Part 1: Stealing History
The white world has always tried to rob and discredit us of our history . . . Every student of history, of impartial mind, knows that the Negro once ruled the world, when white men were savages and barbarians living in caves; that thousands of Negro professors at that time taught in the universities of Alexandria, then the seat of learning; that ancient Egypt gave the world civilization and that Greece and Rome have robbed Egypt of her arts and letters, and taken all the credit upon themselves. Who and What is a Negro – Marcus Garvey (1923)
In response to several queries about Afrocentrism . . . and attempted defenses of it . . Paxety Pages has graciously allowed me the space to examine its impact on public schools, part one (the damage was primarily done in the nineties) and the supposed evidence the comprises some of its core beliefs, part two. – Mahone Dunbar, 4/17/2008
In 1989, in Dallas, Texas, a boycott was threatened of an exhibit of artifacts from the reign of Pharaoh Ramses II. A group calling itself the Blacology Speaking Committee held a news conference to declare that the 3000 year old pharaoh was a black African, and to demand that the exhibit be changed to reflect their opinion. The exhibitors wisely refused to give in to their demands. (1)
However, in 1991 The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History changed a display of Australopithecus so that its features are now black. The change of skin tone was not done in response to some new findings in anthropology, but in response to pressure from a District of Columbia organization calling itself the Tu-Wa-Moja African Study Group. Tu-Wa-Moja is Swahili for “We are one.” (2) And in 1993 the same institution bowed to political/racial pressure and removed an exhibit which dealt with the practices of secret-occult societies in Zaire, such as ritual cannibalism and orgies. Bizarre beliefs, including ritual sex, and even ritual cannibalism, are found around the world, among most races and cultures. Nonetheless, after black Americans, who have lately been trying to latch on to Africa’s acceptable traits while distancing themselves from the barbarism of the Mother Continent, vehemently protested the exhibit, it was taken down.. (3)
RACE, HISTORY, AND THE EGYPTIANS
What Australopithecus, Ramses II, and the Zaire exhibit have in common is their relation to a revisionist form of history being promulgated by black Americans calling themselves Afrocentrists. Afrocentrism is a branch of applied anthropology that attempts to place Africa at the center of world history by reinterpreting and rewriting history. As you can see from the above examples, they are getting results. The belief that the ancient Egyptians had black skin, thus the controversy over Ramses II, is a central tenet of Afrocentrism. Afrocentrism was first formulated by Senegalese scholar Cheikh Anta Diop in Civilization or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology. The book was an attempt to prove African culture superior to all others, in fact, the source of all civilization. This is achieved by the formulation of a syllogism, the major premise of which is that ancient Egypt was responsible for the development of all science, art, architecture and so forth. (4) The second part of the syllogism, the minor premise, is that the Egyptians were a black African race. The conclusion, therefore, is that black Africans were the germinal source of all civilization; all science, all arts, all culture, arrived in the West by way of black Africa.
The major part of the syllogistic argument, Egypt’s role in the development of culture, is hardly questionable, though the degree of influence is certainly a matter of legitimate debate. In fact, it’s hardly an original idea; a host of ancient Greek philosophers maintained that study in the temples of Egypt and Mesopotamia, or inspiration from the same, fueled their creative fires. It is the minor premise of the Afrocentric syllogism, a black pharaonic Egypt, that can be shown to fall completely short of the mark – and without Egyptian “blackness” the major proposition of Afrocentrism is without merit. (In a syllogism, the major and minor premise must both be correct for the conclusion to be valid.).
Diop argued that Imhotep, credited as the inventor of the pyramid in the 3rd millennium B.C., was black, as were Euclid, Cleopatra and a host of others. Therefore, in addition to the architectural wonders of Egypt, blacks invented such things as hieroglyphics and monumental sculpture. In Afrocentrism the Egyptians were not merely a somewhat racially mixed society, but a black African society. The last statement was based on a single comment by the wandering Greek commentator of the ancient world, Herodotus, who visited the civilization along the Nile around 500 B.C. (well after it had been subjugated by a host of other nations, including Nubia) and said the Egyptians were a black race. Then, as today, the term “black” refers to persons with a variety of skin colors, from light brown to yellowish; today it is an ethnic division more than an accurate estimation of skin pigment. The common term for a black African during the time of Herodotus was Ethiopian; tellingly, the Greek traveler didn’t say the Egyptians looked like the Ethiopians. (5) Many of the things reported by Herodotus have proven to be spurious and his single remark about the race of the Egyptians is contradicted by the whole of archaeology. As the reader proceeds, and hears more of the claims of the Afrocentrists, let him note that Herodotus didn’t describe the Egyptians as “black like we Greeks.”
