The concept of dislocation was first advanced by Molefi Asante as a critical conceptual component of the Afrocentric Theory in the 1980s, and it was further developed in the 1990s. According to the Afrocentric Theory, each ethnic group occupies a particular space, based on its history, culture, and biology. That space represents the group's center or location. However, it is possible for a given group to develop a sense of location that is not congruent with its history, culture, and biology. This often happens when the group identifies, consciously or not, with another group, which it perceives as dominant, and loses sight of itself, thus causing dislocation to occur. The identification with another group may occur at two related levels: It may involve the adoption of the dominant group's attitudes and/or the partial or total adoption of the dominant group's culture.
The Impact of Dislocation
Dislocation has become a concern for many Black Studies scholars, as it is undeniable that African people have experienced severe dislocation for the past 500 years under white supremacy. African dislocation can be apprehended in a great variety of areas. It is easily observable, for example, in the adoption of European aesthetics, with Africans attempting to modify their original physical appearance in order to conform to the European model. Michael Jackson's tragic example immediately comes to mind. However, although the singer may represent the most extreme example of such an attempt at physical distortion, he is in no way alone. Countless African people, all over the world, continue to rely on surgery and dangerous chemicals in order to alter the texture of their hair and the color of their skin.
In addition, dislocation is responsible for the adoption of the individualistic and materialistic ethos that is characteristic of the dominant European culture. Dislocation is also quite evident in the adoption of European theories and other intellectual constructs by African scholars and writers. Many African intellectuals, for example, continue to refer to Africa as “underdeveloped” and to African languages as “dialects,” while others adamantly argue that there are no philosophers in Africa. Such a discourse obviously reflects an uncritical and probably unconscious adoption by Africans of the European discourse on Africa. In other cases, some black fiction writers go so far as to make their black characters blush, thus holding whiteness as the implicit norm that informs their writing.
The result of dislocation has been massive confusion, disorientation, and self-destruction. Indeed, dislocated Africans tend to dissociate themselves from their own history, culture, and biology and may thus engage in actions that run contrary to the best interest of the African people. Such individuals are often negatively referred to by self-conscious Africans as “negroes.” It is important to realize that, given the racism that has been endemic to most of European thought, African dislocation has meant not simply total or partial acculturation but also, quite often, self-hatred. Thus, dissociation from the African community has often been seen as necessary by many dislocated Africans, not simply for the purpose of social and economic advancement but also to advance and prove their humanity to Europeans.
The Dislocation Concept as an Analytical Tool
Such dislocated Africans were referred to by Ama Mazama, in public and academic settings in the late 1990s, as malevolent negroes. There are two types of malevolent negroes: malevolent negroes with a European aesthetic and malevolent negroes with an African aesthetic. The former, generally speaking, are individuals who have fully and openly committed themselves to the defense of white supremacy, at the expense of African people, if necessary. Clarence Thomas, an African American who was appointed to the Supreme Court by George H. Bush, Sr., and who supported the dismantling of affirmative action, may be the best example of a malevolent negro with a European aesthetic. Malevolent negroes with an African aesthetic, on the other hand, are a rather recent phenomenon and are all the more dangerous in that they present themselves as “Africans.” They will not publicly and openly support white supremacy. However, behind the scenes, they will be observed consistently and systematically betraying and undermining African agency. Obviously, the actions of malevolent negroes have been a most serious problem for African people for hundreds of years and have repeatedly caused attempts by Africans to free themselves to abort. Such malevolent negroes are often generously rewarded and hailed by Europeans.
In addition to the malevolent negroes, however, there exists another category: the benevolent negroes. These are Africans with good intentions toward their own community. However, because of their dislocation, they analyze the African experience through a European lens and embark on projects that are fundamentally Eurocentric and not necessarily in the best interest of African people. Many Africans from the diaspora, for example, look at Africa as a place that needs to be “civilized” and “developed,” and as a result, they create programs to do just that, while failing to realize that what they are really advocating for Africa is Westernization. In the same vein, some “black” schools, in order to get black students “ready to compete,” may simply further the cultural and intellectual dislocation of African children.
The remedy for dislocation suggested by the Afrocentric Theory is relocation. While many debate what it means to be African (i.e., what relocation would entail), there is a general consensus that Africans must accept and embrace their own culture, history, and physical appearance in order to move from a state of chaos to one where harmony and peace may prevail.
- African people
- African aesthetic
- white supremacy
- Asante, Molefi Kete. (1990). Kemet, Afrocentricity and Knowledge. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press. This book lays the theoretical foundations for the concept of dislocation.
- Asante, Molefi Kete. (1998). The Afrocentric Idea. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. In this original work, the author seeks to explain the validity of being centered in one's historical and cultural place.
- Asante, Molefi Kete. (2003). Afrocentricity. Chicago: African American Images. This is the classic book referred to as the first introduction to the concept of Afrocentricity. In this work, Asante demonstrates the numerous ways Africans have been decentered conceptually, politically, economically, and definitionally and provides an alternative, African-centered perspective.
- Mazama, Ama. (Ed.). (2003). The Afrocentric Paradigm. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press. This book contains additional discussions and examples of the concept of dislocation within the context of Afrocentricity.