Afrocentricity: The Theory of Social Change, the first edition of which was published in 1980, was Molefi Kete Asante's initial thrust toward a critical theoretical framework that advocates analysis of African history and culture and, more generally, world history and culture from an African perspective. Such an Afrocentric critique situates the analysis of phenomena in the cultural agency of African people. The Afrocentrist asserts that knowledge of classical and contemporary, continental and diasporic African history and culture is inextricable from and indispensable to any analysis or proper interpretation of Africa and Africans.
Though the theory of Afrocentricity has antecedents and borrows from several social and political theories, it was not until the publication of Afrocentricity that the theory received its first sophisticated and systematic treatment. This book became the signature work in the field. It signaled a new adventure in intellectual activity and lifted the work of scholars in African American Studies (also called Black Studies) to a more theoretical plane and provided a basis for an Afrocentric critique of Western culture. A second, revised and expanded edition of Afrocentricty: The Theory of Social Change was published in 2003 by African American Images of Chicago. Asante has observed that although Afrocentrists often harbor varying intellectual agendas and interests, which reflect their training in diverse academic disciplines and their radically different political persuasions, what makes them Afrocentrists is their conscious utilization of a historically and culturally grounded African approach to and analysis of knowledge and experience.
The book Afrocentricity builds on the thought and practice of many activist-intellectuals and highlights key areas for developing Afrocentric critique. Thus the central tasks of a serious discussion of Afrocentricity, as both a critical theory of contemporary society and a cultural consciousness-raising movement, are (1) explaining its core characteristics, concepts, and basic categories of analysis; (2) bringing to the fore the major moments and the often shrouded meaning of its discourse and debates; and (3) seriously and soberly delineating the criticisms of Afrocentricity.
Afrocentricity sought to provide a coherent conceptual framework. This framework in Asante's view takes culture to be simultaneously crucial and critical with regard to efforts aimed at the mental and physical emancipation of Africans in particular and humanity in general. Asante argues in Afrocentricity that culture is precisely what enables one to locate a theorist and his or her text, deciphering whether the language, attitude, and direction, among other aspects of the text, are anti-African and therefore anti-human. Upon locating an anti-African text, the Afrocentrist critiques the text by radically rereading it, that is, locating it in light of African historical and cultural experience.
Afrocentricity considers the historical fact that the European imperial impulse has led to Native American holocaust and almost absolute physical and cultural decimation of Native Americans; African Holocaust (maangamizi in Kiswahili), enslavement, and colonization; and the domination and colonization of various Asian peoples. Therefore, Afrocentricity argues, Africans should cease imitating Europe and its mores and offer ethical and egalitarian alternatives to the established imperial order by asking Africa questions and seeking from African history and culture answers to the major issues of the modern epoch.
This line of thinking, that Africa and African peoples have a powerful message for humanity, and that all methods of fighting white supremacy must be embraced at the dawn of the 21st century, resonates deeply with many of the most radical theorists and activists of the Afrocentric movement. Some of the central figures in this intellectual movement are Molefi Kete Asante, Maulana Karenga, Ama Mazama, Marimba Ani, Tony Martin, Leonard Jeffries, Linda James Myers, Theophile Obenga, Oba T'Shaka, Wade Nobles, Chinweizu, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Danjuma Modupe, Runoko Rashidi, Clenora Hudson-Weems, Bobby Wright, Amos Wilson, Na'im Akbar, and Kobi Kambon. This type of thought also put a premium on the Afrocentric pantheon of intellectual ancestors, usually intellectual activists who consciously asserted African agency and self-determination in their specific time and circumstance. A short list of ancestors would surely have to include W. E. B. Du Bois, Cheikh Anta Diop, Frantz Fanon, Anna Julia Cooper, Edward Wilmot Blyden, Martin Delany, Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell, Marcus and Amy Jacques Garvey, Carter G. Woodson, Mary McLeod Bethune, Léopold Sédar Senghor, Aimé Cesaire, Ella Baker, Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer, Kwame Ture, and Walter Rodney.
Afrocentricity demonstrates that after 500 years of the progressive Europeanization of human consciousness, it is not only European imperial thought and texts that stand in need of Afrocentric analysis but also African history itself. African peoples have been systematically taught to view and value the world, and to think and behave, from a European imperial frame of reference. This means that many contemporary Africans have internalized not just imperial but also anti-African thought and practices. It is in this sense that Asante positions his work, Afrocentricity, as both a critique and a corrective.