The black figures that rarely appear in Egyptian art are usually in the guise of ” . . . defeated enemies, mercenary soldiers, tribute bearers, or slaves” and are clearly differentiated from the indigenous people of Egypt. ( 6) All other cultures were rendered by Egyptian artists with exactitude of racial features and dress – and clearly distinguished from the Egyptians. Afrocentrists can maintain that the Egyp0tians were black only by completely ignoring the archaeological record. The archaeological evidence must be particularly confusing for those who picketed the Ramses exhibit; Egyptian mummies, including Ramses the Great (1304-1237 B.C.) are available for all to see; their skins are now a leathery green, their features are not black-African features. Ramses has straight hair and a long aquiline nose. His portraits match the face on his mummy. Moreover, the statuary and bas-reliefs from pharaonic temples show the same graceful profiles one can find walking any street in Cairo today. DNA doesn’t lie.
Whatever consequence Herodotus’ remarks had aside, Egypt was as mythical as Valhalla to Diop, as his naive view of it in Civilization or Barbarism reflects.
“Egypt is the distant mother of Western cultures and sciences, (and) most of the ideas that we call foreign are often nothing but mixed up . . . images of the creations of our African ancestors, such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, dialectics . . . arithmetic, geometry, mechanical engineering, astronomy, the novel, poetry, the drama, architecture and the arts.” (7) As Robert Hughes wryly points out in Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America, Egypt would hardly be the civic ideal to base a modern African state on, since it was a theocratic slave state!
“Vote for me: I’m the Divine Incarnation of the Sun God!” Even an American politician wouldn’t be so brazen as to try and sell that to his constituency. Not one to mince words, Hughes referred to Diop as a crank.
Such hyperbole aside, the final word over the dispute about the color of Ramses II and his pharaonic brothers would seem not to lie with black Americans but with the Egyptians themselves, for though the grand culture of ancient Egypt is gone, the children of the pharaohs live on. Abdel-latif Aboul-Ela, director of the cultural office at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, after being forced into what officials of the Egyptian Government refer to as “an American dispute,” responded to the complaints by black activists about the “Ramses the Great” exhibit in Dallas by stating “I wish people would not involve us in this kind of mess, which we have nothing to do with.” He said that the racial makeup of the pharaohs is a U.S. racial dispute. More pointedly, he declared that “we are not in any way related to the original black Africans of the Deep South.” Ramses, he maintained “was neither black nor white, but Egyptian,” and added further that the Ramses exhibit is “an Egyptian heritage, not an African heritage.” (1)
One would normally presume that such a forceful and bitter rebuttal would end the matter, but yet, the Afrocentrists persist in their claims; perhaps they cling so tenaciously to them because they realize that without a black Egypt the whole structure of Afrocentrism collapses.(8)
THE AFROCENTRIC AGENDA
The Sobol Commission
In 1989, Thomas Sobol, then New York’s commissioner of education, presided over a commission which was to decide on the expansion of school curriculum so it would take a new direction. The diversified panel of twenty-four educators included Dr. Asa Hilliard III, an educational psychologist at Georgia State University, and Nathan Glazer, a professor of education and sociology at Harvard University. The commission’s report presumes that ethnicity is the guiding force in history and is the sole means whereby one may judge or understand other cultures; further, all origins are the result of fate, therefore, where you start in life is more important than where you finish. Since all ethnic stories are about origins, all stories have equal importance; there is no objective perspective on knowledge, it is all socially constructed; a lack of detailed information about the past actually helps one understand the world and their place in it. Not surprisingly, the panel suggested that the written word is overemphasized by status quo education.(10)
With violence pandemic in the schools, and with great disparities existing in academic performance of various ethnic groups, in which direction did the Sobol Commission think public education should go to combat this? In less than lucid language the committee concluded that its primary goal was to “facilitate this difficult and ongoing process of promoting empathetic sensibility and personal awareness.”
