Afrocentric Visions: Studies in Culture and Communication

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Edited by: Janice D. Hamlet

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    Foreword

    Janice D. Hamlet's book, Afrocentric Visions: Studies in Culture and Communication, represents a significant advance in the history of Afrocentric theory and criticism. During the past 10 years there has been a growing interest in this evolving field of critical theory and practice in communication, culture, and the arts. Understanding this movement and capturing the elements of its expression have become factors in the new opening to human interaction called diversity by some and multiculturalism by others. Thus, this book represents another instrument in the endeavor to explain how human beings have responded to one aspect of this new opening, the Afrocentric idea.

    Afrocentricity is the theoretical notion that insists on viewing African phenomena from the standpoint of Africans as subjects rather than objects. It is therefore a rather simple idea. The insistence on seeing African phenomena from the perspective of African people is neither novel nor extraordinary. What makes this view of reality so awesome for many people is the fact that it is stated in a way that suggests Africans have been viewed in the past as tangential to Europe, as peripheral to Eurocentric views, and as spectators to others. To theorize from the vantage point of Africans as centered is to provide a new vista on social, cultural, and economic facts. Thus, it is the orientation to data, not the data themselves, that matters.

    Four areas of inquiry are developed in Afrocentric thinking: cosmological, axiological, epistemological, and aesthetic. The cosmological inquiry deals with classes, gender, sets, and general fields of experience and behavior. Axiological inquiry answers the questions of values. Epistemological inquiry concerns issues of proof and methods of knowing. The aesthetic area of inquiry asks the questions that deal with the good and the beautiful. Of course, authors who write papers dealing with Afrocentricity do not have to self-consciously write with these areas of inquiry in mind. Actually, what they write often does fall into one of these areas, even though they do not state that they are dealing with the particular issue.

    Hamlet's organization of this book into four parts is brilliant in its progression from perspective on into the future. This is a logical progression that recognizes the importance of perspective, place, stasis, and one's own location in beginning a discussion of the discourse surrounding Afrocentricity. The two middle sections isolate specific areas for critical discussions: namely, communication and aesthetics. These are central constituents of human interaction. How we communicate and how we determine the good and the beautiful are key to human relationships.

    The future of Afrocentric visions will depend upon the kind of scholars assembled in this volume by Professor Hamlet. She has chosen to highlight some of the emerging scholars in several fields, making her book cross-disciplinary. Therefore, those in literary criticism, women's studies, communication, and African American studies may find these chapters useful in their treatment of specific elements of culture. The scholars who have answered the questions of relationships, imagination, and religion are preceded by those who have paid attention to the issues of theory. Because practice follows theory in the natural world, these writers have demonstrated precisely the relationship between the Afrocentric perspective and various forms of critical commentary.

    The reader should find the chapters in this volume readily accessible and geared to the college student as well as to the mass audience. Following the idea of a collective understanding, the reader, after an individual reading of the chapters, joins by virtue of his or her knowledge and experience with the book a growing and evolving audience for the Afrocentric theory.

    Quite frankly, the evolution of the field has already seen several changes, some of them hinted at in the volume itself. For example, some writers prefer to use the term Africology to refer to the Afrocentric study of African phenomena, which is different from the old terms Black Studies and African American Studies. Beyond this, however, is the fact that the field has generated new research questions and, of course, now, new answers.

    Afrocentric Visions: Studies in Culture and Communication adds a dimension to the study of culture and communication that does not appear in the general run of books on these subjects, most of which are written from a narrow Eurocentric perspective. This volume answers questions from an entirely different frame of reference. In so doing, it does not deny the value of other perspectives but argues that for African phenomena, the best system of analysis is Afrocentric. Of course, there are many possibilities within the Afrocentric paradigm, so being Afrocentric in one's analysis does not mean conforming to one “doctrine” of Afrocentricity—there are many ways to discuss the centeredness of a text, document, or person.

    Finally, the reader of this volume should take into consideration the fact that this is not the final book on the subject. Indeed, Hamlet's final section asks the question “Where do we go from here?” The reply to this question requires numerous answers and an ongoing discourse of analysis and synthesis and of commentary and criticism. Only in this way can Afrocentric visions in culture and communication become meaningful to us.

