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Afrocentrism (also Afrocentricity; occasionally Africentrism) is a reading of world history that emphasizes the importance of African people, taken as a single group and often equated with Black people, in culture, philosophy, and history.
It can be traced back to the work of Black intellectuals in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but flowered into its modern form due to the activism of Black intellectuals in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and in the development of Black Studies programs in universities.
Proponents of Afrocentrism claim that the contributions of various African cultures have been downplayed and need to be excavated from beneath an "official" historical record that has deliberately kept them hidden.
Its most radical forms have been accused of historical revisionism and pseudohistory that Africans were responsible for many of the great innovations in ancient philosophy, science, and technology, which were later stolen by Middle Eastern or European people.
Critics contend that such "Afrocentric historical research" is grounded in identity politics and myth rather than scholarship.
Afrocentrism has been criticized. Some mainstream Western scholars have assessed some Afrocentric ideas as pseudohistorical. They find fault with such claims as that Ancient Egypt was a black civilization, and that it contributed directly to the development of Greek and Western culture (on the grounds that the times of development do not align). In addition, they argue with the contention that African civilizations were founding influences on such distant civilizations as the American Olmec and the Chinese Xia cultures.
Clarence E. Walker (African American, history professor, UC Davis) writes, "Afrocentrism is a mythology that is racist, reactionary, and essentially therapeutic. It suggests that nothing important has happened in Black history since the time of the pharaohs and thus trivializes the history of Black Americans. Afrocentrism places an emphasis on Egypt that is, to put it bluntly, absurd...I'm an old-fashioned intellectual critic. I don't like a lot of work being done in the field. No history should be presented as an exercise in celebration...What Black people really need is a usable present, not a usable past."
Not Out of Africa: Among scholarly critics, Mary Lefkowitz's Not out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History is widely regarded as the foremost critical work. In it, she contends Afrocentric historical claims are not grounded in sound scholarship.
Lefkowitz (Caucasian, classical studies professor emerita, Wellesley College) makes her case by confronting the following questions:
1. Were the ancient Egyptians Black?
2. Does racial identity really matter?
3. Did ancient Greek religion and culture come from Egypt?
4. Was Socrates Black?
5. Did Aristotle raid the library at Alexandria?
6. Did Plato study in Egypt?
7. Did Aristotle steal his ideas from the ancient Egyptians?
8. Was Cleopatra Black?
Marissa Larsen (National Geographic staff) writes, "Afrocentric Egyptology is less a scholarly field than a political and educational movement, aimed at increasing the self-esteem and confidence of Blacks by stressing the achievements of African civilizations, principally ancient Egypt." Afrocentric Egyptology is described as having four main points:
1. Ancient Egyptians were Black.
2. Ancient Egypt was superior to other ancient civilizations.
3. Egyptian culture had tremendous influence on the later cultures of Africa and Europe.
4. There has been a vast racist conspiracy to prevent the dissemination of the evidence for these assertions.
Robert Carroll (skeptic.com) wrote the following when reviewing Mary Lefkowitz's book:
"It is not an accident that the students of Afrocentrism and catastrophism act more like disciples of a guru than students of a scientific teacher. They are on a mission, not a quest. And, as with many before them with noble goals, they believe the end justifies the means. Hence, it is nearly futile to engage them in debate. Scholars have difficulty debating opponents such as Afrocentrists, catastrophists, creationists or even anti-abortionists, because they expect their opponents to be civil and play by the rules of scholarly evidence. They mistakenly believe they have entered an arena where all sides are in quest of the same truth. What they are actually getting into is a street fight, where the goal is to defeat and humiliate your enemy. Their opponents don’t follow traditional standards of evidence in their printed arguments and diatribes, so why expect them to be any different in a public debate? If you challenge their accuracy, they will question your integrity. If you ask for evidence, they will insult you. If you challenge their sources, you will be asked to prove the absolute certainty of your sources. You think the arena is an intellectual one where the combatants use wit and intelligence to score points, but while you are looking above your opponent’s shoulders, he will kick you in the groin. You may have the evidence and the arguments on your side but your opponent doesn’t care about the evidence and is not interested in your arguments. He already knows the truth."If Afrocentrists upset you, then Eurocentrists should as well, and maybe even more, as their views have dominated the history books and popular culture (in film, the ancient Jews, Egyptians and even some Chinese and Japanese characters have been played by European actors….and they always, always have British accents). And those same views helped to advance the abuses and excesses of imperialism/colonialism, but that’s another topic altogether."
Like Lefkowitz, other critics of Afrocentrism state that much historical Afrocentric research simply lacks scientific merit and that it actually seeks to supplant and counter one form of racism with another, rather than attempt to arrive at the truth.
Example: "The ancient Egyptians were so advanced technologically that they were literally flying in the sky around the pyramids." Truthcentric question: Why dabble around with unverifiable fringe material when there is so much well-documented information to communicate? The fringe stuff seriously discounts credibility. It is much better to communicate information that is corroborated by verifiable research. Why do some Afrocentrists feel the need to over reach? Why not concentrate on the wealth of researched Afrocentric material that can pass muster in any debate?