Are the students going to be tested on their ethnic empathy? Hopefully not. Testing is hopelessly unegalitarian and thus ‘Eurocentric.’ Race or ethnicity, the Sobol commission concluded, is the key experience in life; hence, the lives and stories of ordinary people, the little guy, should suffuse curriculum. (If you thought lit 101 was dull before, imagine having to read Bantu, Pot Maker from Niger.) American schools should move into a new realm; diligence, hard work, and thus achievement, in the majority opinion of the commission, is woefully passe. Meanwhile, while American kids are being groomed to wallow in empathy with Third World Tribal citizens, the poor culturally deprived kids of Japan (perhaps the one culture the Afrocentrists haven’t claimed credit for) are stuck doing such pedestrian things as math and geography.
The Sobol Commission is not alone in espousing a new role for school curricula. Some school officials have endorsed the teaching of Afrocentrism in the hopes that it will combat student violence, high dropout rates, and the pathetic test scores of black American students. All of this, they believe, is the result of poor self-image, i.e., poor self esteem. This is the legacy of Molefi Kete Asante, chair, Department of African-American Studies, Temple University, who is regarded as the Father of Afrocentric Research. Before he bestowed upon himself the name of Molefi Kete Asante, he went by the unpretentious Eurocentric name ‘Louis Smith.’ (The changing of Euro names to Afro names has now become so common I suggest the process be called “Afro-affectation” or “Afrofectation.”) Afrocentrism, he explains, allows the black American to be at the center of his self analysis. This is only possible if they have their own cultural context, rooted firmly in Africa. To learn, black kids need lessons about a mythic Africa, taught by the only ones capable of bonding with them, teachers of their own color.
One opponent of the Afrocentrism, Diane Ravitch, formerly of Teacher’s College and one time Assistant Secretary of Education, pointed out the inherent fallacy of the idea that children can only learn from someone of their own race and that knowledge is culturally subjective; noting the example of the excellent performance of Chinese-American students in math, she noted that their success is not because of a Sino-centric approach to math, but hard work and study. Italian students, the descendants of Caesar, should, theoretically, excel at so-called Euro-centric education, yet they have the highest dropout rate of any European “white” students in the New York school system. People who point out such logic are usually branded racist and Ms. Ravitch was no exception; after her public comments she was vilified on black radio and television programs. She has also received numerous threats, including letters saying “We’re going to get you, bitch. We’re going to beat your white ass.” Dissenting points of view are not condoned by the zealots in the Afrocentric community. (11)
So there you have it: Afrocentrism is a twelve-step program for racial self-esteem; in therapy facts aren’t important, feelings are. Is the exchange of academic effort for self esteem worthwhile? In a standardized math test given to thirteen-year-olds from six countries, the U.S., Spain, Britain, Ireland, Korea and Canada, the statement “I am good at mathematics” was included and students asked to agree or disagree with it. American students rated the highest on this self esteem evaluation; a whopping 68 percent agreed with the statement. The poor Korean students, however, had the lowest self esteem; a mere 23 percent felt confident enough in their mathematical ability to agree with the statement. (12) And how did these sentiments reflect reality? The results of actual ability were inversely proportional to the student’s feelings: On the math part of the test The Korean students scored the highest of any group and the Americans the lowest. Self esteem, pumping up young egos to feel good about themselves, does nothing to bolster the students grades; if anything, it may do more harm than good. The Koreans, less confident in their innate ability, apparently studied very hard. The Americans’ over inflated sense of self worth was reflected in their poor academic performance.
Multiculturalism (the mask behind which Afrocentrism often hides) gives lip service to diversity as a tentative ideal, yet Afrocentrism allows no diversity of opinion. If you manufacture good feelings in black students by inventing historic fictions for them, so the theory goes, and reduce or eliminate the racist Western logic found in competitive test situations, the dropout rates will lessen and violent behavior will be brought under control; in short, it will be easier to warehouse students who are pacified and not stressed by competition. And this is odd, since Afrocentrism claims that all knowledge used in the West originally came from Africa. It would seem that black-Americans would have an easier time grasping Western logic. But, no. The status quo of education, comprised of a curricula developed over decades – which is the cumulative result of centuries of trial and error – and the idea of intrinsic merit and competition, has not provided equal results in terms of racial performance; therefore, because a contingent of ethnic students can’t cut it, the educational system that produced the most powerful culture in modern times and put man on the moon is to be relegated to the scrap heap of history, replaced by a cabal armed with only faddish, late twentieth-century intellectual tripe.
