Afrocentrism

Dr. Molefi Asante

Dr. Molefi Asante

“You’re Afrocentric,” people often say to me, referring to my hair or the way I often dress. This is because I’ve worn my hair in its natural state for the past 17 years and don African clothes. Hair and clothes are just outward expressions, though, and don’t necessarily reflect a person’s worldview. Afrocentrism or Afrocentricity is much more than hair and clothes. This theory explores African identity from the perspective of African people throughout the world. Afrocentrism, developed by scholar Molefi Kete Asante, Ph.D. (though many more before him advanced the concept), more than two decades ago, also seeks to look at the world by emphasizing the contributions of people of African descent. If you practice Afrocentrism you are an Afrocentrist and your view is Afrocentric.

This concept has gone from the classroom and into everyday life, as seen in the comments toward me. As this concept has spread many have rejected it because of the view that Afrocentrists seek to displace other views in favor of Afrocentrism. Dr. Asante says that his goal is to have Afrocentrism as one view among many. The goal of Afrocentrism is not to displace but to come along side other worldviews to offer an alternative view, one through the eyes of people who have often been marginalized and made to embrace other cultures (i.e., European) without regard to their own (http://tinyurl.com/conpew). This theory, like feminism and just about any other worldview, has extremists. The extreme Afrocentrist may believe in black supremacy and seek to replace all other worldviews.

So some women who call themselves strong black women consider themselves Afrocentric. And though I’m recovering from my strong black woman status, I consider myself, for the most part, an Afrocentrist. Beyond my clothes and hair, my personal goal is for people to see, hear and understand all of me, not just the Christian me, but the black me and the woman me. I have to be on guard so that Afrocentrism doesn’t become extreme in me and I forget that Christ has called me to be a minister of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). In a non-biblical way, people can reconcile by seeing each other and not trying to be the other. But higher than that is the way of Christ, where true reconciliation is with God the Father through a relationship with Jesus Christ. As I seek to have people understand me, the first way I need to promote is the way of Christ.

Copyright 2009 by Rhonda J. Smith

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15 responses to “Afrocentrism

  1. inclusiveman

    Rhonda, I appreciate what you said very much. I think it is important to define what you mean by ‘Afrocentric’ as you did. I tend to dislike those who identify as Afrocentrists because most of those I encountered had tremendous animosity toward white people. It is only natural that would turn me off. But I am glad you framed this topic with some Christian perspective, because, as you recognize, taking Afrocentrism, Eurocentrism or any other philosophy to an extreme, where it becomes exclusionary or hateful, that would be very un-Christian. I appreciate your comments.

  2. musingsofastrongblackwoman

    Thanks for coming to the site and posting your comments. I always appreciate when I receive feedback from readers of all backgrounds. Your comments are encouraging.

  3. inclusiveman

    I think natural hairstyles among African American women kind of blends in with little notice. But what kind of reaction do you get wearing African dress? When you speak about your worldview and “African identity from the perspective of African people throughout the world,” what do you mean by that?

  4. musingsofastrongblackwoman

    Usually when I wear African dress people say, “Oh, you’re Afrocentric” or “You really like that kind of clothing.” Seemingly harmless comments that hint at wanting to ask me more. I usually ask “What do you mean?” when they say the former. They most times respond something like, “because of your clothes.” To the latter question I just say yes.

    When I speak of my worldview and African identity from the perspective of African people throughout the world I am speaking of me and people of African descent telling our stories from our experiences as opposed to an outsider (a person of non-African descent) telling our stories based upon their perception.

  5. inclusiveman

    Thanks. I was wondering if by worldview you meant an innate way of thinking. Some Afrocentrists claim that people of African descent inherently think differently from other groups. I don’t believe that. I think the differences are basically limited to physical appearance.

  6. musingsofastrongblackwoman

    Yes, I think it’s arguable to say a group of people inherently think differently. I say arguably because I know of people of African descent born in Africa (like Nigeria) and those born in America who have similar traits in behavior. Is this caused by an African gene? I’m no geneticist or haven’t read a study to support this, but it does make me wonder if there is something inherent that causes the similarities.

  7. Can you give examples of similar behavior? Have you ever visited an African country?

  8. musingsofastrongblackwoman

    Two I can give you are the expressive way many of us talk and our sense of time, commonly known as CP time. No, I haven’t visited an African country.

  9. Inclusiveman

    What is CP time?

  10. musingsofastrongblackwoman

    I knew you would ask that and I wasn’t ready to go there, but you deserve to know. It stands for Colored People time. This is an old (as you can probably tell by the reference to colored people–black folks haven’t been called this in years) inside the African American community reference for those of us who run late to events.

  11. So after all this time, I now know my clock has been set to CP time, LOL. As everyone who knows me would say, I am a chronic procrastinator and usually late. I hate to admit that, but it is true. However, I am reliable, but reliably late, unfortunately.

  12. Rhonda, I am a white adoptive parent. My children are from Haiti. I have struggled with knowing how to best parent them in a culturally sensitive way. They are Haitian. Their mother’s photo hangs on their bedroom walls. We have Haitian art in our home. We celebrated Haiti’s independence on January 1. We still have a few Haitian phrases that we use. But, the truth is that I changed their culture the moment I brought them into the US and that change was sealed when they learned English. Our words and the way we define them “infect” the speaker with the value of the culture. My children are young; as adults they will likely have no real memory of Haiti.

    Anyway, it seemed unwise to uplift the Haitian culture in a way that might set them at odds with American-born Blacks who they are likely to come into contact with. I had hoped that Afrocentrism might offer a worldview that would honor all of the communities that their life story touches. So, I appreciate your thoughts and your Christian worldview. That is the one thing that I struggle with. I am an outsider; I read for information and what I have read seems to tie African spirituality to what you have described as to, “look at the world by emphasizing the contributions of people of African descent”

    I will be following your blog.

  13. Inclusiveman

    Acceptance-with-Joy, I know you didn’t ask for my opinion, but I feel compelled to comment. It is up to you whether or not to accept or reject it, but please consider it.

    I don’t think you should raise these children in a different way than you would if they were white. I am disturbed that you would feel guilt in doing so. Why would you characterize instilling your values as “infecting” them? If your values are good, then it is not an infection.

    You can tell them about their origins, of course, but why not fully integrate them into your family? I would tell you the exact same thing if you were an African American woman with adopted white children.

  14. Inclusiveman,

    I feel compelled to raise my children in a culturally sensitive way because adult transracial and transcultural adoptees consistently and with one mind communicate that race and culture are important. Parent who successfully shepherd a transracial/transcultural family pay attention to race and culture.

    Besides, the opposite of keeping my children connected to their culture is exile from birth family and culture with forced relocation to a foreign land — a history all too common among people of the African diaspora. My kids could lose more than they have gained by joining my family.

  15. Inclusiveman

    AWJ, I am not a child psychologist or any such expert on the subject, but I personally know a family who had a trans-cultural son. I speak in the past tense because, sadly, he died more than a decade ago, at the age of 25. He had a number of medical problems, such as hemophilia.

    I was friends with him, but I knew the whole family. He was born to an African American biological mother and, going through the foster care system, he became the youngest child (out of nine) in a white family. I knew him since he was about four years old.

    I never talked to him about the biological mother and I didn’t feel it was necessary. He knew his origins, but in all those years I knew him, he never brought it up. His white family loved him and treated him as if he was no different from their other children. There was never any such talk about ‘African spirituality’ or anything of the sort. He was special in his own way. His family and friends loved him and that was all that mattered.

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