    Molefi KeteAsanteTemple University

    Preface

    Afrocentricity, the efforts of some African American scholars to reclaim an African past and illuminate its presence in the culture and behavior of African American people, is one of the most intellectually innovative conceptual frameworks to emerge in the past decade.

    The concept means literally placing African values and ideals at the center of any discussion and analysis that involves African culture, discourse, and behavior. Therefore, to understand African American experiences one needs to understand the rich culture and history of African Americans.

    According to its major proponent, Molefi Kete Asante, the Afrocentric perspective allows Africans to claim their rightful place as subjects of historical experiences rather than objects on the fringes of European history and experiences. This implies that, rather than imposing Western constructs onto African Americans' behavior and phenomena, theorists and students grounded in Afrocentricity use the filter of African culture to understand African American behavior and phenomena. Rejected is the idea that these phenomena should be viewed and evaluated through European lenses and standards, which often result in inaccurate, misleading, and biased interpretations. African American phenomena deserve to be examined using methodologies and standards that are consistent with African culture's norms.

    It is significant to note that it is a fallacy to assume that all African Americans are Afrocentric. The word Afrocentric is not a race-defining label. There are Eurocentric African Americans just as there are Afrocentric Europeans. The Afrocentric perspective refers to a worldview and an approach to data. Therefore, the purpose of an Afrocentric framework is not only to understand African American phenomena from a cultural framework but also to revise theories, methodologies, and ways of teaching and assessment that take this perspective into account.

    Although numerous scholars have challenged Eurocentric thought, Asante offers one of the most intellectually sound and stimulating perspectives justifying a reexamination of how we should begin to evaluate African Americans and other people of color.

    In an essay titled “Socio-Historical Perspectives of Black Oratory” (1970), Asante describes unique features of African American communication, followed by a second essay titled “Marking of an African Concept of Rhetoric” (1971). In these two essays one can begin to see his seminal move toward identifying an African-centered framework for the analysis and discussion of African American culture and behavior.

    In later works, beginning with his book Afrocentricity (1980), Asante labeled this African-centered framework and elaborated on the arguments presented in his earlier works. Three later books most clearly defined this conceptual framework. In The Afrocentric Idea (1987), Asante introduces a way of thinking that replaces Eurocentrism as the universal perspective. Instead, he appeals for historical and conceptual legitimation when examining human phenomena that emerge from outside the historical and cultural experiences of Europe. As such, the study and analysis of African American culture, Asian American culture, Latino culture, Native American culture, and the cultures of other people of color aligns alongside European culture. Social equality is legitimized; ethnocentrism is eliminated. The diversity of the human experience is celebrated.

    Kemet, Afrocentricity and Knowledge (1990) details Asante's principle issues of Afrocentric inquiry and the idea of centrism. He defines centrism as “the groundedness of observation and behavior in one's own historical experiences which shape the concepts, paradigms, theories, and methods of Afrocentric inquiry” (p. 12).

    Asante's later contribution, Malcolm X as Cultural Hero and Other Afrocentric Essays (1993), explores major themes confronting African Americans, such as the lack of historical consciousness, gender, and African hunger. The essays are linked to one dominant argument: African Americans and American culture owe much to Africa. Africans owe deference to no one. Asante (1993) notes,

    On both sides of the continent, in different eras and under different conditions, African contributions and heritages have been victimized by others. We can no longer accommodate the wishes of others against ourselves. This means that language, which is a preeminent carrier of visions and myths, must reflect a new African person emerging from the twentieth century. Schools and colleges must consciously work to create the language that will coincide with the new conditions for humanhood. African leaders must not be afraid to stand upon the foundations of the past, building all the time toward the new situation, and remembering as they build that they are not alone in the world.

    When an African leader stands unapolegetically before any audience and gives thanks to the ancestral deities for his or her fortunes we will have achieved at least one victory for the Afrocentric vision. When there are numerous international highways on the continent, connecting distant cities in several nations, another victory will have been achieved. When the economic links between nations of Africa are not simply based upon the patterns inherited from colonialism but on the concrete needs of the African people we will have achieved some success. Ultimately, when the rapprochement between those Africans who were taken from the continent and those who remain on the continent are regularly consecrated in memorials and ritual gatherings, the aims of the African world toward self-choosing realities will be truly in place.