So far, the Afrocentric program, which originated in 1983 with the Portland Afro-American Baseline Essays, has spread to Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Detroit, Atlanta, Portland, Ore., Chicago, Newark, N.J. and Cleveland, all in the belief that teaching more about African and African-American achievements can elevate feelings of self-worth among black children. (12)
The idea that self esteem evolves from individual achievement, not what your ancestors did, seems lost on proponents of the Afrocentric agenda. How can the fact that a long dead ancestor might have built a pyramid compensate for an individual’s lack of basic preparedness to work a cash register or address customers with understandable grammar? Teaching a false history to pump up undernourished egos can also expand and burst them, particularly if racial animosity is part of the program; the message sounds familiar: you are inherently superior merely by the fact of your birth into an elite race.
“DON’T DRINK THE VOMIT”
Atlanta got a good look at the future when the Second National Conference on the infusion of African and African-American Content in the High School Curriculum was held there in November of 92. The conference was sponsored by big name commercial companies, like Gillette, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Macmillan, and Bell South. It was a pop-fest for Multicultural wannabes, who proved themselves as insular as any gathering of deadheads; between conferences they affirmed their “Africanness” by roaming the corridors of the Marriot Marquis in colorful African caftans and kufis, effecting a kind of plastic ‘Africanness’ comparable to Easterners at a dude ranch dressing in showy cowboy garb. Though dual messages of identity were given in the halls, a single message was clearly defined inside the conference rooms: ‘diversity’ is not the goal’ of Afrocentrism; the erasure of Western Culture is. (12)
The orientation began with a talk by Theophile Obenga of Marien N’Gouabi University in Gabon, who promptly informed the assembly that Greek philosophy was plagiarized from black Egypt. How was this done? Were Egyptian manuscripts comparable to but older than Euclid’s and Plato’s recently discovered, laboriously rendered in hieroglyphics? He didn’t say. Neither did Joyce King of Santa Clara University, who dispensed with the illusion of “multiculturalism” and laid the Afrocentric cards on the table. According to Ms. King, there is only one source of culture: black Africa. Greeks were called the “affirmative action kids” to the amusement and delight of the largely black audience. (9) It is hardly amusing to anyone paying attention to Afrocentrism’s audacious claims; while one side of the camp claims the Greek philosophers were thieves of black African knowledge, the other half claims the Greeks were black Africans!
The most bilious attack on the educational establishment was given by Wade Nobles, who runs a “Manhood Development and Training Program” for black males who have gotten into trouble in the regular school system. Wearing a long, lilac-blue robe and carrying a fetish with him – a small object used to ward off evil, Nobles said in no uncertain terms that blacks had to be rid of white influence. He eloquently explained that when blacks followed other people’s theories they were “like Frankenstein doing other peoples wills (sic).” It was, he continued ” . . . like someone drinking some good stuff, vomiting it, and then we have to catch the vomit and drink it ourselves. ” (12 ) In case the partisan audience missed his point he put it in more prosaic terms: ” The Greeks gave back the vomit of the African way . . . Don’t become the vomit-drinkers!” He cautioned.
“Teach brother, teach!” some enthusiastic soul cried out from the audience, obviously inspired by his subtle nuance and poetic analogies. Nobles then went on to delineate the differences between the Western way (the way of the vomit drinkers, in his lexicon) and the African way (the vomiters, we presume): The West, European culture, deals in linear polarities, needless dualities like “fact and fiction, proof and unreality, male and female.” African thinking (as if there was ever a monolithic philosophy which spanned the vast continent of Africa) rejects these and other dichotomous aspects of definition. It has a philosophy of indivisibility. In addition, African philosophy, he stated, being inherently superior to every other form, is not concerned with trivialities such as time. We don’t need the clock. We are the clock. One wonders if Nobles knows that the Egyptians invented the clepsydra, or water clock, and that they were such devotees of time that they kept and cross-referenced three calendars, a solar, lunar and Sothic, the last being adjusted over a period of fourteen hundred and sixty-one years by priest-astronomers! The Egyptians were fascinated with time.
“Teach brother, teach!” indeed. Such inanities, logic faults and factual inaccuracies, make the Afrocentric movement difficult for the satirist to improve upon.
