Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

L. Keita's Request for Further Documentation in His Review of Afrotopia: The Roots of African-American Popular History

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

L. Keita's Request for Further Documentation in His Review of Afrotopia: The Roots of African-American Popular History

Article excerpt

* Keita's book review appeared in WJBS Volume 24 #1, pgs. 58-60

Most authors would rather be attacked than ignored, so perhaps I should not protest too much the reactions of the scholars who have taken my ideas seriously enough to respond to them. Stephen Howe and Eugene Genovese apparently view me as an apologist for historical romanticism and accuse me of unfairly attacking the work of Mary Lefkowitz, while L. Keita and Molefi Asante see me as a Eurocentrist, who replicates Professor Lefkowitz' worst mischief.(1) None of the above would call me an Afrocentric extremist, but none of them are comfortable with my attempt to take a moderate position. I can readily accept Afrocentrism in the tradition of David Walker (1785-1830), who recognized a spiritual and political tie to Africa, but expressed his dedication to America, believing that black and white Americans should become "a united and happy people."(2) Like Martin Delany (1812-1885), I see no contradiction between commitment to Africa and the struggle for democracy and integration as a citizen of the United States.(3)

The Unanswered Challenge of Martin Delany

Martin Delany, one of the "fathers of Pan-Africanism," argued that many of the problems of Africans and black Americans must be solved internally. He considered it fruitless to shift the focus of every discussion to some sort of racial sentimentalism or romantic glorification of the past. Delany devoted several paragraphs of his work The Condition, Elevation, Emigration and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States Politically Considered (1852) to describing Africa's past glories. He made the customary genuflection before the shrine of Africa's eternal greatness, alluding to the glories of Ethiopia and Egypt. He recited the litany of "Their massive piles of masonry, their deep and mysterious wells, their extensive artificial channels, their mighty sculptured solid rocks, and provinces of stone quarries." These formalities were quickly dispatched, however, for the principal focus of Delany's work was on the more dismal present.

The world is looking upon us with feelings of commiseration, sorrow and contempt.... White men ... are the contibuters to authors and teachers of literature, science, religion, law, medicine, and all other useful attainments that the world now makes use of We have no reference to ancient times--we speak of modern Things....(4)

I take essentially the same view as that taken by Delany 150 years ago in my recent study Afrotopia: The Roots of African American Popular History. I have made only a few unavoidable references to that limited angle on Afrocentrism that I refer to as "Egyptocentrism," and I do not focus unduly on that phenomenon at all. Professor L. Keita's review in the Western Journal of Black Studies would give the impression that my work offers an extended treatment of a topic that is neither my major theme nor my dominant concern. Nonetheless, although Egyptocentrism is a continuous current in African American thought since the early 19th century, Keita makes the startling claim that there is no "real Egyptocentrism" and questions my commonplace, almost innocuous, and purely incidental observation that "Egyptocentrism is the sometimes sentimental, at other times cynical attempt to claim Egyptian ancestry for black Americans. It involves the attempt to reconstruct the peoples of ancient Egypt in terms of traditional American racial perceptions (p. 6)."

Moses should have referenced this claim since this writer is not aware of any scholar who makes such a claim.... Moses falls into the same trap [as Lefkowitz] when he accuses nameless researchers of Egyptocentrism.(5)

My sources, which I attribute to sentimentalists and cynics, and not to "scholars" or to "researchers," are not nameless. But if scholars and researchers--however Keita defines those terms--are required, a one-line reference to the writings of Dr. …

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