In this new edition of his book. The Afrocentric Idea, Dr. Molefi
Kete Asante seeks to achieve three basic intellectual aims: first, to
provide an expansive portrait of the Afrocentric idea; second, to
address a new group of critics who have emerged in response to the
expansive thrust of the movement he initiated; and third, to pose some
concepts and categories for fruitful development of the discourse
within the discipline of Black studies.
Although Asante’s central field within the discipline is
communications with a specialization in rhetoric, his expansive concept
of Black studies has him operating in areas of competence far beyond
his particular field. In fact, one of the first things one discovers
when reading this work is the vast range of literatures from which he
draws to present his ideas and develop his arguments.
At the very outset, Asante reaches across disciplines to equip
himself with a solid armature of evidence in his ongoing battle against
deconstructionists, racists, integrationists, Marxists, liberals,
cultural chauvinists, and a host of other Eurocentric claimants to
single truths, universality, objectivity, and other problematic
pretensions. His method is to outline and identify critical weaknesses
in cherished Eurocentric conceptions, dismiss them, and then introduce
alternative pathways to pursue in the ongoing engagement with the
products and processes of the Afrocentric project.
Asante’s Afrocentric Idea clearly suggests that Africana studies —
or Africology, as he and Winston Van Horne choose to call it — is a
discipline of almost unlimited fields. And as such, it is one requiring
almost unlimited competencies.
Surely Black studies, as a multi-field discipline, necessitates
something more than routine competence in its intellectual production
and pedagogical dimensions. But in suggesting such a wide breadth of
intellectual engagement, one must be careful not to compromise depth in
presentation as well as in knowledge. Part of the impetus for Asante’s
sweeping engagement with so many literatures within — and especially
without — the field is his sense that he must or should — demonstrate
his competence in various European discourses or risk the charge of
unfamiliarity with the “essential discourses” — a sense that many
Black studies scholars share.
But what happens, if one is not careful, is that one becomes a part
of what Asante calls “the self-perpetuating ritual” of European
reference. Moreover, if done too extensively, it leaves less — even
inadequate — time to deal in depth with the essential pillars and
paradigms of one’s own culture and discipline.
Asante defines Afrocentricity as “literally placing African ideals
at the center of any analysis that involves African culture and
behavior.” Necessary to the idea of centering is attention to location
and stance. As in his other works (Afrocentricity and Kemet,
Afrocentricity, and Knowledge), he is rightly concerned with our
critical self-understanding in the context of our own culture and the
The author takes us through a rather packed and varied voyage
within his field of rhetoric–identifying and explicating African
American orature and context, the problematic of metatheory, mythoforms
in African American communication, resistance rhetoric in the Holocaust
of Enslavement and in the sixties, and the concept of Africa as a focal
point of remembrance, reference, and research.
Asante suggests three fundamental themes for a transcendent
Afrocentric discourse: relationships humans have with each other,
relationships between humans and the supernatural, and relationships
humans have with themselves. However, this discussion is not as
extensive as other parts of the book. There is not the vast array of
African literatures in which to frame his discussion, or pursue either
the basis for such choice or its varied expressions.
Furthermore, his discussion of the problematic of paradigm is
overly brief and does not deal adequately with either James Stewart’s
or this reviewer’s conception of the problematic.
One of the greatest challenges for Afrocentricity is to prove
itself as a distinct and useful method of doing research. The
Afrocentric idea must not simply define itself as a method, but must
enumerate the steps which define this method and prove its intellectual
utility. This is apparently Asante’s interest in what he calls
codification, “a regularized and orderly management of procedures for
inquiry, analysis, and synthesis.”
Asante’s works are clearly in the vanguard of this intellectual and
cultural thrust toward African centering. Thus, in spite of any
collegial disagreements with Asante, one cannot honestly deny that both
his work and our dialogue with him has expanded the intellectual
horizon and enriched the discourse of the discipline of Black studies.
Dr. Maulana Karenga is the chair of the Department of Black Studies at California State University-Long Beach
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