Nobles has a big following in the Afrocentric community, and several in the audience were desirous of getting his ideas into their school systems. One questioner asked about Noble’s seeming concern for only black males. This brought a quick rebuke. She was promptly informed that the “silly sexist” stuff is the fodder of white women. Don’t be concerned. Will his agenda – teaching hieroglyphics, cleansing rituals and numerology, to ninth graders – help them get a job? Not to worry. The purpose is not educating the black man for a job, God forbid, but “. . . .educating him for eternity.”
Let’s hope they have remedial education in the afterlife.
Thomas Sobol also spoke at the conference. After giving what amounts to an apology for his sex and race – middle-aged white male, “I can’t help that,” he said – and affirming that a moderate approach to multiculturalism is best, he presented his wish that the Western tradition of democratic institutions and rule of law be maintained. This tepid plea caused some consternation among the audience and brought a reprimand from Leonard Jeffries, chair of the department of black studies at City College in New York. “Multiculturalism,” Jeffries yelled from the audience, is “mental genocide.” (12) Jeffries, except for choice in color, has a philosophy that sounds remarkably like something put forth by the Ku Klux Klan: his rhetoric is tinged with anti-semitic remarks and he believes that skin pigment, melanin in this case, helps determine humanity personality. Except for the fact that Jeffries thinks the darker the skin pigment the better, he would be right at home with Bubba and the good ole’ boys.
Finally, the audience recited a pledge that began “We, the African community, in the hells of North America . . . ” Apparently the satiated middle class crowd, decked out in costumes that probably cost enough to keep a real African family in yams for a year, see hell as a pretty mild place. The rhetoric was gone over again, Egypt was black, Greek philosophy is vomit, stolen heritage and so forth. Then, something else. Henrik Clarke, professor emeritus at Hunter College in New York, suggested that no black American should soil herself with Christianity. All major religions of the world are “male chauvinist murder cults.” Evidently Clarke doesn’t agree with the Afrocentric teaching that Jesus was black. Or maybe myth can change to suit personal whims.
No mistake should be made; Nobles, Clarke and Jeffries are not the exceptions, but the rule. Afrocentrists don’t seek parity with the old order; their goal is to efface, erase and replace. No compromise is intended.
* * *
Houston Baker Jr. is a specialist in Afro-American literature, and Albert M. Greenfield, is Professor of Human Relations at the University of Pennsylvania; both maintain that there is no need to mourn the death of the “old order” of literacy. If only students can be freed from Western civilization and its “whitemale” core reading canon, then “the powerful, syncretic, corporally minimalistic urgings of African American rap music signal this ‘defense legitime’ of a new humanity and a new humanities that will outlast the ‘crisis’ and create new room for the new people.” (9 ) Baker is vicious and extravagant in his denunciation of the core reading list, likening it to the core of a nuclear reactor.
To Baker, one commentator remarked, it is as if literacy were the problem with education. Baker is the incoming president of the Modern Language Association.
There was one very vocal dissenter on the Sobol Commission: Historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., an academician of no small standing who opposes their excesses with a loud and logical voice. Prof. Schlesinger doesn’t object at all to the idea of multicultural teachings, no scholar would. His objection is the replacement of factual teachings about history with an agenda which de emphasizes objective or critical distance and emphasizes ethnic subjectivity as the guiding perspective. Schlesinger’s primary criticism is that Afrocentrism is a cultural phenomena, not an educational one. Many Afrocentric postulates are not the result of archaeology, philology, and the regular tools of scholarly necromancy, but of speculations gleaned from the viscera of fantasy. It is a world where black pharaohs fly the cloudless skies of Egypt in glider planes, a world of black conquest and domination; in short, a world of myth. This is not surprising, Schlesinger notes, since the academic credentials of many Afrocentric apostles are not in fields applicable to such studies. Both its findings and the scholarship of some of its strongest proponents are suspect in the academic community, a silent community except for those like historian Schlesinger and Henry Louis Gates Jr., chair of Afro-American Studies at Harvard University, who view Afrocentrism as a threat to the true study of black history. Gates says, “For our field to survive, we need to encourage a true proliferation of rigorous methodologies, rather than to seek ideological conformity.” ( ) 11 He warns that as things are going now there is a real danger that critical inquiry is being suppressed by ethnic fundamentalism. “Bogus theories of “sun” and “ice” people, and the invidious scapegoating of other ethnic groups, only resurrects the worst of 19th-century racist pseudoscience–which too many of the pharaohs of “Afrocentrism” have accepted without realizing.” (9)
Claims of non-objectivity and poor scholarship from critics like Schlesinger, Gates and Haley don’t phase the Afrocentrists. What is important is not criticism from savants with expertise in the very fields under dispute, but the agenda; if you disagree with them, in fact question them at all, beware. John Henrik Clarke, professor emeritus of African history at Hunter College, City University of New York, and Afrocentrist, said that much of the disagreement about Afrocentrism “stems from whites wanting to dominate the world and control image; further that they have to admit that the foundations of what (is called) Western civilization was laid by non-Europeans. When they say whites brought forth world civilization they are a bunch of fakers and liars.”
