Black Americans, Africa and History: A Reassessment of the Pan-African and Identity Paradigms
Adeleke, Tunde, The Western Journal of Black Studies
The paper critically examines two paradigms that are central to the Africa-Black America nexus: Pan-Africanism and Identity. It contends that the present surge of Pan-African consciousness and moves toward regenerating the Pan-African tradition have to be considered in the context of the historical trajectories and experiences of Africans and blacks in diaspora. It further contends that there are serious problems of identity among both black Americans and Africans. It critiques the African identity construct (forcefully defended in Afrocentrism) which characterized black Americans as Africans, and suggests that black American identity is much too complex, and has to be situated within the broader context of new worm acculturation.
The Pan-African Paradigm
A recurrent and familiar subject among a cross section of the Black American community, especially those of radical nationalist persuasion is the suggestion that the most viable solution to the current crisis of Black America is a revival and strengthening of Pan-Africanism. In July of 1992, at a symposium organized by the African Students Union of Tulane University, a Black American male asked the panelists, all of them Africans, to suggest how best black Americans and Africans could develop and sustain a viable Pan-African relationship as a strategy against threats posed by the political and cultural dominance of white Americans and Europeans.
In April of 1993, the Pan-African Movement U.S.A. (PAMUSA) held its annual convention in Atlanta Georgia. The conference focused attention on the necessity and strategies for revamping Pan-Africanism. In December of 1993, the epochal Seventh Pan-African Congress took place in Kampala, Uganda. Delegates from the United States, Latin American and the Caribbean met with Africans to exchange views on the importance of developing and maintaining a strong Pan-African connection.
In the last ten years, delegations of black Americans have met on several occasions with African leaders to discuss modalities for mutual cooperation and struggle. Radical cultural nationalists bemoan what they perceive as the lack of unity among Black Americans and Africans, due in large part, they suggest, to the lack of sufficient awareness and appreciation of shared historical experiences, cultural values and interests. Most critically, they lament failure of black Americans and Africans to acknowledge the commonality of their problems and challenges. Not only do Africans and Black Americans share historical ties, common interests and identity, but also, according to the cultural-nationalists, they confront common problems emanating largely from a common foe--Euro-Americans. This is referred to generally as the Eurocentric threat, a threat of cultural alienation, annihilation and perpetual domination. This threat supposedly embraces every facet of Black American and African lives---cultural, social, economic and political. Eurocentrism is depicted as an ideology designed to create a world order of white supremacy, sustained by the pains, miseries and subordination of blacks, and Pan-Africanism is proposed as the tool for dealing with this threat.
Pan-Africanism emphasizes the unity of Africans and black diasporans in a joint struggle, a struggle ordained by the pains of the deep historical wounds inflicted by slavery, racism, colonialism and neo-colonialism. This faith in Pan-Africanism is reinforced by memories and knowledge of the success of an earlier cooperation between Africans and black diasporans, a cooperation that was instrumental to the dismantling of colonialism. Consequently, Black Americans today hinge progress on a reactivation of the old Pan-African cooperation. In combination, many contend, Africans and Black Americans would more effectively withstand the hegemonic threat of Euro-Americans in the United States and neo-imperialism in Africa.
The cultural nationalist perspective combines both cultural and politico-nationalist values. The leading intellectual force in the propagation of this perspective is the philosophy of Afrocentricity, which presently constitutes an arm of the cultural nationalist/politico-nationalist struggle within the American University system. The entire Afrocentric paradigm is shaped by a strong faith in the potency of Pan-Africanism. Afrocentricity seeks to strengthen cultural awareness and unity among blacks in the United States, and also infuse in them knowledge and appreciation of their historical identity and heritage as a distinct group. It also proposes Africa as the source of self-definition, self-affirmation, and identity for Blacks in the United States and throughout the diaspora. In essence, African culture and values are projected as the solid foundation upon which to build a strong resistance against the onslaught of Euro-American cultural and political hegemony.(1) Perhaps the most damaging character of Eurocentrism is its valorization of the historical heritage and experiences, indeed its negation of the historicity of blacks, inducing the loss of a sense of history, cultural heritage and identity, rendering them vulnerable to Euro-American cultural manipulation and domination, economic marginalization and perpetual subordination.
