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Robert Todd Carroll

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Afrocentrism

Afrocentrism is a mythology that is racist, reactionary, and essentially therapeutic. It suggests that nothing important has happened in black history since the time of the pharaohs and thus trivializes the history of black Americans. Afrocentrism places an emphasis on Egypt that is, to put it bluntly, absurd. --Clarence E. Walker*

Afrocentrism is a pseudohistorical political movement that erroneously claims that African-Americans should trace their roots back to ancient Egypt because it was dominated by a race of black Africans. Some of Afrocentrism's other claims are: the ancient Greeks stole their main cultural achievements from black Egyptians; Jesus, Socrates and Cleopatra, among others, were black; and Jews created the slave trade of black Africans.

The main purpose of Afrocentrism is to encourage black nationalism and ethnic pride as a psychological weapon against the destructive and debilitating effects of universal racism.

Some of Afrocentrism's leading proponents are Professor Molefi Kete Asante of Temple University; Professor Leonard Jeffries of City University of New York; and Martin Bernal, author of Black Athena.

One of the more important Afrocentric texts is the pseudo-historical Stolen Legacy (1954) by George G. M. James. Mr. James claims, among other things, that Greek philosophy and the mystery religions of Greece and Rome were stolen from Egypt; that the ancient Greeks did not have the native ability to develop philosophy; and that the Egyptians from whom the Greeks stole their philosophy were black Africans. Many of James' ideas were taken from Marcus Garvey (1887-1940), who thought that white accomplishment is due to teaching children they are superior. If blacks are to succeed, he said, they would have to  teach their children that they are superior.

James's principal sources were Masonic, especially The Ancient Mysteries and Modern Masonry (1909) by the Rev. Charles H. Vail. The Masons in turn derived their misconceptions about Egyptian mystery and initiation rites from the eighteenth century work of fiction Sethos, a History or Biography, based on Unpublished Memoirs of Ancient Egypt (1731) by the Abbe Jean Terrasson (1670-1750), a professor of Greek. Terrasson had no access to Egyptian sources and he would be long dead before Egyptian hieroglyphics could be deciphered. But Terrasson knew the Greek and Latin writers well. So he constructed an imaginary Egyptian religion based upon sources which described Greek and Latin rites as if they were Egyptian (Lefkowitz). Hence, one of the main sources for Afrocentric Egyptology turns out to be Greece and Rome. The Greeks would have called this irony. I don't know what Afrocentrists call it.

James's pseudo-history is the basis for other Afrocentric pseudo-histories such as Africa, Mother of Western Civilization by Yosef A.A. ben-Jochannnan, one of James's students, and Civilization or Barbarism by Cheikh Anta Diop of Senegal.

Afrocentrism is being taught in many universities and colleges, and is the basis of an entire curriculum for children in two Milwaukee schools.


further reading

reader comments

Lefkowitz, Mary (Editor) and Guy MacLean Rogers (Editor) Black Athena Revisited (University of North Carolina Press, 1996)

Lefkowitz, Mary. Not Out of Africa - How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History (New York: Basic Books, 1996). Reviewed in The Skeptic's Refuge 

Walker, Clarence E. We Can't Go Home Again: An Argument about Afrocentrism (Oxford University Press, 2001).

©copyright 2002
Robert Todd Carroll

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Last updated 07/26/03

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