Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Historical Problematic of Afrocentric Consciousness

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Historical Problematic of Afrocentric Consciousness

Article excerpt

This is not about the historical roots of Afrocentric consciousness and identity. This subject has been well documented and studied by many scholars (Asante, 1987, 1988; Moses, 1998; Howe, 1998; Shavit, 2001; Walker, 2001). No serious scholar will deny that in the past, blacks in Diaspora manifested strong African consciousness, and professed strong affinity to Africa. The focus of this paper, however, is on the depth and legitimacy of the African consciousness, and professions of African identity. It examines manifestations of Afrocentric consciousness among black Americans, with a view to ascertaining its depth, potency and validity as an identitarian and unifying construct for blacks and continental Africans. The study is a reaction to the tendency among some scholars to infer a certain historical depth and authenticity to Afrocentric consciousness and identity. These scholars have often represented African consciousness as a deep and authentic manifestation and representation of the consanguineous ethos that defined black American conceptions of, and relations to, Africa; molded and nurtured by a host of historical personalities, antecedents and traditions (Asante, Ibid, 1990; Richards, 1980; Ani, 1994). This invocation of history remains its potent selling factor. Ironically, as this paper will show, it is precisely at this level of historical affirmation that the construct is weakest and least tenable.

Since Afrocentric identity is the product of Afrocentric consciousness, a working definition of Afrocentric consciousness is necessary. I define Afrocentric consciousness as a consciousness of affinity to Africa, sustained by, inter alia, subscription to African cultural values, advocacy and invocation of African ideals and idiosyncrasies, and the conception of existential realities within an African cosmological framework. Affirmation of African identity derives logically from this Afrocentric consciousness. Africa becomes the basis of self-knowledge and identity; the quintessence of one's being. This Afrocentric consciousness, and concomitant identity formation, has increasingly gained popularity among black Americans, especially in consequence of a pervasive consciousness of alienation. Afrocentric consciousness, and the African identity which it advances, are constituents of a very strong ideological and combative movement that has both intellectual and popular dimensions. The intellectual is the corpus of scholarship that defines the structure, essence, strategies and utility of Afrocentricity. Among its leading scholars are Molefi Asante, Maulana Karenga, Na'im Akbar and the late John Henrik Clark. The popular dimension, spurned largely by the rhetoric of the intellectual, is exemplified by symbolic and aesthetic manifestations of Afrocentric identity by black youths, many of whom lack informed knowledge and understanding of the ideology. They however embrace Afrocentricity as a protest, counter-cultural weapon. Ironically, Afrocentricity has a weak and fragile historical foundation, despite its popularity among blacks. As this paper will demonstrate, the Afrocentric genre was neither consistently defended by, nor was it deeply rooted in the consciousness of, black Americans; its present combative, and domineering character notwithstanding.

Underlying Premises:

1. First, that there is some superficiality to the Afrocentric identity construct. This superficiality derives partly from the fact that the unifying or underpinning element/factor in black American proclamation of African identity is race; that is, the fact of being black. Unfortunately, race is weak and unreliable a construct for identity due to its socially and politically constructed nature. Race was the invention of the plantation economy. It unified all slaves for the purpose of efficient and effective enslavement. Historically, being black attracted scorn and alienation. All blacks were linked by the fact of shared oppression to a common identity--an identity distinguished by the key socio-political construct: race. …

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