Legrand H. Clegg II, Editor & Publisher *
Volume I, Edition I, December 1996
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|On Sunday, November 24, 1996, "60-Minutes,"
CBS’ popular weekly newsmagazine, aired a segment on the growing controversy
surrounding Africentrism.** The program highlighted
Black elementary school students learning about their rich African heritage,
and raised questions about whether such knowledge improves their performance.
The piece certainly provided food for thought, but fell woefully short
of the in-depth analysis of Africentrism that is needed at this time.
The Western academic establishment and the mass media have never given serious attention to the history of people of African descent. As a matter of fact, for years Africa was considered the Dark Continent because of the public perception of it as a land of savagery, cannibalism and strife. Seeking to rectify this distortion of Black history and culture, African American students demanded the formation of Black studies, African American Studies and African Studies on college and university campuses across the United States.
Born during the student protest movement of the 1960's, the post-war study of Black people grew during that era, but fell into disfavor on many campuses by the latter part of the 70's. During the '80's a number of such programs lost their funding and disappeared. Although a few Black Studies programs have survived into the 90's, most have been absorbed into Ethnic Studies or Multiculturalism.
Today the operative word used to describe any study of Black history and culture is "Afrocentrism." We define this term as the focus on Africa as the continent of origin of the human race and the cradle of civilization. A related term, Afrology , captures the essence of Africentricism. Dr. Molefi K. Asante, Professor and former Chair of the Department of African-American Studies at Temple University, defines Afrology as follows: "The term Afrology, coined in Afrocentricity: The Theory of Social Change, denotes the Afrocentric study of African concepts, issues, and behaviors. It includes research on African themes in the Americas and the West Indies, as well as the African continent."
Although many authorities on the Black experience do not necessarily consider themselves to be Africentrists, the critics of this field have lumped them all together for ease of condemnation, generalization and stereotyping.
Since 1989, every major newspaper and magazine in the United States has written extensive articles severely criticizing Africentrism as pseudoscience, mythology and "feel good history." With startling unanimity these purveyors of information have unabashedly attacked Black scholars without any pretense of objectivity. As a matter of fact, in all of our research we have found only one instance in which companion articles -- one opposing Africentrism and the other supporting it -- have appeared in a major publication. (Newsweek, September 23, 1991)
Think about the bias and neglect we are citing here. The American media would never focus on the abortion controversy without presenting the pro-life and pro-choice perspectives. The presidential debates could not have been aired without the participation of both Bill Clinton and Bob Dole. Nor would any journalist think of covering the crisis in the Middle East without providing a forum for both Benjamin Netanyahu and Yassar Arafat. Yet, in spite of this, it has been perfectly acceptable for the entire American public to be fed a totally biased, one-sided attack against Africentrism for the past seven years.
Numerous Black scholars have submitted articles seeking to explain Africentrism to mainstream newspapers and magazines, but their work has been consistently rejected. Even scholarly letters, responding to published critiques of the subject, have been ignored. However, the media represent only one American institution that has suppressed Black history. The following are three other major examples.
In the Spring of 1994, the "American Teacher," newsletter of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), published a number of essays attacking Africentrism and promoting a book of essays, "Alternatives to Afrocentrism" (hereafter "The Alternatives"), published by the Manhattan Institute's Center for the New American community in Washington, D.C.
The gist of the essays and the book is that Africentrism is nothing more than myths, distortions and pseudoscience. Teachers are warned to dismiss all forms of African-centered thought in exchange for an objective, "multi-cultural" view of history and culture, which is ably presented in The Alternatives.
All efforts on the part of African American laymen and scholars to persuade the AFT to allow Africentric scholars to defend their discipline have failed. By this unconscionable intransigence, the AFT has placed itself at the forefront of academic racism, and has introduced into the American curriculum a blatant form of censorship analogous to that sanctioned under fascist regimes.
Another example of the entrenched opposition to Africentricism that has permeated American institutions over the past few years is found in a number of recent books. While Africentric scholars are often forced to publish their own work, their detractors are wooed by the American publishing industry. A few of the best known publications that attack Africentrism are listed below.
