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Students of African and African American history have long appreciated the irony

that much of what we now call Afrocentrism was developed during the 1930s

 by the Jewish American scholar Melville Herskovits

                                                                                                                      Wilson J. Moses

 
 

 

Books by Wilson Jeremiah Moses

Golden Age of Black Nationalism, 1850-1925 (1988)  / The Wings of Ethiopia  (1990)

 Alexander Crummell: A Study of Civilization and Discontent (1992)  / Destiny & Race: Selected Writings, 1840-1898  (1992) 

 Black Messiahs and Uncle Toms: Social and Literary Manipulations of a Religious Myth (1993)

Liberian Dreams: Back-to-Africa Narratives from the 1850s  / Afrotopia: The Roots of African American Popular History (2002)

Creative Conflict in African American Thought (2004)

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Two Scholars Discuss Afrocentrism

Wilson Jeremiah Moses & Cane Hope Felder

 

Below are two excellent examinations of Afrocentric identity, theory, and history.

Wilson J. Moses is a historian and Cane Hope Felder a theologian. Each has a particular reserve to Afrocentrism as a racial ideology.

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Wilson J. Moses: Historical Sketches of Afrocentrism

 

I have not discovered who was the first person to employ the expression "Afrocentrism," but it was not professor Molefi Asante, although the term has been closely associated with him for almost two decades. . . . the actual term "Afrocentrism" was employed by W.E.B. Du Bois, possibly as early as 1961, and definitely by 1962. [See] Du Bois's typescript draft of "proposed plans for an Encyclopedia Africana," which was to be "unashamedly Afro-Centric, but not indifferent to the impact of the outside world."

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Dr. Asante's efforts to appropriate the term Afrocentrism began in 1980 with the publication of his Afrocentricity: The Theory of Social Change. The work was a brief essay concerned with a historical analysis of African American political theory, and offering some speculations on how African American students and scholars might avoid incorporating Eurocentric biases into their own work. Since 1980 Asante has amended his definition several times, so that recent formulations are vastly more imaginative than his original statement. His second book, The Afrocentric Idea (1987), was a creative and in some respects brilliant but rambling theoretical work, much influenced by the revolution in "critical theory" that occurred in American intellectual life during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

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My purpose is to show that Afrocentrism is not a self-contained tradition, recently developed by black zealots. The phenomenon represents an attempt by black and white authors to manipulate history and myth, poetry and art, folklore and religious tradition, regardless of authorship, in ways sympathetic to African peoples. Despite the fulminations of ethno-chauvinists and other prejudiced persons, it remains a fact that the contributions of white scholars, like Boas, Malinowski, and Herskovits, were fundamental tot hat complex of ideas that we designate to days as Afrocentrism.

Students of African and African American history have long appreciated the irony that much of what we now call Afrocentrism was developed during the 1930s by the Jewish American scholar Melville Herskovits. It is impossible to deny Herskovits's influence on such universally regarded scholars as August Meier, Roger Abraham. Sterling Stuckey, and Robert Ferris Thompson. . . .

In his widely read work on African American music, Blues People (published under his old name LeRoi Jones), Baraka footnoted and promulgated the Herskovits claim that the African past was of fundamental importance to the present and future status of African Americans.

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Although "Afrocentrism" was not invented until the 1960s, the idea of discussing African American culture as a survival of African culture was well established in sociological and anthropological literature before the Second World War. The idea that African Americans were essentially African, and that the solutions to their problems must be discovered within a Pan-African context is nothing new. Furthermore, Afrocentrism, although not always under that name, has been a factor in recent African American scholarship and culture theory, even among scholars who have eschewed or disparaged the term.

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In the Signifying Monkey (1988), [Henry Louis] Gates identified himself with positions that were unequivocally Afrocentric and that strikingly reflected the influences of Herskovits and art historian Robert Farris Thompson.

Viewed from the perspective of his most influential work, the Signifying Monkey, Henry Louis Gates appears to be a traditional Afrocentrist in the anthropological mode. He resuscitates the Herskovits legacy of the 1930s, contributing to the idea that black American culture is essentially West African. In addition, he has become the unchallenged interpreter and the principle raconteur of black metropolitan life, reveling with obviously sincere delight in the colorful cabaret of African American arts and entertainment -- arguing consistently for their Africanity.

