Afrocentrism and the Peopling of the Americas

By Haslip-Viera, Gabriel | Ethnic Studies Review, October 31, 1996 | Go to article overview

Afrocentrism and the Peopling of the Americas


Haslip-Viera, Gabriel, Ethnic Studies Review


This essay focuses on a theory of human development that has been promoted aggressively by a group of Afrocentrists in recent years - that the Western Hemisphere was first populated by "Africoids" or "Black" people who came to the Americas by way of Asia and the Bering Straits with little or no change in their physical or racial characteristics. As discussed in this article, the theory has no support in the evidence collected by scientists in various fields. The essay focuses on the basic claims and methods used by the Afrocentrists to support their theory, including their misuse or misinterpretation of mostly outdated scholarship produced in Europe and the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A brief concluding section makes reference to the potential repercussions of this theory on relations between African Americans, Native Americans and Latinos of Native American and part Native American background.

Afrocentrism or the Afrocentric view has emerged in recent years as one of the most controversial issues in the rancorous debate over multicultural education in this country. Afrocentrism is frequently used by critics of ethnic studies and multi-culturalism to discredit such movements for their alleged promotion of social and political divisiveness in U.S. society. Critics point to the anti-Semitism, the denigration of European culture, and to the smug sense of racial superiority that they see in much of the Afrocentric literature. But it should also be made clear that Afrocentrism does not constitute a monolithic point of view. There are different types or different gradations of Afrocentrism. For example, Manning Marable has made a distinction between "scholarly" Afrocentrism and "vulgar" or popular Afrocentrism in his writings.^1 To some degree, this view is accurate, but there is also considerable overlap, and as a result, it is often quite difficult to differentiate between the two.^2

Afrocentrism or the Afrocentric view has its origins in the nineteenth century black nationalist and pan-Africanist ideas of Edward W. Blyden, Alexander Crummell, Africanus Horton and Martin Robinson Delaney. These were among the first African descended diasporans to positively connect such people to an idealized African continent conceived as ethnically unified. Accordingly, African diasporans were seen as "a family" or "a race" that should identify with or "return to the land of their fathers and be at peace."^3 These ideas and others that focused on the African origins of human culture and civilizations were adopted and developed further in the decades that followed by W. E. B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, Aimé Cesaire, Leon Damas, Leopold Senghor, Carter G. Woodson, Cheikh Anta Diop, Theophile Obenga, Maulana Karenga and others before they were synthesized and re-conceptualized as Afrocentrism in the mid 1980s by Temple University Professor Molefi Kete Asante. According to Asante, Afrocentrism is a "philosophy," a "worldview," a guide for "personal and social transformation," and a "theoretical instrument for the examination of phenomena" which places African peoples at the "center" of inquiry as "subjects" rather than as "objects" on the margins of the European experience.^4 As we shall see below, Afrocentrism also frequently includes a cultural hegemonism and a racialist view of humanity that tends to privilege "black people" at the expense of other peoples, including Native Americans.^5

This paper will focus on the racialist views promoted by a number of Afrocentrists and their application to the origins and physical evolution of Native Americans. The view towards Native Americans and other peoples, aside from Europeans and Africans, has not received much scrutiny from the critics of Afrocentrism. The debate up until now has focused primarily on "black" versus "white" issues or on Afrocentrism versus Eurocentrism.^6 In this paper, I will argue that a racialist Afrocentrism which focuses on Native Americans in a hegemonic manner is fundamentally Eurocentric in its orientation. …

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