Observation: Alex Haley (author of Roots) once stated, "To know where you are going, you need to know where you have been." But is there also wisdom in what African American Professor, Clarence E. Walker has stated? "What black people really need is a usable present, not a usable past." Do the critics of Afrocentrism have valid points? A question for each reader to ponder.
When it comes to encouraging greater individual awareness about the contemporary significance of history, I am a big fan of gateways. I am always thrilled when anyone develops an interest in any aspect of history (young or old) and I am not that concerned about the gateway people enter or the specific cultural spark that helps to ignite one's passion for studying history. Whatever floats your boat!
But don't park your brains. It sure would be great if the good old critical thinking process was encouraged by all once that passion for history has been sparked. By the way, neither Afrocentrism or Eurocentrism has cornered the market on critical thinking!
Afrocentrists sometimes present too much one-sided material in an effort to get the attention of Eurocentrists regarding the overwhelming amount of documented evidence that challenges some of the Eurocentric views, which have dominated and embedded themselves in educational institutions on both sides of the Atlantic for well over a century.
Questions for Afrocentrists: Honestly. Were the ancient Egyptians Black? Don't be too hasty with your answer. If your response is "yes" -- then there is an obvious follow-up question that must be addressed. Did the ancient Egyptians own slaves and enforce slave labor? The ancient record states that Jews were enslaved by the ancient Egyptians for approximately 400 years. The Exodus story was Harriet Tubman's inspiration -- hailed as the "Moses" of the Underground Railroad.
It would seem to be intellectually dishonest to whole-heartedly accept and promote one culturally-appealing perspective and then dump or push away an inconvenient truth.
Qualifiers did not work for the pro-slavery element back in 19th century America ("yes...but the slaves at that plantation were well cared for and seemed to be quite happy").
Nor do qualifiers make sense when trying to understand ancient Egyptian/African history ("yes...but slavery was different back then...it was culturally acceptable...more of an indentured servitude").
Let's be gut-level honest. And let's not fudge the truth with "yes, but..." SLAVERY IS SLAVERY. No matter how one seeks to define it or qualify it, regardless of the ethnicity or race of the people perpetrating it -- Arabs, Europeans, Africans, Asians, etc.
Note: Many Eurocentrists tend to focus on the fringe excesses communicated by some Afrocentrists, creating "straw men arguments" that are shot down as laughable examples -- easily debunking Afrocentrist claims. But when credible research is dismissively rejected, with the wave of a hand by the Eurocentrists as pseudohistorical or mythical, it can create an atmosphere of frustration -- which is not an intellectually healthy environment for either side of the debate.
Eurocentrism is the practice of viewing the world from a European perspective and with an implied belief, either consciously or subconsciously, in the preeminence of European culture.
The term Eurocentrism was coined relatively late, during the decolonization period following World War II, based on an earlier adjective Europe-centric which came into use in the early 20th century. The term appears in precisely this form in the writings of the German General, author and geographer Karl Haushofer during the 1920s.
African and Black scholars such as Molefi Asante (author, professor, Temple University) have categorically highlighted the prevalence of Eurocentric thought in the processing of much of academia on African affairs.
Edgar Alfred Bowring (British translator, author) stated: "In no other major civilization do self-regard, self-congratulation and denigration of the ‘other’ run as deep, nor have these tendencies infected as many aspects of their thinking, laws, and policy, as they have in Western Europe and its overseas extensions."
Owen 'Alik-Shahadah (cultural historian/film director) notes: "The Eurocentric discourse on Africa is in error because those foundational paradigms which inspired the study in the first place were rooted in the denial of African agency; political intellectualism bent on its own self-affirmation rather than objective study."
Alison Bailey (professor, Illinois State University) states: "Philosophical methods are well suited for unpacking the political, ontological, and epistemological conditions that foster racism and hold white supremacy in place. However, on the whole, philosophy as a discipline has remained relatively untouched by interdisciplinary work on race and whiteness. In its quest for certainty, Western philosophy continues to generate what it imagines to be colorless and genderless accounts of knowledge, reality, morality, and human nature."
Example: "None of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs before the 25th Dynasty were Black."
Truthcentric Question: Why hold on to such a view when there are many images of pharaohs that clearly show Egypt is and always has been located on the continent of Africa? This comes across as disingenuous at best, especially when gazing at statues of ancient pharaohs bearing obvious Afroid features. What's even more intriguing are the over-reaching attempts by Eurocentrists to explain away those obvious features.
Observation: Common sense isn't always common practice. Many Eurocentrists say, "The ancient Egyptians were of a mixed race." Let's push the fast-forward button. The same is true in America.
If you consider the Black population in America today, according to African Ancestry (African Lineage Database, developed by Dr. Rick Kittles) approximately 30% of African American males have a European Y chromosone haplogroup. (OBSERVATION: They have European DNA, but are not able to participate in the social benefits that European DNA generally brings.)
Approximately 58% of Black people have the equivalent of one great-grandparent (12.5%) of European ancestry. Because of this one can see a "mixed race" -- exhibiting a wide range of skin colors, varying from very dark to very light.
