout the text to appeal to the needs of his audience, primary among which is knowing more about their culture. Asante's message is simple and palatable for Africans or African Americans: getting back to one's roots-for example, by changing one's European derived name for an African name is one way to know more about one's culture. Asante refers to Karenga's African-influenced account of the seven principles of nationhood, and he also calls attention to Kwanzaa and the relevance that the holiday has to a culture based on African standards. He mentions Kwanzaa strategically because it is a holiday growing in popularity among African Americans and thus a symbolic event with which his audience can identify.
The clustered terms around Ideology/Reality are especially significant in how Asante appeals to his audience. He employs themes that have societal resonance in the Black community. For example, consider the widespread belief in that community that eligible Black men are an endangered species, a problem that Asante links to homosexuality. Asante draws a connection between homosexuality and what is not Afrocentric, implicitly charging Eurocentricity with contributing to homosexuality in the Black community. He states that "Homosexuality is a deviation from Afrocentric thought because it makes the person evaluate his own physical needs above the teachings of national consciousness. An outburst of homosexuality among Black men, fed by the prison breeding system, threatens to distort the relationship between friends" (1988, 57). Asante associates homosexuality with Black men lacking a collective consciousness, which he attributes to the negative way in which the Eurocentric perspective positions Black men. Adopting Afrocentricity, then, would begin to remedy the above problem.
Antithesis as a Rhetorical Device
Throughout the text, Asante's language choice is steeped in antithesis, which sets up bipolarities between the good (African centered) and the evil (European centered). Desilet (1989) argues that consubstantiality occurs between oppositions through a dialectical pairing of terms such as "us" versus "them," "good" versus "bad," "right" versus "wrong." Burke (1969) discovers through the paradox of substance that every term is divided against itself. Oppositions between terms are a characteristic of the hierarchial tendency among humans that consistently relies on an either/or dichotomy. Desilet (1989) argues "that oppositions between terms reflect oppositions within terms; conflicts between persons reflect conflicting motives within the self" (68).
Embedded in the rhetorical strategy of antithesis is the dialectic between positive and negative terms. Burke (1969) argues that there are no negatives in nature; everything is positively what it is. Positive terms, then, denote observable referents or "real" phenomena. Rhetorically speaking, though, words can be used to denote the good versus the bad, or right versus wrong. The best way of describing a positive term is in regard to its opposite. Simply, the most effective way to understand freedom is to illustrate what its opposite of slavery means. If the rhetor uses her or his discourse effectively, then the negative terms become that against which the rhetor is trying to persuade the audience.
From the beginning of the text, the good of Afrocentrism is played against the evil of Eurocentrism. Although Asante claims that Afrocentrism is not a replacement of Eurocentrism, his rhetoric is animated by the duality between the two terms. The oppositional stance that Asante presents is a rhetorical strategy of identification with his audience. The one "ism" (Eurocentrism) is no longer defensible, but the other (Afrocentrism) has much to recommend it.
Afrocentricity is not the opposite of Eurocentricity, which is often an ethnocentric view based on ethnic colonization and the degrading of others by imposing its white male patriarchal dominance as universal (Asante, 1993). To speak of Afrocentricity as a counterpart to Eurocentricity, Asante asserts, is to miss the point and to misread deliberately his texts (8). Asante insists that Afrocentricity does not emerge as an alternative to Eurocentrism, it is simply an approach to examining African phenomena from the standpoint of Africans as human agents (1993). Asante claims that Afrocentricity is not oppositional to Eurocentricity; however, he does state that Afrocentricity is another perspective that interrogates truth. Asante further argues that "It is not Eurocentrism that gives rise to Afrocentric perspectives but rather the rise of Africans speaking for themselves. While it is true that the dominant interpretations of Africa have been Eurocentric, the Afrocentric response would have been necessary regardless of the previous centricities" (1993, 62). Asante holds that the Afrocentric perspective gives voice to the once silenced perspective, but stresses that regardless of the Eurocentric position, Afrocentricity is needed. In short, Asante wants his audience to believe that Afrocentricity is intrinsically valuable apart from its contrasts with Eurocentrism.
Asante's use of bipolar rhetoric, especially when referring to scholarship, is a strategy that positions everything African as good, correct and positive; however, when he refers to the West or the construction of European civilization his rhetoric becomes one of criticism and negation. He is scornful of efforts to indict Afrocentricity from the Eurocentric perspective. For example, he notes that "numerous writers have challenged the basic premises of Afrocentricity by expounding a Eurocentric viewpoint of everything from culture to the origin of civilization" (1988, 40). In this way, Asante questions the need to challenge Afrocentricity, which he seems to believe should have the same uncritical respect enjoyed by Eurocentricity.
