The term "Afrocentricity" was popularized by Molefi Kete Asante, professor and chairman of the department of African-American studies at Temple University. He is the author of two major books on the subject, "Afrocentricity" and "The Afrocentric Idea." In "Afrocentricity," Page 2, the author gives a brief definition of the term: "There is first suggested the existence of an African cultural system; then the juxtaposition of African and American ways; and finally the values derived from the African-American experience."
Some scholars -- notably Dr. Yosef ben-Jochannan, a leading black historian -- prefer the term "Africentricity," which they believe better emphasizes the importance of Africa as the center of black awareness.
Many whites strongly attack Afrocentric thinking. They see it as undermining Western values and destroying the curricula of Western schools. Many have gone so far as to label such thinking "barbaric" or "primitive."
Much of the white reactionary hostility toward efforts to combat a purely Eurocentric world view has arisen because many proponents of Afrocentricity have been as biased and dogmatic as have their Eurocentric counterparts.
Asante, for instance, believes in the deification of African culture and history.
He implies that blacks should be critically vigilant only when examining the history and culture of other peoples.
Not only is this view wrong, it is dangerous.
If we are to deem all traditional African religions and religious concepts sacred and beyond critical examination, we must inevitably accept the negative consequences of having embraced such a simplistic view.
Let us cite a case in Ghana. In an essay, Emmanuel Kofi Mensah of Nigeria tells the story of a guinea-worm epidemic that plagued a village in Ghana. A bore was made for the village by the United Nations' World Health Organization and UNICEF to help prevent the disease, which originated in a river. It was later discovered that the villagers refused to use the bore because they believed that the river was inhabited by gods and that avoidance of it would result in death. Consequently, the epidemic continued.
Would it not have been wiser to have critically examined beliefs that were largely responsible for perpetuating the epidemic?
Should Afrocentricity be dogmatically embraced even at the risk of the health and lives of the people?
Many Afrocentric thinkers are of the opinion that the only ideas that have value to black people are those conceived and developed within the black community.
But if it is true that Western civilization is largely based upon knowledge derived from the Africans of Egypt, would it not be prudent for blacks to benefit from the positive aspects of Western culture?
Should blacks ignore or trivialize the great thoughts of Robert G. Ingersoll, Thomas Paine or Ralph Waldo Emerson simply because they were not Afrocentric thinkers?
Should blacks be critical of the fact that many white Americans were responsible for the killing of Indians, yet make a hero of Chaka the Zulu warrior, who, according to the anthropologist J.A. Rogers, killed a million Africans?
Should blacks always try to rationalize their behavior while applying different standards to other groups?
Can blacks avoid the mistakes of their ancestors by pretending that their ancestors have never made mistakes?
Some scholars maintain that blacks must demand African-centered multicultural curricula. Conversely, many whites are demanding European-centered multicultural curricula. There will have to be room for compromise. Those who have accepted the slogan "free your mind" must remember that the mind must also be freed from the confines of biased Afrocentric thought.
NORMAN R. ALLEN JR. is executive director of African-Americans for Humanism in Buffalo.