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AFROCENTRISM: BETWEEN CROSSCULTURAL GRAND NARRATIVE AND CULTURAL RELATIVISM History in Black: African-Americans in Search of an Ancient Past. By YAACOV SHAVIT. London: Frank Cass, 2001. Pp. xxii+422. £45 (ISBN 0-7146-5062-5); £19.50, paperback (ISBN 0-7146-8126-0). Afrocentrismes: l'histoire des Africains entre Egypte et Amérique. Edited by FRANÇOIS-XAVIER FAUVELLE-AYMAR, JEAN-PIERRE CHRÉTIEN and CLAUDE-HÉLÈNE PERROT. Paris: Karthala, 2000. Pp. 402. No price given (ISBN 2-84586-008-0). The Painful Demise of Eurocentrism: An Afrocentric Response to Critics. By MOLEFI KETE ASANTE. Trenton NJ and Asmara, Eritrea: Africa World Press, 1999. Pp. xvii+128. No price given (ISBN 0-86543-742-4); £13.99, paperback (ISBN 0-86543-743-2). We Can't Go Home Again: An Argument about Afrocentrism. By CLARENCE E. WALKER. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Pp. xxxv+172. £18.99; $25 (ISBN 0-19-509571-5).


A balanced approach to the subject of these books may be constructed from some of the points made by the African American historian W. J. Moses, in his erudite and insightful study of folk historiography. First, though there have been attempts to provide single definitions of it, ‘Afrocentrism’ is not a monolithic doctrine, but a label covering a range of opinions and themes (not all of which are discussed by the four works listed above). In the United States (and now elsewhere, too), the label extends over aspects of popular culture as well as stances taken by individual academics and by some university departments. And desktop publishing and the internet have created new opportunities for the diffusion and ramification of Afrocentric ideas. Second, it is no wonder that the sheer irrationality of white racism generated, in return, writings that can be ‘sometimes quaint, sometimes fantastic’. Third, arguments for the blackness of the Ancient Egyptians were lent topicality by prejudiced assumptions that, by definition, black Africans could not be creators of ‘civilization’ either in the past or in the present day. In the United States, moreover, such arguments were taken up ‘at a time when “one drop of Negro blood” was enough to make even the whitest person a Negro’. None the less racial classifications of, say, nineteenth-century America cannot be transferred to ‘Neolithic Egyptians or Ethiopians’. Fourth, the body of ideas now labelled ‘Afrocentric’ has a long and complex genealogy, in which white (often Jewish, like Franz Boas and Melville J. Herskovits) and black (and ‘mulatto’) scholars have all participated. Finally, that body of ideas famously includes traditions that reconcile assimilation to Western culture with separation from it in seemingly paradoxical ways.

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The Journal of African History
  • ISSN: 0021-8537
  • EISSN: 1469-5138
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-african-history
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