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Afrocentric Racism ?

Afrocentric Racism ?

by Dr. Lee D. Baker

As an Afrocentric scholar and a cultural anthropologist I have been following this trivial discussion on Afrocentricity with amused contempt. To begin with, Afrocentricity is not about claiming African origins of ancient civilization. One must understand Afrocentricity as an empowering counter hegemonic philosophy, which questions epistemological considerations which are based in European cultural realities (the whole notion of objectivity or cultural neutrality is moot in this argument because the episteme is based on a western positivistic tradition). As an epistemological consideration, the Afrocentric discourse attempts to shift, construct, critique, and challenge the way of knowing or discerning knowledge from an epistemology engendered within a European cultural construct to one which is engendered or "centered" within an African or probably more correctly an African American cultural construct. Although the metaphors here of European and African are very much contested, however one can argue that there are hegemonic scholarly epistemologies born from a racist, bourgeois, and sexist ideology which in turn "scientifically" or "rhetorically" construct, justify, and perpetuate the exploitative articulation of race, class, and gender throughout the world. Anthropology historically and one can argue currently is an intimate part of this process.

The Afrocentrist seizes knowledge of this place perspective as fundamental role of intellectual inquiry because it's content is a self conscious obliteration of the subject/object duality and the enthronement of an African holism (Asante 1990:5).

Much like phenomenalogy, or the post-modernists'emphasis on multiple voices, Afrocentric scholars seek to, admittedly, construct a philosophy and epistemology centered within our cultural reality. I study with Molefe Asante at Temple University who is the foremost scholar on Afrocentricity. I must inform the Anthro_L list that Ivan van Sertima is not dominating the Afrocentric discourse, actualy he is somewhat on the periphery. In Asante's 1990 book Sertima was not listed in the index, and I do not recall Asante ever using any of Sertima's work in this book. If anyone is interested here are some references for both work on Afrocentricity and African origins of civilization.

Asante, Molefe Kete 1988 Afrocentricity. Trenton: African World Press.

1989 The Afrocentric Idea. Trenton: The African World Press.

1990 Kemet, Afrocentricity and Knowledge. Trenton: The African World Press.

Bernal, Martin 1986 Black Athena: the Afroasiatic roots of Civilization. London: Free Association Books.

Diop, Cheikh Anta 1974 African Origins of Civilization. New York: L. Hill.

In response to the one person who referred to Afrocentricity as a kind of racism, this naive idea of racism needs to be addressed. Implicit in any form of racism is power(individually or collectively)to exercise racism-- van Sertevan is clearly ethnocentric, but racist? I don't think so.

The discussion regarding the fact that issues and debates regarding race in anthropology and other social sciences have subsided over the last twenty years are salient but no one has discussed the concept of race as a socially constructed reality, and what has been substituted for the old racial categories. I have argued that since the social sciences have, seemingly, debunked reductionist notions of race, many anthropologists have all but eliminated "race" from their vocabulary. However, ethnicity and ethnocentricsm have become the new words for explaining strategies invoked to integrate the geographic and the historic specificity of power relations. Similarly,

Ethnic groups are typically imagined as if they were natural, real, eternal, stable, and static units. They seem to be always already in existence. As a subject of study, each group yield an essential continuum of certain myths and traits (Sollors 1989:xiv).

It is important to be cognizant of these simplified notions of both race and ethnicity. Racial inequality can not be neglected, nor reduced to the interpretations of texts, when every index of the quality of life place African Americans at or near the bottom. The list of indices of racial oppression could fill pages and pages, but many social scientist do not want to deal with race as a socially constructed reality which permeates all sectors of our society. The reality of the social construction of race within our society needs to be understood more clearly.

Oftentimes, students and teachers alike blur race, ethnicity, heritage, nationality, and culture into one ethnic portrait of "the other" glued on to a multi-cultural collage without consideration of the specific structural, historical, and geographical power relations that play such an integral role in their formation.

Race must be viewed dialecticaly or as the socially constructed reality, dynamically worked out through a history of contradictions. One can glean tremendous and exceedingly relevant insight into the social construction of race at the end of the twentieth century by reviewing some of W.E.B. DuBois' early concepts of race at the beginning of the twentieth century. By doing so we can begin to understand the reality of race-- dialecticaly; plus, we can appreciate W.E.B. DuBois exceedingly novel approach to race, at a time when pseudo-scientific racism was being promoted and perpetuated throughout the society;

William E. B. DuBois provides one of the most poignant descriptions of race, and provides an entre into looking at the construction of race as synthesis of contradictions born from social relations. DuBois often referred to "the concept of race." However, DuBois was not even satisfied with describing race as a concept and he remarked, "Perhaps it is wrong to speak of it [race] at all as 'a concept' rather than as a group of contradictory forces, facts and tendencies (DuBois 1986:651).

I have listed a couple of recent works which deal with race and ethnicity in a fairly sophisticated way, plus one of DuBois' classic pieces which deals the changes of the concept of race in relation to the history of the United States.

- DuBois, William E.B. 1986 Dusk of Dawn an Autobiography of a Race Concept. In DuBois Writings. N. Huggins, ed. pp. 358-547. New York: The Library of America [1943].

- Goldberg, David Theo 1990 Anatomy of Racism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.

- Sollors, Werner 1989 The Invention of Ethnicity. Oxford: The Oxford University Press.

I realize that this is a lengthy comment for this list, however I felt that an Afrocentric perspective was needed in this discussion.

Lee D. Baker Dept. of Anthropology Temple University.