Afrocentricity as Critique and Corrective
Afrocentricity allows dislocated Africans, that is, Africans moved off of their cultural territory and who have an imperial relationship with African cultural theory and traditions, to relocate, return to, and reclaim their long denied humanity, history, and heritage. As critique, Afrocentricity locates the anti-African and other antihuman elements of a particular thought and practice—whether rendered under the guise of religion, science, art, or even long-held tradition—and by reading these elements against the backdrop of African historical and cultural experience, offers an ethical and egalitarian alternative to the imperial impulse. Further, as a corrective, Afrocentricity radically relocates and recenters, providing both its adherents and the subjects (as opposed to objects) in question with mutual ground upon which to engage and exchange with one another. In this book, Asante poses a major challenge to the crude classical Western scientific dichotomies.
Although Asante has sometimes been criticized as essentialist, there is nothing in Afrocentricity that argues biology alone. Afrocentricity has nothing whatsoever to do with general discussions, by persons of African descent or others, of Africa and African peoples' history, culture, societies, religions, political organizations, and so forth. And, further, it should not be confused with melanin theory, which is biologically determined and extremely reactionary and, therefore, harmful to both Africans and humanity as a whole.
Afrocentricity revolves on an axis of African agency and asks questions concerning historical and cultural accuracy and interpretation based on its four basic categories of analysis: cosmology, epistemology, axiology, and aesthetics. Asante is therefore against not European thought and culture but European imperial thought and culture. In addition, it is a monstrous misinterpretation to claim that Afrocentricity is Eurocentricism in blackface or reverse racism, because Afrocentricity is not a biologically determined ideology but a radical sociotheoretical framework, as evidenced by its epistemic openness and inherently humanist posture, a posture Asante has illustrated in many articles and essays.
Afrocentricity continues to be widely read and understood by the masses of African people, and it demonstrates how an idea can become theory, political practice, and social movement. This is true because the book is part and parcel of a larger and long-standing effort by people of African descent and others to liberate themselves, both physically and mentally, and bring into existence new human beings and a new world.
- African people
- African culture
- Asante, Molefi Kete. (1990). Kemet, Afrocentricity, and Knowledge. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press. This is Asante's discourse on method and language in Afrocentricity.
- Asante, Molefi Kete. (1998). The Afrocentric Idea. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. This is the main theoretical work on Afrocentricity.
- Asante, Molefi Kete. (2003). Afrocentricity. Chicago: African American Images. This is a later edition of the 1980 book that established the discourse on Afrocentricity and provided the language for the discussion.
- Dove, Nah. (1998). Afrikan Mothers: Bearers of Culture, Makers of Social Change. Albany: State University of New York Press. This book is an Afrocentric exploration of mothers in the African context.
- Gray, Cecil C. (2001). Afrocentric Thought and Praxis: An Intellectual History. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press. Gray's work, based on that of his teacher, Molefi Asante, is a useful restatement of some of the key principles of the theory, although it includes clear variances with the original conception.
- Henderson, Errol A. (1995). Afrocentrism and World Politics: Towards a New Paradigm. Westport, CT: Praeger. This is one of the best examples of the extensions of the cultural arguments used in Afrocentricity to establish a geopolitical perspective based on African ideas.
- Hudson-Weems, Clenora. (1995). Africana Womanism: Reclaiming Ourselves. Boston: Bedford. This is the first work on Africana womanism by the leading proponent of the concept.
- Karenga, Maulana. (1995). Afrocentricity and Multicultural Education: Concept, Challenge, and Contribution. In Benjamin P. Bowser, TerryJones, and GaleAuletta Young (Eds.), Toward the Multicultural University. Westport, CT: Praeger. This is the key essay on the relationship between Afrocentricity and multiculturalism.
- Mazama, Ama (Ed.). (2003). The Afrocentric Paradigm. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press. This is a classic collection of original and published articles by the most creative researchers and theorists in Afrocentricity.
- Van Dyk, Sandra. (1998). Molefi Kete Asante's Theory of Afrocentricity: The Development of a Theory of Cultural Location. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Temple University, Philadelphia. This is first dissertation to take on the idea of Afrocentricity as a theory of cultural location.