The second phase in Conrad's (1984) method of dramatistic criticism involves the use of the representational anecdote to express a worldview, perspective, or ideology in a variety of different ways. Burke (1945) recommends that the representational anecdote be used as a form in line with the vocabulary and clusters that have been specified.
The dramatic or narrative form in Asante's discourse is what undergirds his worldview and animates his rhetorical motives. The "essentializing strategy" that Burke refers to is one means of discovering the dramatic essence of any discourse (1945). Burke (1945) argues that the representative anecdote expresses the dramatic essence of the discourse. Through the narrative form and strategy of the anecdote, the audience is provided with a means of understanding the motives and symbolic meaning of the discourse.
The theme of the narrative that drives Asante's discourse is that the multiplicity of the human condition requires alternative modes of inquiry. Asante articulates this multiplicity best when he states, "I am always seeking to create a new world, to find an escape, to liberate those who see only a part of reality" (1987, 5). This quotation contains, in distilled form, the totality of what his discourse is intended to communicate. Embedded as well in this quotation are several of the key terms. The creation of a New World relates to the second key term of Afrology which includes reconstruction, misrepresentation, total conversion, and tactics. Afrology, thus, involves a recreation of what has been a misrepresented reality. The escaping of reality distorted historically is tied to the first key term of Afrocentricity, which includes the collective consciousness that Blacks share, the truth they should all know, science, and universalism/essentialism. The liberation of those who only see a part of reality is linked to the last key term of ideology/reality, where emphasis is given to the centrality which leads to knowing one's history and the victorious thought which occurs once you have been liberated.
The above quotation, then, contains not only the key terms but also the core message of Asante's discourse: creating new worlds of social experience and scholarship by escaping traditional constraints and values is the path to freedom/liberation for African Americans. Moreover, it contains the main motive underlying Asante's rhetoric, which is to promote a change in individual consciousness of African Americans and a transformation of social, political, and intellectual structures.
The pentadic analysis is the last phase of dramatistic criticism. It will combine the results of the cluster analysis and take into account the representative anecdote by considering the five elements of the pentad. The pentadic analysis of scene, act, agent, agency, and purpose explores the ratios that exist between the terms of the pentad. The underlying argument of dramatistic criticism is that rhetors present their discourse in the same manner in which a play or drama is presented (Burke, 1969; Brock, et al., 1980; & Foss, 1989). Foss (1989) suggests three steps in conducting pentadic analysis: the selection of the five elements of the pentad, the application of ratios, and the interpretation of the rhetor's motives. The act names what took place in thought and symbolic action. The agent is the person performing the act. The scene is the background or context for the act. The agency is the means, methods, or instruments used in performing the act. The purpose is the reason or reasons the agent did the act.
Within Asante's discourse the following pentadic elements can be identified:
The act (Development of an African centered theory) The agent (Molefi Asante) The agency (Afrocentricity) The scene (Eurocentrism in scholarship) The purpose (Place African/African Americans in the center of their own history)
The development of an African centered theory (act) was an answer to the ethnocentric knowledge characteristic of the universalism that pervades Eurocentrism. Every act the agent performs is informed by the purpose(s) which motivates the agent in all of her or his actions (Rueckert, 1963). Thus, there are no purposeless acts.
Asante (agent) claims that Afrocentric writings have been a part of a history for many years, but does not feel the works of early Afrocentric writers have been acknowledged adequately in European history. Afrocentricity (agency) provides a humanizing vision which restores Africa as a center and root of world civilization. This restoration can only take place once Eurocentrism (scene) is recognized as an oppressive ideology that has dominated scholarship for years. Asante's aim in the development of Afrocentricity is to provide another center of history by placing Africans in the center of their own postmodern history (purpose).
Now that the parts of the pentad have been identified, the next step will involve locating relationships, or ratios, among the key terms of the pentad. Linking the key terms to the pentad initiates the investigation of the ratios. The ratios that will be discussed are agent/ agency, scene/agency, scene/agent, agent/act, and agency/purpose.
Agent/agency represents the dominant ratio throughout the text. Asante as the creator of what is now known as Afrocentricity is what drives the discourse. He claims to have developed Afrocentricity, as we know it today, and sees himself as the foremost producer of scholarship in the area. Although Asante recognizes the contributions of the pioneers of African centered cultural theory, he does believe that his theory has become the most prominent philosophical statement of Afrocentricity.