Schlesinger points out in The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society that Afrocentrism leads to “fragmentation, segregation and tribalization.” Black Americans are invited “to withdraw from American society in favor of a fictitious connection with a mythic Africa.”
When Schlesinger proclaims that moving public education in the direction of Afrocentrism will only lead to , the fragmentation, resegregation, and self ghettoization of American life, he is a voice crying in the wilderness. Schlesinger says that the bonds of national cohesion in the republic are sufficiently fragile already and that public education should try strengthen those bonds, not weaken them. And though Americans should be free to cultivate ancestral customs and traditions, the function of the public school system is surely to teach what holds Americans together as well as to teach what sets them apart. “The alternative to integration is disintegration.” (4)
Some black academics are equally outspoken but refrain from public debate due to the very real fear that they will suffer vilification by their ethnic peers; as well, harassment by the administration is a possibility in some academic circles. One anonymous black professor, who describes himself as a leftist, was quoted as saying that the true appeal of presenting the mythic version of African history is because “its easier for the faculty to level down by arguing that everything in the curriculum is just ideology than it is to pile on the work that’s required, because deep in their hearts many of the ideologues don’t believe that these minority kids can cut it.” If you try to address the issue of Afrocentric curriculum by argument, the old academic way . . . you face charges of racism.” (8)< There is no argument that the “Afrocentric ideology” is weeding its way through both primary and secondary education. The debate is over its worth, its excesses, its ultimate meaning for society. The proponents are on a quest for the Holy Grail of sociology: giving a new purpose to education: leveling the Karma of racial disparity in education by magic agenda. The mundane imparting of education is a poor second to such a holy quest.
The old core curriculum, composed of DWEMs (Dead White European Males), somehow sufficed to provide America with captains of the industrialized world, government leaders, academia that drew students from around the world, and scientists and engineers who presided as America became a world power. But all don’t see it that way. One student leader at Sanford, where the current furor over the curriculum began, stated that the implicit message of Western culture is ‘Nigger Go Home.’ This is the message of Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and Shakespeare? In actual fact the nightmare core curriculum of DWEMs doesn’t exist anymore. (9 )
At any rate, other black scholars, some patriarchs of black American thought, don’t agree. For them the quality and meaning of literature is reflective, giving back what effort you put into it. The best minds in black culture, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. has noted, didn’t reject the wisdom of literature simply because some of its authors were white. W.E.B. Du Bois said: “I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas . . . I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn or condescension. So, wed with Truth, I dwell above the veil.”25
Frederick Douglas was even move specific, finding meaning applicable to the situation of American blacks in the writings of Dead White Males: “What I got from Sheridan was a bold denunciation of slavery and a powerful vindication of human rights.” (13) Martin Luther King’s sources of inspiration were not from the Africa tradition, but people like Thoreau, Gandhi, and Reinhold Niebuhr. Schlesinger wryly notes that even though King’s role models weren’t from the African tradition, this didn’t seem to affect King’s self-esteem. (ibid)
The Afrocentrist seems blissfully unaware that knowledge is the bride of those who court her. Education is not a free gift, nor is it magically acquired because a student shares the race of the teacher; it is a hard won victory and belongs only to those who have made the immense effort required for conquest.
