Why I Refuse to Embrace the Label "Afrocentric"

First, A Question:
I have a question for everyone who embraces Afro-centrism- an honest question. How many of y’all would learn Wolof or Igbo? (FYI I learned some Xhosa for my Senior Thesis) To my dear Afro-centrists: How many of you are willing to go beyond talking and start doing? Make Africa great. Do it. Africa is not some abstract concept to be mythologized and theorized. It is a continent w/ 53 countries, 2000+ languages (countless dialects and creoles), great histories.

Afrocentrism is ethnocentrism.

Afrocentrism is ethnocentrism. In principle, it does not differ from eurocentrism. Chauvinism predicated on the notion of particularity. It seals off the variegated cultures of the African diaspora and fails to understand the connectedness and hybridity of humanity. If you expect everyone to know the names of every Black scholar and warrior who ever lived, why don’t you make the effort to know the names of Asian/Hispanic/Middle Eastern/Pacific Islander/Indigenous American warriors and thinkers? Yes, there are Africans on every continent except Antarctica- and at one time, where was one there. I strongly reject ethnocentrism, as it lends itself to myopic thinking and belly-button gazing. (Yeah, I said it) To be frank, most of the “afrocentric” folk I have met were African-Americans completely divorced from Africa as it is. Some think that a dashiki is a West African fashion (not) and think that Egyptians had afros (afros are South African in origin)

Afrocentrism: “a mythology that is racist, reactionary, essentially therapeutic and is eurocentrism in black face.”

That’s a quote from UC Davis African-American studies professor Clarence E. Walker. I’m inclined to agree w/ it except for the “racist” part. I tend to accept the definition of racism as power + prejudice. Persons of color on the receiving end of oppression are capable of internalizing racism and projecting those biases or prejudices on other members of their group. I would edit that to say that afrocentrism is prejudiced.

I encourage a global, internationalist way of looking at world history.
The world does not revolve around Africa, Europe, Asia or N. America. How can you claim to have a full-bodied knowledge if you can’t even name a single Asian/Hispanic/Middle Eastern scholar? Yes, Africa has a rich history of empires and trade that precedes European and Arabic conquest, enslavement and colonialism. Yes, Africa is the next frontier of neoliberalism and globalization; As African nations’ national interests are privatized and restructured we will see greater Asian, Eurasian and South American investment on thte continent of Africa. In fact, India just signed a deal with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to extend a $42 million credit line for building a hydroelectric plant. China and Rio Tinto just closed a mining deal in Guinea (West Africa) last week. Last week’s Forum for Africa’s Young Leaders at the White House is further evidence of the increasing importance of Africa. No, Africa is not the land of myth that some people talk about. Africa as a site of diasporic Blacks’ imaginings has never sat well w/ me. Many Afro-centric thinkers borrowed Western forms- patriarchy, chauvinism, Western notions of nationalism and imposed them on Africa.

How can borrowed forms be emancipatory?
I ask this honestly. At some point, the chauvinism and ethnocentrism translates into a belief that being Black is superior to being anything else. Really? My thinking is that we are all humans. No one is better or worse. Why foster division in the guise of “empowerment?” If your “empowerment” is predicated on the denigration of “others” it is not empowerment at all. Consider that afrocentrism can be “eurocentrism in blackface.” Just think on it. If you’re offended, there’s some truth to it. Audre Lorde said: “The Master’s Tools Can Never Dismantle the Master’s House.”

Afrocentrism just borrows the massa’s tools and builds the same house, instead of painting it white, it paints it black.

By no means am I a self-hating Black woman when I say these things. I am a student of history who recognizes the vastness of humanity. I don’t need my beauty to be affirmed particularly. Everytime I look in the mirror, my beauty is affirmed. I don’t need my “blackness” to be affirmed by those who share my skin color. Blackness is a constructed identity contingent on experience. Race is also a construct. These “afrocentrists” who embrace the contrived construct of “race” and emphasize difference change nothing.

I will ask again: “Can borrowed forms of thought be emancipatory?” My answer is NO.
So when some afrocentrists swap out the “euro” for the “afro” they change nothing. There is no innovation or creativity. I explore the question of whether borrowed forms of thought can be emancipatory in a post entitled The Problematic and Thematic of Nationalism in the Post-Colonial Context: Possibilities, Limitations and Emancipation.

Furthermore, nationality is understood as an imported European idea. Elie Kedourie points to the great dilemma of Eastern (non-European) nationalism, the paradox of appropriating alien ideas to facilitate a rejection of that same “alien intruder and dominator.” Kedourie termed it as confining oneself within the paradigms of “European intellectual fashions,” while simultaneous attempting to move beyond the dominant discourse of colonialism, which is, in this case, a European one. The appropriation of nationalism is to “accept the claim to universality of this ‘modern’ framework of knowledge. It thus simultaneously rejects and accepts the dominance, both epistemic and moral, of an alien culture.” It is important to acknowledge that both the discourse of colonialism and post-colonialism occupied the same epistemic space. The existence of one did not preclude the existence of the other- they were not mutually exclusive. However, this space they share is the same space where discursive elements attempt to maintain or change the “relations of power within the society under colonial domination.”
See also: The Dilemma of Nationalism: Another Excerpt from My Thesis

What’s Your Point, Arri?

You may ask “What sparked this?” These ideas and thoughts germinated over the last four years. As a Black student at the University of California, Berkeley, where Black students were 1.3% of the student population, I had a modicum of interest in joining Black student organizations like the Divine 9 fraternities and sororities, the Black Recruitment and Retention Center and the National Congress of Negro Women, but none of these organizations offered the diversity and opportunity I was looking for. Having grown up in a multi-kulti area, being socialized in social circles where 5-6 languages were spoken, I am not familiar w/ the monolingual, monocultural understandings of Blackness that I encounter from American-born Blacks. In fact, when I chose to study French and German, I was ridiculed by my black peers- who gave nary a thought to Afro-Germans or North Africans, or even African-descended French and Belgian citizens. If you’re going to make the point that French and German are the languages of the “oppressor” and the “colonizer” you have to understand that the language you are speaking now- English- is also the language of the oppressor. Who do you think colonized Nigeria? Yes, the British.

The final straw was yesterday when I was accosted by someone on Twitter who identifies strongly as an afrocentrist. She accused me of hating Black men because of my past choices to date interracially. Certainly my rejection of the singular and essentialist concept of “Black Love” does not mean that I hate “Black Love.” Also, my choice to join a majority-White sorority was used to question my “blackness.” Then she went on to accuse me of loving the colonialist powers because of my affinity for Indo-European and Romantic languages. Of course, she didn’t put it that elegantly. Resorting to ad hominem, she called me a “simpleton” ”coconut” and a “Sister SoldjaOut.” Lumping me w/ Bryant Gumbel and Carlton (from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) she accused me of “trying to make other Black people assimilate.”

Now, if you’ve read this blog at all, I do not advocate assimilation. I advocate acculturation, mastery of languages, ability to code-switch depending on social situations and settings. Assimilation isn’t as simple as adjusting your language to your settings. Assimilation is adherence to essentialist ideas of what is “acceptable.” Paradoxically, this is exactly what Ms. Afrocentric does. She polices my “blackness” and expects me to relate to her because we share a skin color. I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way. Identity is much more complex than one’s racialised phenotype or ascribed race.


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