To date, Asante claims to have more articles and books published on Afrocentricity than any other person, which becomes significant in light of criticisms levied against him. In fact, the oppositional stance of Afrocentricity has become synonymous with Asante and Leonard Jeffries. This oppositional stance has a great deal to do with the debate about Black Studies and the contentious climate in which several Black intellects are vying for academic status. Asante declares that "Afrocentricity serves as a methodological and mytho-narrative challenge to Western traditionalism and is still in its infancy an incipient intellectual project that deserves to grow. It should be judged on the merits and demerits of its actual scholarship and research rather than the third-rate rantings of self appointed spokesmen (Thomas, 1995). Asante's motive in this statement is to respond to his many critics who have not taken Afrocentricity seriously. Realizing the reaction of some of his peers to Afrocentricity, Asante's motive is to appeal to his critics to at least give Afrocentricity a chance. Scene/agent represents the motivation that prompted Asante to develop Afrocentricity. Asante asserts that "during the whole nineteenth century and much of the present century, we knew little and wanted to know little about Africa. This was true of Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora" (1988, 25). Asante contends that little was known about Africa because people in general have been socialized to believe that the continent of Africa was not worthy of study. In scholarship, one does not value what one does not know. Asante (1993) argues that the Eurocentric orientation to Africa misrepresented and undervalued a history and culture. He states that "we seek to no longer be victimized by others as to our place in the center of world history" (1988, X). Adopting Afrocentricity is the first step for African peoples to take in disavowing victimization and accepting responsibility for knowing their own history.
Asante asserts that the need for Afrocentricity is not about arrogance, but it is necessary to place Africa at the center of African peoples existential reality. If a conversion to Afrocentricity does not take place, Asante argues that "we will remain detached, isolated, and spiritually lonely people in societies which constantly bombard us with anti-Africa rhetoric and symbols, sometimes from Africans themselves who have been trained by the enemies of Africa" (1988, X). Asante, as agent, has articulated the Eurocentric orientation to Africa, and his motivation with Afrocentricity is to re-define how Africa is represented and understood.
Scene/agency represents the opposition that Desilet (1989) refers to as a conflict between terms. The scene represents Eurocentrism's dominance in scholarship. Eurocentrism is problematic because it turns on a tradition that has intentionally excluded the history and experience of the other. Agency represents the philosophy which recommends the re-centering of African peoples and the re-orienting of them to their history. The scene (Eurocentrism) is what Asante hopes to amend through the development of the agency (Afrocentricity). Asante uses the oppositional pairing as an "us" versus "them" tension that needs to be addressed. The only means of resolving the oppositional pairing is to reject the scene (Eurocentrism) and accept the agency (Afrocentricity), although Asante encourages his audience to avoid the replacement mentality. McPhail (1998) asserts that the fundamental problem plaguing the Afrocentric perspective is Asante's adherence to the notion of binary oppositions: "The complicity of Afrocentricity is reflected in its acceptance of that which is depicted as peculiarly Eurocentric: the tendency to divide the world in terms of binary oppositions and a priori differences that are accepted as self evident truths and reflections of an essential reality of fixed and unchanging identities"(126).
Asante reminds his audience that "it is not Eurocentrism that gives rise to Afrocentric perspectives, but rather the idea of Africans speaking for themselves" (1993, 62). While it is true that the dominant interpretations of Africa have been Eurocentric, the Afrocentric response would have been necessary regardless of the previous centricities (1993, 62). Although the agent/ agency ratio represents the dominant ratio, the scene/ agency represents a significant ratio determining motivation of the agent. If Asante did not feel that Eurocentrism was problematic in scholarship, then, he would not have had a need to develop Afrocentricity. Thus, the motivation of Asante in developing Afrocentricity is to correct the misrepresentation that is prevalent in scholarship.
Agent/act represents the collective effort that Asante makes in the development of Afrocentricity. As was stated earlier, the agent (Asante) considers himself the developer of Afrocentricity, and his act (development of African centered theory) represents what he has done and continues to do with the promotion of his theory. This ratio is significant because it establishes Asante's motive as originating in his dissatisfaction with the current state of scholarship.
Asante recognizes the major contributions that Diop, Locke, Garvey, Du Bois, Fanon, Nkrumah, Muhammad, Williams, James Malcolm, and Karenga have made to an African centered theory, but he also credits his own contribution in making Afrocentricity an approach that can be implemented. Asante does distinguish between the contributions of scholars who have historically used Afrology versus Afrocentricity. He states "Du Bois, Frazier, Woodson, Brawley, Locke and other scholars have a long distinguished history in Afrology" (1988, 60). Asante believes that Afrology has been around for years, but the scholars who studied African peoples in the past did not approach the research from an Afrocentric perspective. Asante believes that there have been many scholars who have studied African peoples, but seldom from an Afrological perspective. The motive impelling his own work is to bring together Afrology and Afrocentricity, a synthesis impossible to imagine without the intellectual efforts of earlier writers.
