by Jack Le Moine
From the latest happenings in things historical. This paper Africa and Afrocentric Historicism: A Critique was published 46 days ago in Advances in Historical Studies. The paper’s author is Tunde Adeleke, Director, African and African American Studies Program, Iowa State University.
I encourage you to read the entire paper. It address two major problems in this field, (1) lack of objectivity and (2) manipulation of facts. Under CC BY-SA 4.0, here is the Abstract:
Since the dawn of slavery in America, black activists have used Africa to construct a countervailing frame of resistance to oppression. Africa had functioned both as the justification for enslavement and racial discrimination for the dominant white society, and as the counter-hegemonic weapon of resistance and empowerment for blacks. Reacting to subordination and marginalization, modern black intellectuals, borrowing from the past, have equally invoked Africa in their quest for a useable and instrumental historical past with which to counteract the Eurocentric constructions of their heritage and experiences. However, the resultant Afrocentric historicist framing of Africa, as well as its racialized and essentialist character, had only replicated precisely the negative shortcomings of the Eurocentric historiography that black intellectuals were attempting to debunk.”
It is so pleasant to see a professor in such a position finally saying this. I’m sure that what has caused so many of us who would otherwise be drawn to anything history to ignore the output of African American Programs and Women Studies Programs is not prejudice but instead their reputation for opinionating left-wing politically-correctness instead of presenting the results of actual academic research. Over the years just the very sight of “African American Studies” or “Women Studies” causes many of us to just think “next” and search for the button on the computer or the book in the library. It is a shame because I have always wanted to know more about these in history.
A small comment about the “Eurocentric” stuff in history. Europe gets so much attention because their explorers and settlers brought the cultures of the world together – and yes, not in a good way but they still did.
As things now stand, African American Studies are marginalized in the wider American civilization as they should be. Outside of the expected precincts they are ignored. To me this is regrettable. They ought to be mainstreamed. This paper offers hope.
Having identified the problems, I wish the author would suggest solutions to them with some specificity. But problem identification is a first step to problem solving. If acted on, this opens the door to advancement in this rich field of study that would benefit us all.
Addendum: I will offer one.
As stated in the blog’s About pages, Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett series on TV excited me as a small boy and led to my life-long interest in history. Because of their importance I figured out that there were three legendary figures in American History: Daniel Boone, Jim Bridger, and Harriett Tubman. “Legendary” because while the broad outlines of their careers are known, the details are too hidden. The events that would get us to the essence of their lives and their accomplishments must come from the realm of legend.
I wish people could write Harriett Tubman stories with the verve that I remember other stories of my youth without having to get slammed by one politically-correct landmine after another. Yes, I am speaking of historical fiction stories but writers of all races and genders being able to write and read about African American women without having to worry about getting slammed by the politically-correct would be another milestone to mainstreaming African American Studies.
After that we get back to the main issue: non-fiction with its needs for objectivity, context, and academic rigor that the author points out. This is my modest suggestion for a way forward.