The Case against Afrocentrism
Postcolonial discourses on African Diaspora history and relations have traditionally focused intensely on highlighting the common experiences and links between black Africans and African Americans. This is especially true of Afrocentric scholars and supporters who use Africa to construct and validate a monolithic, racial, and culturally essentialist worldview. Publications by Afrocentric scholars such as Molefi Asante, Marimba Ani, Maulana Karenga, and the late John Henrik Clarke have emphasized the centrality of Africa to the construction of Afrocentric essentialism. In the last fifteen years, however, countervailing critical scholarship has challenged essentialist interpretations of Diaspora history. Critics such as Stephen Howe, Yaacov Shavit, and Clarence Walker have questioned and refuted the intellectual and cultural underpinnings of Afrocentric essentialist ideology.
Tunde Adeleke deconstructs Afrocentric essentialism by illuminating and interrogating the problematic situation of Africa as the foundation of a racialized worldwide African Diaspora. He attempts to fill an intellectual gap by analyzing the contradictions in Afrocentric representations of the continent. These include multiple, conflicting, and ambivalent portraits of Africa; the use of the continent as a global, unifying identity for all blacks; the de-emphasizing and nullification of New World acculturation; and the ahistoristic construction of a monolithic African Diaspora worldwide.
acceptable basis of constructing a countervailing platform of struggle. For key nineteenth-century black nationalists, Africa became the basis of a counteroffensive against Eurocentric hegemony. Though for them, the underlying objective of constructing a counteridentity and experience based on Africa was to reshape and reform the American condition.35 Paradoxically, the essentialization of Africa reflected, in some sense, recognition of historical process and transformation. Even as they
â•… 41 as an American, Whipper believed that the denial to blacks of American citizenship was only temporary and that with the success of moral suasion they would become fully integrated. He assumed the responsibility of providing blacks with the ideological guidance, and he believed that character reform would satisfactorily resolve the problem of black identity. For Whipper, the resolution of the question of whether blacks were Americans or not lay in certain divinely given universal ideals.
of the world should concentrate upon the object of building up for themselves a great nation in Africa.” Garvey here trumpets the African nationality idea and scheme that nineteenth-century nationalists like Delany, Turner, and Garnet had earlier espoused. Exploited, alienated, and dejected, Garvey offered blacks in Diaspora hope in a return to, and reconstruction of, Africa for all Africans at home and abroad. Africa provided Negroes the basis of a “Country and government of their own” and the
ambivalence. Many scholars have criticized the Afrocentric rendition of African and black history, particularly its tendency to romanticize and misrepresent the African and black American past, and to elevate ideology over scholarship.21 As Sidney Lemelle contends, “Anyone who has seriously studied African history . . . realizes that a multitude of attitudes and cosmologies produced many African cultures—none of which were ‘universal.’ Africa is made up of people from different ethnic, religious,
deliberations of the congresses.33 After the Fifth Congress in 1945, no congress was held until the Sixth in 1974 in Tanzania. This postcolonial congress revealed the growing complexity of the Pan-African movement. Though the common enemy (and rallying point), colonialism, was politically dead, it was clear to some that a new foe had emerged. A controversy ensued between two perspectives, one defended by an American delegate, the other, a Marxist perspective advocated by Walter Rodney. The