    These are Afrocentric visions which are rooted in the ground of our own center and which allow us to view ourselves not as beggars but as productive and assertive human beings making our contributions to the human community. (p. 50)

    The chapters in this volume represent Afrocentric visions, offering contributions from both senior scholars grounded in an African-centered consciousness and junior scholars who are seeking to understand and utilize this perspective. Together these scholars have illuminated the Afrocentric perspective through analyses of various aspects of African American culture yielding insights from a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and disciplines.

    The text is divided into four parts. Part I focuses on African American culture and the Afrocentric perspective and methodology. Part II and III provide applications of the Afrocentric perspective found in various disci plines and in diverse human interactions. Part IV's chapters challenge readers' thinking about the Afrocentric perspective and locating their own place in American society and the world.

    It is my hope that readers of this book will then better understand African American culture and experiences, the Afrocentric perspective, and perhaps themselves.

    Acknowledgments

    I am grateful to the people at Sage for their interest in this project. Special thanks and appreciation are extended to Molefi Kete Asante, Professor of African American Studies at Temple University and founder of the Afrocentric School of Thought, who welcomed this project with enthusiasm and encouragement and provided me with valuable suggestions and contributions. May the ancestors continue to motivate and speak through him. I give honor and respect to my parents. I also give thanks for being blessed with two wonderful sisters who has marveled at every accomplishment and shared every tribulation as if each and every one were their own. Most important, I give thanks to my creator who protects and guides me, to the guardian angels who watch over me, and to the ancestral spirits who empower me.

    References
    Asante, M. (1970, October). Socio-historical perspectives of Black oratory. Quarterly Journal of Speech.
    Asante, M. (1971, March). Marking of an African concept of rhetoric. Speech Teacher.
    Asante, M. (1980). Afrocentricity: Theory of social change. Buffalo, NY: Amulefi.
    Asante, M. (1987). The Afrocentric idea. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
    Asante, M. (1990). Kemet, Afrocentricity and knowledge. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.
    Asante, M. (1993). Malcolm X as cultural hero and other Afrocentric essays. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.
  • Epilogue

    The Afrocentric theme must be struck in every quarter. Despite the bitter antagonisms against the culture of our ancestors, varied and uneven as that culture has been, we must seek to interpret contemporary development in every section and in every field in light of our own best terms. If we fail to do so, we will enter the 21st century still a people without a strong sense of collective conscious, which is necessary to recover our dignity and our economic and political place.

    —Molefi Kete Asante Malcolm X as Cultural Hero and Other Afrocentric Essays, Í993, p. 47

    About the Contributors

    Abu Abarry is Associate Chair and Professor of African American Studies at Temple University. He has authored several books, including Effective Research Thesis and Dissertation Writing and The Monkey's Liver Pepper Soup, and coauthored two books with Molefi Kete Asante, African Development: Prospects and Pitfalls and African Sources of Intellectual Traditions. He has also contributed chapters to several books and published numerous articles in scholarly journals.

    Na'im Akbar is a clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychology at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Considered a pioneer in the development of an African-centered approach to modern psychology, he has authored five books related to the personality development of African Americans and more than 25 articles in scholarly journals.

    Joseph A. Baldwin is Professor of Psychology at Florida A&M University. He is a widely published scholar whose work has appeared in The Western Journal of Black Studies, The Journal of Black Studies, and the Negro Educational Review, and in numerous books and edited volumes.

    Yvonne R. Bell is Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Florida A&M University. Her research interests are in the areas of African American learning styles and problem-solving behaviors and the development of cultural specific/Afrocentric assessment instruments related to these issues. She is also interested in studying social perceptions among African American children and the role of cultural factors in predicting efficacious and affirmative African American behavior.

    Cecil A. Blake is Associate Professor of Speech Communication at Indiana University, Northeast. His research focuses on intercultural communication and world development, rhetorical theory, and analysis. He has coauthored numerous works, including Handbook of Intercultural Communication with Molefi Asante and Eileen Newmark, and is author of Through the Prism of African Nationalism.

