Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Educating African-Centered Psychologists: Towards a Comprehensive Paradigm

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Educating African-Centered Psychologists: Towards a Comprehensive Paradigm

Article excerpt

The critical challenge confronting the current generation of psychologists of African descent is to explicate African cultural realities; to step outside of the limits of western psychology to articulate the meaning of a psychology of African peoples; and to descend into the rich well-spring out of which African conceptions of human behavior emerged. Central to our argument is the idea that African realities--constructions of self, others, the world and cosmos--not only survived, they have thrived and provide the basis of our psychology--an African-centered psychology (Ajamu, 2004; Akbar, 1984, 1985; Asante, 1987, 1990; Clark, McGee, Nobles & Weems, 1975; Grills, 2004; Grills & Rowe, 1998; Nobles, 1986, 1998, 2004; Rowe & Webb-Msemaji, 2004; Obasi & Smith, 2009).

Introduction--The Constitution of African-Centered Psychology

Western articulations of psychology describe it as the study of human behavior and mental processes; rooted in notions of material realities and confirmed through empirical methodologies (Obasi & Smith, 2009). But these definitions are drawn from western memes (1) about, among other things, the nature of the self, the purpose of existence, the nature of the cosmos and the self's place within those constructs. Western paradigms have also been expansive about the nature of the other, first and foremost as the antithesis of the self, which is considered the apotheosis of all beings. Other paradigmatic assumptions about the other, particularly the African other, include savagery, bestiality, genetic inferiority, hyper-sexuality, intellectual inferiority--the list continues in the same vein (Hilliard, 1997). It is important to understand (and accept) that these ascriptions--these memetic postulates are not apart from the rubric of psychological discourse in the west; they in fact emanate from it. Recent advancements in multiculturalism and laudable efforts of the western psychological community have not supplanted the original racist, xenophobic agenda; it would indeed be impossible to do so in recent history because these memes lie deep in the structures of all thought upon which western psychology is constructed.

A more adequate (i.e., less hegemonic) understanding of psychology is that it is the "study of the human spirit or ... human illumination" (Nobles, 1986, p. 5). As such, it codifies the systems of meaning of human beingness, specifies the features of human functioning and delineates the systems for restoring order to normal/natural human development (Rowe, 1995). From this definition we can begin to speak about an African-centered psychology. Psychology, as we mean it, first and foremost reflects how a people understand and define their human authenticity. Second, it details and differentiates the workings of human agency--in this way psychology distinguishes between human and not-human activity. Lastly, it sets forth an array of methods for closing the gap between a person's agency and the organized or recognized standards of functioning and being, within a community.

An accurate understanding of African-centered psychology (ACP) is also essential in our search for a paradigm through which to conceptualize and teach it, for more than the obvious need to identify categorically what we are teaching. We acknowledge the epistemological certitude that the acquisition of knowledge is in fact the development of identity--in short, learning is identity formation: All knowledge is by its definition transformative; it informs that categories of thinking that provide the constructs of being and doing. Knowledge encodes, enriches and encapsulates memes--those nodes of association, connotation, precept, paradigm and process that cause all knowledge within a particular culture to "make sense". Cultural knowledge, in order to be knowledge, must possess integrity--frames, forms and formats that create structural synthesis. (2) African-centered learning enhances human authenticity (Nobles, 2006); therefore, to effectively situate an appropriate learning arc for those whom we would teach, we must be informed by both an understanding of the development of spirit and an understanding of the process of learning. …

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