The first of these books is "The Disuniting of America," written by historian Arthur Schlesinger and published by Whittle Direct Books in 1991. The second is "Not Out Of Africa," written by Mary R. Lefkowitz, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities at Wellesley College, and published by Basic Books in 1994. The third is "Black Athena Revisited," edited by Lefkowitz and Guy McLean Rogers, Associate Professor of Greek, Latin and History at Wellesley College, and published by the University of North Carolina Press in 1996. Although not released by a major publishing house, the fourth book, "Alternatives To Afrocentricity," which has been mentioned, should most certainly be included in this group.
All of these books have singled out Africentrists and their publications for scathing criticisms. The assaults are so vicious and one-sided that White Cornell University professor, Martin Bernal, whose brilliant work, "Black Athena," is maliciously maligned in "Black Athena Revisited," was forced to resort to the Internet, when co-editor Lefkowitz declined to extend to him, upon his request, the traditional courtesy of writing a rebuttal in the 522- page critique of his work.
Also targeted for brutal attack by some of the above Africentric critics are the writings of the late Senegalese nuclear physicist, linguist, historian, anthropologist and Egyptologist, Cheikh Anta Diop. We find it most revealing that White American scholars have waited until after Diop's death to unleash a barrage of invectives against his thirty year academic legacy.
The final example of this institutionalized racism was found at the Olmec ("Art Of Ancient Mexico") exhibit held at the National Gallery of Art (hereafter "the National Gallery") in Washington, D.C. from June 30 - October 20, 1996. Prominent among the exquisite artwork on display were the giant, world renowned Olmec stone heads. Although the Negroid features of these statues are most striking, the National Gallery chose to virtually ignore their implications. The only reference to this obvious racial anomaly among ancient Mexican artifacts could be found in the official museum videotape, which briefly mentioned that early excavators thought the stone heads represented immigrants from Africa.
It is truly astonishing that in 1996, a national museum could host an exhibit of the magnitude of that of the "Olmecs," and in it virtually ignore the revolutionary fact that there is overwhelming evidence, including that of the giant stone heads, that Black Africans sailed to the New World thousands of years before Columbus. And that these African immigrants changed the course of ancient Mesoamerican civilization.
This racist legacy of discrediting Africentric scholars, dismissing all evidence of Black achievements and distorting the history of people of African descent (shown here in its institutional form in the American media, the AFT, the publishing industry and the National Gallery of Art) must not be allowed to continue into the 21st Century.
We believe that the global population in general and the people of the United States in particular should be provided with the unfettered opportunity to learn what people of African descent think about their own history and culture. Since the Western media and academic establishments have consciously suppressed, distorted or ignored Black (and sympathetic White) opinions on these subjects, then, alternative outlets must be utilized to their capacity. If we are to supplant present "scientific" propaganda with a true quest for knowledge, then, we must put aside our ingrained cultural biases and view the evidential record without blinders and preconceived notions.
The MAAT Newsletter is devoted to presenting the evidence and theories of Africentrists on their own merit -- not as viewed through the prisms of their detractors nor as defenses against the incessant assaults of a shamelessly racist media and academe. We invite people of goodwill from around the world to join us in this endeavor.
Finally, we have chosen the name MAAT because in ancient Egypt, this represented the fundamental principle of life. Symbolized by the Goddess MAAT and set in motion by divine order, MAAT meant truth, justice, law, order and correctness in creation, in society and in the life of each individual. It is our intention that this newsletter will adhere to these principles in the highest tradition of the African people and their descendants everywhere.
* Legrand H. Clegg II is an attorney and producer of the "The Clegg Series: When Black Men Ruled The World."
** Although the mass media and academe use the word Afrocentricity and Afrocentrism, we believe the proper appellation is Africentricity or Africentrism.
Upcoming Issues of MAAT
|January 1997||"A Brief History of Africentric Scholarship"|
|February 1997||"What `Race' Were The Ancient Egyptians?"|