Over the past five hundred years or so Europe has been on a quest to destabilize and dis-establish the agency of African people. The assault has been frontal, sustained, and violent at physical and psychological levels using all dominative instruments of language, symbolism, and warfare. The consequences of this war on Africa have been profound, giving rise to doctrines of white supremacy and black inferiority, African servility, and the negation of African civilization.
Two physical attacks on Africa in the form of enslavement and colonization led to the internalization of African marginalization even by Africans themselves. So thorough was the acceptance of African peripheralization that Europe was successful in convincing the rest of the world that Africa, the mother continent of humanity and civilization, was a mere child in human civilization terms. Thus, African internalization of the lack of agency and the acceptance by other people of a negative narrative about Africa undermined the subject place of African people. The question is, “Who were Africans without and before the encounter with Europe five hundred years ago?” Indeed put more expressly, “What were the mechanisms that threw Africa off of its own terms?”
I have advanced the theory of Afrocentricity to confront all forms of African decenteredness and marginalization with a special interest in the self-conscious recovery of the collective African selfhood. Afrocentricity is a philosophical paradigm that emphasizes the centrality and agency of the African person within a historical and cultural context. As such it is a rejection of the historic marginality and racial alterity often expressed in the ordinary paradigm of European racial domination.
What is more, Afrocentrists articulate a counter-hegemonic view that questions epistemological ideas that are simply rooted in the cultural experiences of Europe and are applied to Africans or others as if they are universal principles. This may be discovered in the type of language, art forms, expressive styles, arguments, economic or social ideas within an interactive situation. Thus, the Afrocentric idea is critical to any behavioral activity that involves Africans or people of African descent. Just as Yoshitaka Miike, the Japanese scholar, has advanced the idea of Asiacentricity as a legitimate advancement of Asian cultures, the Afrocentrists as pioneers in this type of work have articulated the view that all cultures have something to bring to the table of humanity and no one should be shoved to the margins. Afrocentricity is a celebration of humanity rather than a separation. Europe only cries “separatists” when one’s views do not conform to the acceptance of Europe as universal. European scholars see the Afrocentrists as rejecters of European exceptionalism and they are right to see it in that regard because Afrocentricity is a much more consistent way of approaching African culture. Why would Africans want to see their own culture through the prism of Europe?
In the field of African Studies and Africology, Afrocentricity holds a reigning paradigmatic place because it seeks to add substance to the idea of a black perspective on facts, events, texts, personalities, historical records, and behavioral situations. Thus, it is the critical turn that is essential for an intellectual to be fully committed to making a difference in the analysis and interpretation of situations involving people of African descent. Who can now continue to make analysis of African situations without advancing the idea of Africans as subjects within our narratives? In the past, we have seen Europeans and, to a lesser degree, Arabs move Africans off of their own terms to establish a dependency relationship based on the notion of African inferiority. In both instances Africans have been undermined in religion, language, symbolism, and even the naming of their children because we have given up or been removed from being the subject of our own narratives.
Necessitated by the conditions of history that have seen Africans moved off of cultural, expressive, philosophical, and religious terms, the Afrocentric idea seeks to re-position Africans in the center of our own historical experiences rather than on the margins of European experiences. This is a philosophical turn that is essential for the subject place of Africans as agents and actors in discourse and analysis even while it had remained so and remains so today in reality. What this means is that although Africans had acted as agents, Europe had interpreted those actions as marginal or peripheral to culture and civilization. For example, if one were to examine the earliest boats, the most intricate monumental structures of Africa like the Eredo Trench, the pyramids, the dzimbabwes, the monoliths and obelisks, the giant tombs and temples or the epics such as Mwindo, Woyengi, and Sundiata, among others, one would discover European writers who almost in every case would minimize the achievements or claim that some aliens from outer space must have made those accomplishments because Africans could not have conceived of them. Thus, if Africans are not subjects in their own situations, not given credit for making their own monuments on their continent, then the old patterns of marginality adhere and consequently the interpretations cannot be authentic; all communication can only be subject to object, but never subject to subject communication because Europe has defined Africa as the inferior other. In my opinion this can occur whether the opinion maker, researcher or historian is European, African or Asian so long as he or she operates from a Eurocentric base.
In its attempt to shift discourse about African phenomena from ideas founded in European constructs to a more centered perspective, Afrocentricity announces itself as a form of anti-racist, anti-patriarchal and anti-sexist ideology that is new, innovative, challenging, and capable of creating exciting ways to acquire and express knowledge. The denial of the exploitative expression of race, gender, and class often found in older constructions of knowledge is at once controversial and a part of the evolving process of a revolutionary paradigmatic development. Afrocentricity confronts this marginality of Africans and critiques European patriarchy and sexism as a part of the baggage of the hegemonic tendencies frequently found in Western social and behavioral sciences.
AUTHOR NOTE: Molefi Kete Asante – Professor of African-American Studies at Temple University where he created the first Ph.D. program in 1987 – is the Founder of the Molefi Kete Asante Institute for Afrocentric Studies and the author of 72 books including The History of Africa. He has held an appointment as “Professor Extraordinarius” in the Centre for African Renaissance at the University of South Africa. In 1995, Dr. Asante was enstooled as a traditional King, Nana Okru Asante Peasah, Kyidomhene of Tafo, Akyem, Ghana. The Caribbean Philosophical Association recently awarded Dr. Asante the Frantz Fanon Award for Lifetime Achievement. His memoir entitled As I Run Toward Africa was recently released.