Ancient Egypt was positioned at the crossroads of the ancient world. Could it be that the ancient Egyptian population reflected a similar racial makeup? When Afrocentrists say that all Egyptians were Black, there is eyewitness evidence to support that claim.
Herodotos traveled extensively in Egypt in the 5th century BC and he described the Egyptian people as having Black skins and woolly hair.
Most classical scholars respond by stating the reports from Herodotos about Egypt are unreliable because he couldn’t speak or read the Egyptian language, and was therefore unable to critically evaluate the information he was given there. A valid point? I think not. It would not apply in this case, because when Herodotos gave a physical description of the people in Egypt he was just reporting (in his own language) what he saw with his own eyes.
Here are a couple of comments made in response to a blogger who had posted a number of images of ancient Egyptian statues that proved his/her point about the "whiteness" of ancient Egyptians.
Responses to a Blogger:
"Afrocentric" -- a person who claims that an Ancient African population was comprised primarily of indigenous Africans, based on numerous cranial and skeletal studies (Keita, Sonia Z, Brace (recent), etc).
"Eurocentric" -- a person who claims that an Ancient African was comprised primarily by non indigenous Africans, with little to no scientific evidence for their claim, and the profound assertion that for an African to claim an African civilization as such is theft to the modern mixed population of that present country!"
"There are a number of places around the world where you could find people who look like this, and depending on the culture, some might be considered “Black” and others “white”, when in fact, they are neither one or the other. Depends on the standard you use. Many Afrocentrists are American, and in the US, you can have mostly European ancestry and still be considered Black; in fact, most “Black” people in the states have a good percentage of European and/or indigenous American ancestry. Yet not too many people go all out to prove that Black people (and lots of Afro-Caribbean's) aren’t black. If Afrocentrists upset you, then Eurocentrists should as well, and maybe even more, as their views have dominated the history books and popular culture (in film, the ancient Jews, Egyptians and even some Chinese and Japanese characters have been played by European actors….and they always, always have British accents). And those same views helped to advance the abuses and excesses of imperialism/colonialism, but that’s another topic altogether..."
Questions for Eurocentrists: Honestly. Why spend so much time and energy trying to prove that the ethnicity of ancient Egyptians is anything BUT Black? We are all looking at the same Egypt located on the same continent of Africa, the same statues, and we are all reading the same history books. There are many who do not understand your zeal in what appears to be a quest to whitewash an entire culture, regardless the evidence to the contrary. Some even laugh out loud at the extreme measures employed in seeking to explain away what seems so obvious to people viewing the same issues at street level.
Common Sense: Allow me to introduce a futuristic concept with a contemporary application to the controversy surrounding the question -- Were the ancient Egyptians Black?
Let's just say it was currently in vogue in North America to mummify a cross-section of people after they had died. Work with me on this. Fast-forward to 1,000 years from now. In the same way people are currently debating the ethnicity of ancient Egyptians, in the future one would be hard pressed to determine the race of many mummified African Americans. You might laugh out loud right where you are sitting, but you know what I am considering is plausible.
For instance, when confronted with photographic & eye-witness evidence, there are seemingly-intelligent people today who believe that the Jewish Holocaust never happened in Nazi Germany in the 1940s. And that's only about seven decades ago.
It is not far-fetched to think that 1,000 years from now people might be engaged in a similar debate, with respected professors trumpeting ideas like: "President Obama was not Black because..." Just saying...
The Greek Miracle: The idea that the classical Greeks suddenly burst on the scene out of nowhere in the 6th and 5th centuries BC is often referred to as the “Greek miracle.” The Afrocentrists’ main point is against the proposition that the real history of civilization only begins with the Greeks — that the Greeks were the creators of philosophy, of science, of politics, of mathematics, of medicine, of theology, of art, of everything of intellectual value — and that they owed no debt whatsoever to earlier civilizations — especially NOT to the Egyptians.
It seems plausible that Greece would have been influenced by Egypt. During their heyday, powerful countries (like ancient Egypt, Great Britain, United States, etc.) tend to influence other less-powerful countries. Herodotus (5th century BC) was told by Egyptian priests that Greece had received a lot of knowledge from Egypt. Priests told Diodorus some of the same stories four centuries later. Early church father (2nd/3rd century) mentioned that Greece was heavily influenced by the Egyptian and Hebrew cultures. Isn't that a pretty powerful indicator that Greek culture had indeed been influenced by Egypt?
Ancient Egypt ruled for a longer period than most world empires, defying the normal, brief span of time generally reserved for such empires. It's the cycle Edward Gibbons discussed in his book, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
Even if Herodotus, Diodorus or the early church fathers could not decipher hieroglyphics...there was plenty of time and opportunity for Egypt to make an impact on Greek culture. And there are a number of evidences one can point to that indicate this "Egypt-influenced-Greek-culture" reality. Let's boil it down to street level. Cultures, with languages foreign to other countries, influence the average person in those other countries all the time -- in spite of the linguistic issues. Hand-smacking-forehead kind of stuff.
Once again, common sense.