Afrocentric Criticism

Afrocentric criticism is an evaluative field that uses the position of African agency to determine the location of a text or situation. For the Afrocentrist, criticism—whether of a literary, cultural, ceremonial, presentational, or personal narrative—relates wholly to the question of the centrality of the African person in the context of the narrative. If the African person is not centered, the Afrocentric critic applies all the elements of Afrocentric criticism to the narrative.
There are two dimensions to consider in determining centrality in a text: (1) the writing, that is, what is written about, and (2) the writer, who is doing the writing. It is only in capturing both the writing and the writer that Afrocentric criticism can discover the total centrality of a text. Thus this is different from a postmodern reading, for example, where only what is written matters. Since the goals of Afrocentric criticism are different from the goals of postmodern and other types of criticism, the acts of criticism are also different. The Afrocentric critic's objective is to obtain a holistic reading by precisely locating a text that emanated from a person who is writing in the context of oppression, colonialism, racism, persecution, and denial of freedom.
For the Afrocentric critic, all legitimate criticism must engage the writing and the writer, the signature and the signer. Determining what the signer intended is often impossible, but by examining both the signature and the signer, the critic is able to come closer to this intention than by simply concentrating on the text. Various writers have used the text as a cover for personal grudges, prejudices, lies, and political chicanery. How is the critic to have some ability to make a judgment about the nature of literature if not by juxtaposing the signature and the signer with each other? While it is possible to make some suggestion about the meaning of a text without knowing anything about the writer, clearly the task is much easier if the critic knows both the signature and something about the signer. Using the principal components of the Afrocentric idea, particularly the notions of agency and centeredness, the Afrocentric critic is able to ascertain the role of a text within the political or social environment of its creation.



Further Reading

  • Blackshire-Belay, Aisha C. (Ed.). (1992). Language and Literature in the Black Experience. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. The articles in this book are useful for understanding the way critical theory is developed within the framework of language and culture.
  • Mazama, Ama (Ed.). (2003). The Afrocentric Paradigm. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press. This book provides the most comprehensive collection of methodological and critical essays in Afrocentricity.