The agency/purpose ratio represents the need for an Afrocentric theory. Asante says the aim of Afrocentricity is to open fields of inquiry and to expand human dialogue around questions of social, economic, historical, and cultural concern (1993). Asante states that "our methods, based on the idea of Afrocentricity, are meant to establish a clear pattern of discourse that may be followed by others" (1993, 3). The purpose of Afrocentricity, then, is to provide a method based on an African centered perspective. Asante states "the Afrocentrist would look at the Civil War or any phenomenon involving African people and raise different questions. These questions are not more or less correct but better in an interpretive sense if the person doing the asking wants to understand African phenomena in context" (1993, 3). Asante's motive for developing Afrocentricity can be traced to his belief that Afrocentricity is best served by African centered scholars doing research on African peoples. Although he does not explicitly state that non-African peoples cannot do Afrocentric research, the above quotation does imply that African peoples would raise different questions in their research.
Now that the ratios have been laid out and explicated, a pattern can be discerned among the key terms. The agent (Asante)/agency (Afrocentricity) ratio represents the philosophy as conceived by Asante. Asante developed a philosophy that could be used to persuade people of African descent to adopt an African centered perspective. The scene (Eurocentrism)/ agency (Afrocentricity) ratio represents the dualism that Asante argues is not oppositional in nature. Although Asante developed Afrocentricity as a response to Eurocentrism, he stresses that Afrocentricity is not a replacement of Eurocentricity. The scene (Eurocentrism)/ agent (Asante) ratio represents the rhetorical motive: Asante the rhetor confronts a scene (Eurocentric domination) and acts strategically/rhetorically to change it. The agent (Asante)/act (development of African centered theory) ratio represents the key term of Afrology and illustrates why the act needed to be performed. The last ratio of agency(Afrocentricity)/purpose(placement of Africans in the center of their history) represents one of the principal propositions in Asante's theory.
The scene stands for the situation to which all parts of the pentad respond. The purpose of Afrocentricity is thus to challenge the Eurocentric tradition without replacing it with another tradition; and to develop a perspective that speaks about the multiplicity of culture and experiences that Eurocentrism historically has failed to consider.
This analysis has employed the three phases of dramatistic criticism as laid out by Conrad. The first phase of cluster analysis revealed the key terms of Afrocentricity, Afrology, and Ideology/Reality in Asante's discourse. The second phase identified the representative anecdote which contains, in summary form, the fundamental message of Asante's discourse. The third phase combined the results of the first two phases to produce a pentadic analysis of selected ratios to determine Asante's motivation for producing and promoting Afrocentricity. This critique is situated in the area of rhetorical criticism, however, it is not limited to the communication field. The purpose of this analysis was to demonstrate how dramatism provides a vehicle for explicating a rhetor's motives through criticism. The purpose with any critique should be to open dialogue in the area of criticism.
Afrocentricity is a theoretical and methodological approach to scholarship as well as a critique of the status quo. As humans, we are constantly in a state of negotiation with what we accept versus that which we want and need to reject. Asante is a pioneer in the development of an approach that spoke to the absence of multiple truths that exist in the world which was silenced by hegemonic forces under the guise of Eurocentric tradition. This analysis represents more than just an academic approach to scholarship, but a means by which change should and does take place.
If you give an individual the opportunity to value their history and respect the contribution of their ancestors, then you give that individual the privilege of succeeding in a world that values the contributions that he/she may have. The application of Afrocentricity can be applied to all areas of existence if there exists a conscious effort to recognize that one's experience is determined by what is valued in society. In a true multiculturally sensitive community multiple centers/ histories will be valued and understood and the liberation that Asante speaks of will in fact become victorious thoughts.
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Karen E. Strother-Jordan is currently on a one-year leave of absence from Oakland University in Rochester, MI where she is an Assistant Professor. For the 2002/03 academic year she is teaching at Elizabeth City State University, NC. Her research interests include culture and communication and the role bi-ethnicity conveys in social constructions of race.…
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Publication information: Article title: On the Rhetoric of Afrocentricity. Contributors: Strother-Jordan, Karen - Author. Journal title: The Western Journal of Black Studies. Volume: 26. Issue: 4 Publication date: Winter 2002. Page number: 193+. © 1999 The Western Journal of Black Studies. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group.
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