What has the institution of Afrocentric curricula led to in higher education? One wonders if Gerald Early’s experiences are unique. Mr. Early is director of African and Afro-American Studies at Washington University, in St. Louis and also an author. “Never have I been subjected to more anti-intellectual, proto-fascistic nonsense than what I have had to endure in the name of Afrocentrism. (14) He ascribes Afrocentrism’s foundation to Malcolm X, calling him the father of Afrocentrism. (N.B. There are several people who are given the dubious honor of Afrocentrism’s paternity, Asante, Diop, and Malcolm among them.) His lack of enthusiasm for Afrocentrism led to his being denounced and publicly scorned as not being ‘Afrocentric enough’ to head the department, a charge he likens to not being “black enough” in the sixties. He further laments, “I do not possess any of the “social tokens” often associated with being “insufficiently black”: I do not have a white wife: I have served on most of the university’s affirmative-action committees; I am intellectually engaged in the study of black subject matter; I have never publicly criticized any black person connected with the campus during my entire ten-year stay. (Ibid)
Early concludes that Malcolm’s vision of Afrocentrism, his new double identity for black Americans, is not based on reality, rather it is a remaking of the past, the seduction of mythic, and thus fraudulent, identities. At Harvard, in 1964, Malcolm said that blacks in America are not really Americans but are Africans, and just as much African today as they were four hundred years ago. Early believes this definition to be specious, as well as restrictive to the individual. His assessment of Malcolm’s Afrocentric philosophy, which shows that it compares in all essentials with the views espoused by the current and more active bach of Afrocentrists, exposes its tragic flaws:
“By preaching a romantic reunification with mythological Africa as a way of generating pride and racial unity, Malcolm advocated a single identity for all black people, one that implicitly removed individual distinctions among blacks. In Malcolm’s view, individually is a negligible European creation, while the holy “community”–a creation of the African and other dark-skinned peoples–is prized above everything else.” (Ibid)
Such political and cultural mandates as Malcolm endorsed are of course restrictive to the individual; it is not the state, nor a body politic, but an ethnic god to whom he swears allegiance. The individual is expected to sacrifice his uniqueness to the greater good of the collective. This, he says, demands a stifling conformity. The Afrocentric aspects of Malcolm’s philosophy, the “all-blackness” that some today perceive as his message, are uninformed and restrictive instead of enlightening and liberating.10 Malcolm’s message was to express an “Africanness” at the expense of “Americanness;” an embrace of myth and a rejection of the historic process, a rejection of the roots blacks have in the New World. This only intensifies the negative feelings of blacks. Malcolm’s failure was not acknowledging the black sinew beneath American flesh nor the black blood that flows through her veins.
Early expresses this sentiment beautifully: “Our profound past of being African, which we must never forget, must be balanced by the complex fate of being American, which we can never deny or, worse, evade. For we must accept who and what we are and the forces and conditions that have made us this, not as defeat or triumph, not in shame or with grandiose pride, but as the tangled, strange, yet poignant and immeasurable record of an imperishable human presence. (ibid)
1. “Color Ramses Egyptian, Says Cultural Official,” AP/The Atlanta Constitution, 3/18/ 1989
2. Jerry Adler, Howard Manly, Vern E. Smith, Farai Chideya and Larry Wilson, “African Dreams,” Newsweek, Sept. 23, 1991
3.Mike Christensen, “Smithsonian removes ‘offensive’ African exhibit,” Atlanta Constitution, 9/16/93.
4. Barbara Kantrowitz, Pat Wingert, Patrick Rogers, Nadine Joseph and Shawn D. Lewis, “A Is for Ashanti, B Is for Black . . . ,” Newsweek, September 23, 1991.
5. Mary Lefkowitz, “Not Out of Africa,” The New Republic, February 10, 1992.
6. Nicholas Davidson, “Was Socrates a Plagiarist?,” National Review, February 25, 1991.
7. Robert Hughes, Culture of Complaint, Oxford University Press, 1993.
8. Sharon Begley, Farai Chideya and Larry Wilson, “Out of Egypt, Greece,” Newsweek, September 23, 1991.
9. Fred Siegel, “The Cult of Multiculturalism,” The New Republic, February 15, 1991.
10. “Mr. Sobol’s Planet,” The New Republic, July 15 & 22, 1991.
11. Charles Krauthammer, “Education: Doing Bad and Feeling Good,” Time February 5, 1990
12. Andrew Sullivan, “Racism 101,” The New Republic, November 26, 1990.
13. Fredric Smoler, “What Should We Teach Our Children About American History?,” Interview with Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., American Heritage Magazine, 1992.
14. Gerald Early, “Their Malcolm, My Problem,” Harper’s Magazine, December 1992.
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