    Cathy L. Bouie is Counselor of Nursing at Florida A&M University. Her research has been published in Journal of Black Studies.

    Janice D. Hamlet is Associate Professor of Speech Communication and Founding Director of Ethnic Studies at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. Research interests include African American communication, womanist ideology, rhetorical criticism, and the rhetoric of spirituality. Her scholarly work has appeared in Journal of Black Studies, Western Journal of Black Studies, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, The Speech Communication Teacher, and other edited works. She is currently studying the epistemology and methodology of womanist scholarship and practice.

    Norman Harris is Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Union Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is cofounder of Khepera Institute, an educational and research organization headquartered in Atlanta.

    M. Patricia E. Hilliard-Nunn is an independent filmmaker living in Gainesville, Florida. She also owns MAKARE Publishing Company and is Community Activity Coordinator for the Community Outreach Partnership Center at the University of Florida. Her research interests include film audience analysis, media analysis and effects, and African American representation in the media.

    Gale Jackson is Assistant Professor at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York and is pursuing doctoral work in cultural history at the Graduate Center of City University. Her work has appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including The American Voice, Kenyon Review, Ikon, Frontiers, Feminist Studies, Callalou, and Ploughshares. She has coedited an anthology titled Art Against Apartheid: Works for Freedom and a collaborative book called We Stand Our Ground.

    Terry Kershaw is Associate Professor and Director of the Institute for Advanced Afrocentric Research in the Department of African American Studies at Temple University. His writings on topics as diverse as male/female relations, race and class, education, methodology, and Afrocentric theory have been published in Western Journal of Black Studies and Journal of Black Studies, for which he also serves as its coeditor.

    Barbara J. Molette is Professor of English at Eastern Connecticut State University, and Carlton W. Molette is Professor of Dramatic Arts and Senior Fellow of the Institute for African American Studies at the University of Connecticut. As a result of their research on theater in the African diaspora, the Molettes have presented papers, conducted workshops, and published articles as well as two editions of Black Theatre: Premise and Presentation. As playwrights, they have collaborated on several productions, including Rosalee Pritchett, staged by the Negro Ensemble Company, the Free Southern Theatre, and several colleges and universities. The Molettes are members of the Dramatists Guild.

    Linda James Myers is Associate Professor of Black Studies, Psychology, and Psychiatry at Ohio State University. Her research has focused on the development of an Afrocentric paradigm of psychology functioning. She is author of Understanding an Afrocentric World View: Introduction to an Optimal Psychology and numerous articles in scholarly journals.

    Peter O. Nwosu is Associate Professor of Communication Studies at California State University, Sacramento and a nationally recognized contributor to multicultural issues, training, and development. His research interests include intercultural, international, and development communications. He is coauthor of Communication and the Transformation of Society: A Developing Region's Perspective and has had work published in Howard Journal of Communication and African Media Review: Journal of the African Council on Communication Education.

    Victor O. Okafor is Assistant Professor of African American Studies at Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti. His research and writing focus on the theoretical and methodological foundation for Black Studies (Africology), Black politics and public policy, African civilization, multiculturalism, and Afrocentrism.

    Robert L. Perry is Professor and Chair of African American Studies at Eastern Michigan University. He laid the foundation for the Department of Ethnic Studies at Bowling Green State University and was Chair of that department from 1970 to 1997. His research interests include juvenile delinquency, issues related to ethnicity and cross-cultural counseling, institutionalizing ethnic studies, and cultural diversity and the Black family.

    Jerome H. Schiele is Associate Professor and Chair of the doctoral program in the School of Social Work at Clark-Atlanta University. He has published several scholarly articles and essays centering on intelligence testing, organizational theory, higher education, and academic mobility of faculty of color.

    John W. Smith is Assistant Professor of Speech Communication at Ohio University. His research interests are in the areas of political and religious rhetoric.

    Alice A. Tait is Professor of Communication at Central Michigan University. Her research interests focus on mass communication theory.

    Donald S. Taylor is Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at California State University, Sacramento. His research interests include media uses and effects in both industrialized and nonindustrialized countries. He has published in the area of cultural research and communication and national development.


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