Inadvertently African slavery in the New World satisfied the precondition for the emergence of a new African culture, a truly Pan-African culture fashioned as a colorful weave of linguistic, institutional, metaphysical, and formal threads. What survived this fascinating process was the most useful and the most compelling of the fragments at hand. Afro-American culture is an African culture with a difference as signified by the catalysts of English, Dutch, French, Portuguese, or Spanish languages and cultures, which informed the precise structures that each discrete New World Pan-African culture consumed.

Sterling Stuckey, like Henry Louis Gates, represents a continuation of the Herskovits tradition in Afrocentric studies. the fundamental assumption of Stuckey's widely influential work, Slave Culture (1987), is essentially the same as that of Gates in Signifying Monkey. Both view African American culture as an African culture, which came into being as a process of fusing numerous African cultures during the slavery period. Like Gates, Stuckey insists on "the centrality of the African past to the African in America," and asserts that a new African culture emerged out of the fusion of African cultural forms that were imported into the Americas.

Like Gates, Herkovits, and Malinowski, Stuckey is convinced that this new culture was Pan-African and, like Gates, he is willing to entertain very seriously the proposition that "black Americans today are basically African in culture.

Source: Wilson J. Moses. "Introduction." Afrotopia: The Roots of African American popular History. Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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Books by Cain Hope Felder

Troubling Biblical Waters:  Race, Class, and Family  / Stony the Road We Trod:  African American Biblical Interpretation

The African Heritage Study Bible  /  Race, Racism and the Biblical Narratives  / Proclamation

Cain Hope Felder

 Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Howard University, Cain Hope Felder was this year’s Alexander Thompson Memorial Lecturer. 

"Afrocentrism means reestablishing Africa and its descendants as centers of value."

 Afrocentricity-- Definition & Problems

Afrocentricity is the idea that Africa and persons of African descent must be seen as proactive subjects within history, rather than passive objects of Western history.  Afrocentrism means reestablishing Africa and its descendants as centers of value, without in any way demeaning other people and their historical contributions to world civilization. . . .  Several of us in the biblical field have adopted the term as a way to describe our understanding of the task of interpreting the Bible in a manner that contrasts with the standard treatment of Africa by Eurocentric exegetes. . . .

Nevertheless, those of us who wish to advance multiculturalism and a kind of Afrocentrism as corrective historiography must beware of certain pitfalls.  The following is a list of traps into which number of excessive or sensationalist proponents of multiculturalism and Afrocentrism have fallen.

A. Demonizing categorically all white people, without careful differentiation between persons of goodwill who are allies or potential allies and those white adversaries who consciously and systematically perpetuate racism.

B. Replacing Eurocentrism with an equally hierarchical, gender-insensitive, and racially exclusive “centrism” based on a new fantastic mythology in which one group of people or another claims to be, by virtue of race or ethnicity, “the chosen people,” whether Jews, blacks, or Asians.  An example is the dubious notion of Africans as “sun people” and Europeans as “ice people” (see Welsing, Jefferies, and other melanin theoreticians).

C. Adopting multiculturalism as a curricular alternative that eliminates, marginalizes, or vilifies European heritage to the point that Europe epitomizes all the evil in the world; this results in a balkanization of ethnic studies.

D. Not differentiating between the different types of multiculturalism and Afrocentrism that exist.

Here are both gross overreactions and factually incorrect material that is bad history and bad scholarship, and will ultimately be counterproductive, for it offends more than it enlightens.  These are but some of the pitfalls or dangers in the “cultural wars” that not only impede progress but obscure the important constructive goals of getting faculty and students to think critically and inclusively as we forge a new sense of common Christian identity or even shared citizenship, irrespective of race, gender, or class.

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Source: Cain Hope Felder, "Afrocentrism, the Bible, and the Politics of Difference." The Princeton Seminary Bulletin ( 1994) Volume XVNumber 2.

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

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#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

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#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

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#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

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#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
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#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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The Persistence of the Color Line

Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

By Randall Kennedy

Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama” . . .

The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled “Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”  Recalling some of the criticisms of America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who “never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.”  His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 16 February 2012

 

 

 

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