There are consequently two critical dimensions to Afrocentricity. First, its Pan-African ethos urges Black Americans and Africans to revive the old strength-in-unity philosophy that once shaped their mutual struggle, in consequence of shared historical and cultural experiences. Advocates of this Pan-African value maintain that Black Americans and Africans face similar problems and challenges--economic marginalization, political domination and cultural alienation in the United States; political instability, poverty, and neo-colonialism in Africa--problems that are often directly or indirectly linked to Eurocentrism. Afrocentricity presumes a certain antiquity to Pan-Africanism. Afrocentrists trace the root of Pan-Africanism to the nineteenth century and even beyond, and perceive it as a movement shaped by a strong ethos of mutuality. That is, that Black Americans and Africans had always been drawn together by common interests, and that they had always stood together in furtherance of those interests. Undoubtedly, the leading advocate of Afrocentricity is Molefi Asante, former Chair of the Department of African-American Studies at Temple University. Asante is acclaimed the leading scholar and philosopher of Afrocentricity. His numerous publications, especially the earlier ones written in the 1980's, testify to the depth and strength of his faith in Pan-Africanism.(2)
Asante identifies one major threat and challenge to blacks in America--Eurocentrism. According to him, this problem has been with blacks since the dawn of history, and in spite of emancipation, and the gains blacks had accomplished through the centuries, the threat is far from over. On the contrary, Eurocentrism gained in strength and intensity, and remains a potent anti-thesis to the cultural, social, economic and political survival of blacks. To combat this cankerworm, Asante proposes Afrocentricity.(3) This solution essentially entails the strengthening of black American knowledge and awareness of their African historical and cultural heritage by making Africa the foundation of black American epistemology. The objective is to instill in black Americans an awareness of their African identity and culture as a defensive weapon against a pervasive and domineering Eurocentric world view. Afrocentricity is projected as a process of re-education and re-socialization designed to rid Black American consciousness of the "tragic conception" of their history, culture and heritage, imbibed from Eurocentrism. It is supposed to bring Black Americans closer to Africa as they develop in their knowledge of their African history, identity and heritage.
The late Vivian Gordon's work is hailed by Afrocentrists as perhaps the best articulation of the black womanist perspective, an Afrocentric response to feminism. Gordon contends that black women and white women have nothing in common besides gender, and that gender discrimination and oppression, however real, is not a sufficient basis for black women to cooperate with white women.(4) In terms of interests and culture, the two, according to Gordon, are poles apart. She denied Black women any business in feminism. Gordon characterized the situation of gender at the core of a struggle as a ploy to hoodwink black women into an engagement that would eventually result in cultural suicide. Regardless of how vocal white women were against gender discrimination, they remain part of the white power structure that had exploited, and continues to exploit blacks.(5) In other words, white women constitute an arm of the white cultural war against all blacks. As wives, sisters and mothers, white women perform crucial functions in the inculcation and perpetuation of racist values. They are, in essence, agents of perpetuating white cultural hegemony. Gordon consequently deemed cooperation with white women dangerous and suicidal for black women. Instead, she advised black women to forge greater ties with their male counterparts in the United States, and with African and Third …
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Publication information: Article title: Black Americans, Africa and History: A Reassessment of the Pan-African and Identity Paradigms. Contributors: Adeleke, Tunde - Author. Journal title: The Western Journal of Black Studies. Volume: 22. Issue: 3 Publication date: Fall 1998. Page number: 182. © 1999 The Western Journal of Black Studies. COPYRIGHT 1998 Gale Group.
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