Afrocentricity is inherently contradictory since it embraces the two countries that self-identify the LEAST with Africa: Ethiopia and Egypt- A.H.
When my friend posted the above comment on Facebook and Twitter, it sparked a very big discussion and some controversy. Although I don't completely agree with his assertion, I’ve wanted to write a post on this topic ever since I first arrived in Cairo for Arabic studies. I was going to wait until I’d visited Aswan in upper Egypt, where the Nubian people reside, but I've received several requests to touch on the subj ect.Thus, this will be part #1 and I will write a follow up on this post after I chat with the Nubians , insha'allah
|From egyptian museum|
Before arriving in Cairo, I’d just finished Egyptian-Sudanese authors Kola Boof’s book entitled Flesh and the Devil and it had left a very big impression on me. The book is a love story that is rooted in blackness and Afro-centricity in a way that I’ve never read before. The characters werent fair and white as snow but charcoal black and sensual. Instead of championing Egypt, Nubia, Kemet, Ethiopia and other East African civilizations or painting the lighter sons and daughters in the African diaspora alone as beautiful, Boof’s book was firmly grounded in the strength and beauty of pure blackness as found in Sub-Saharan and West Africa.
Having come to Cairo with a knowledge of the poor treatment of the black Sudanese in Egypt and the recent comments of Egyptian , I was not expecting to be “welcomed back” to the “Mother Land”. Although, Egypt is in Africa, the country has gone through several invasions and extensive measures to carve an Egyptian national identity that paints the people as not African or even Arabs, but solely “Egyptian”. Thus, the question remains, does it make sense to ground Afro-centrism in a culture that openly rejects all things black?
Afrocentrism began as a rejection of a Eurocentric and (c)overtly racist, Western perspective of history as taught by the education system in America. Afrocentrism sought to re-instill a sense of historical pride and self-worth in black children and expound the many contributions of Africans, people who look like us, to world history and development. Challenging the idea that black people were lazy or only useful as a labor force, Afrocentrics reminded the world that Africa housed the oldest and wealthiest civilizations, largest libraries, ancient languages, greatest thinkers, and some of the most important inventions in the history of humanity. One of my favorite books, The Worlds Greatest Men of Color (I and II), details the many world famous and not-so famous ideas and thinkers, leaders and stars of African origin. Rejecting the Greeks and Romans as the original great thinkers and inventors of their time, Afrocentrics point to Europe's links to ancient Egypt as the source of the Roman and Greek knowledge and broadly concluded that the ancient Egyptians were black.
In theory, I have no issue with Afrocentrism. All of humanity and civilization originated in Africa and the contribution of African people should never be denigrated. I firmly believe that it is important to instill a sense of self-worth in a black child by teaching them that their history did not begin when Europeans made contact with Africans and eventually denigrated them to slaves. The beginning line in Kola Boof's book illustrates this idea perfectly, "Before the White people created time and sailed on ships to bring it to us- we lived forever". Beginning black history with slavery, reinforces the idea that black people are only relevant and valuable in relation to Europeans and we were nothing before contact with whites. It also subconsciously reinforces the idea that everything noteworthy originated in Europe. I’ve heard many African Americans express a complete ignorance of Africa beyond monkeys, AIDS, and naked, poor people. In reality, they have no more knowledge of Africa or Africans beyond the "historical" descriptions left by 19th century slave-catchers or missionaries that are reprinted in their history books. A people with no sense of where they come from have no idea what they are capable of accomplishing. As Bob Marley said, “ If you know your history then you would know where you're coming from. Then you wouldn't have to ask me who the heck do I think I am"
In practice, my critique of Afrocentrism (and Eurocentrism) lies in the attempts at historical revisionism and its preference to embrace civilizations in Eastern Africa, such as Egypt (Kemet, Nubia) when, in reality, the African Diaspora that Afrocentrism seeks to empower originated from the lands on the other side of the continent in Western Africa. We should not completely reject Egypt; however, one should seek to separate ancient Egypt from present-day Egypt.
Muslims invaded Egypt around 639 A.D. Before they arrived, Copts and Byzantines lived in Lower Egypt and the kingdom of Nubia thrived form Southern Egypt to Northern Sudan. In the Kushite Period, Nubians ruled as Pharaohs and intermixing continued between the two people for centuries before Eurocentric ideas of beauty were imposed as the standard and Nubians became a subclass. The ancient Egyptians have been colonized by and inter-bred with (or bred out by) Arabs, Turks, French, Greeks, Romans as well as Africans. Egypt today actively seeks to distance itself from everything black. Although there are black people here and even amongst the lightest skinned Egyptian, one can find ‘negroid’ features and hair, the blackest Egyptian wouldn't refer to himself as "African". Contrary to ideas of a great black civilization, bleaching cream is widely sold at all pharmacies and drug stores. Dark skin is looked down upon to the extent that “dark” (samara) is a used as a slur and images of darker skinned entertainers are lightened in all major media outlets to give them a more Mediterrean complexion. When Nefertiti was discovered to be black by scientists from the Discovery Channel, it caused a public outcry in Egypt!
Consequently, Egypt is actually an interesting paradoxical inversion of what it should be as taught to us by Eurocentrics and Afrocentrics alike. To base a movement for black empowerment on a society that openly rejects people that look like you is counterproductive. What is the point of debating whether or not Nefertiti and Cleopatra where black when we forget that King Ansah of Ghana had the Fante people watched for European ships, and prevented them from coming ashore for years so that they could not capture and enslave the Fante people? Or that Queen Nzingha of Angola fought a successful 30-year war against the slave traders of Portugal until the Portuguese negotiated a peace treaty with her in 1656? Is that history not relevant to us in the African Diaspora? Why call yourself a Nubian King or Queen when the Nubians, a people you have no actual blood ties to, are not long dead but remain as an oppressed minority in Egypt constantly being pushed out of their historical land?
For Afrocentrism to achieve it’s goals, it should minimize its focus on ancient Egypt and begin to focus and embrace our direct ancestors in Ghana, Senegal, Mali, Nigeria, etc. Equal merit should be placed on the great kingdoms of Timbuktu, the Ashanti, and others in order to dispell myths like "all" Africans sold other Africans into slavery and that blacks were poor and helpless before whites "saved" them. Never should we forget the contributions of Egypt to the world or that of black Africans to Egypt but we should not seek to champion Egypt alone at the expense of letting history forget the rest of Africa. Present day Egypt is not that land of proud Africans that Afrocentrism claim but one that derides all things associated with blackness. It's not necessary to seek to impose blackness on those who don't want it, or never had it, or fight over history's scraps when the truest of Africans have been black and proud before it became a catch-phrase.