Afrocentricism is a valid methodology of looking at history. With the idea that all history is subjective (HIStory, as they like to say), it is worth looking at history from the perspectives of Africans. However, the popularization of Afrocentricism in African American communities throughout the 20th century, and now into the 21st century, has taken a highly anti-religious tone, which has resulted in the dismissal of anyone associated with the three main Abrahamic religious paths. In this post, I will address some aspects of the methodology of those who have usurped Afrocentricism and highlight some of their fallacies using a video lecture from the 2000’s by Dr. Phil Valentine.
Classic Fallacies of Afrocentricism
In an attempt to avoid the pitfalls of religious communities, Dr. Phil Valentine, like others of his ilk, falls into a classic fallacy by regurgitating anti-religious rhetoric. His first course of action is to attack the history of the Christian Church in Europe and how it was used to colonize and enslave Africans. Then he looks at the Black Christian today, often attacking his character and psychology. Finally, he turns to other religious expressions adopted by African Americans, like Islam and the Hebrew Israelites.
Most Afrocentric thinkers make this false-equivalence, refusing to recognize: 1) the complex history of Christianity, 2) the complex history of Islam and other religions, 3) their own blind-spot regarding racial identity, and 4) their biases and prejudices.
1) Failure to recognize the complex history of Christianity
- Afrocentric thinkers do not always recognize that Christianity had “Western” versions and “Eastern” versions that diverged pretty early in its history. These doctrinal differences drew a wedge between them philosophically and geographically, resulting in completely different historical experiences.
- Acknowledgment of these various forms of Christianity are almost always along racial lines rather than doctrinal lines. However, doctrinal differences under the Roman Empire at the advent of Christianity often trumped racial differences.
2) Failure to recognize the complex history of Islam and other religions
- Islam has its own complex history that is starkly different from that of European Christianity.
- Direct experience with God was never discouraged.
- Power of interpretation was regional and lied with whoever possessed the knowledge, not upon charisma, descent, race, class, etc. (although debates existed)
- There was no wide-scale dark age and rejection of science, systematic disenfranchisement of women and minorities, or even slavery based solely on race.
- Not all societies see religion as a means for political and social control as it is imagined in the West.
3) Afrocentric blind-spot concerning race
- Almost all Afrocentrics operate on a construct of race invented in the United States.
- This is the duality of Blackness and Whiteness.
- That Blackness is equivalent to African and Whiteness is equivalent to European.
- Any noticeable amount of African descent counts as Black, except for Arabs.
- Black Arabs must choose to identify either with their “Black African mothers” or with their “White Arab fathers.”
- There is no room in this construct for a “Black” person to see oneself as possessing multiple identities or to reject them altogether. Any lack of conformity to this construct evokes ridicule.
4) Biases and Prejudices
- Most Afrocentrics are Egyptophiles and have an unquestioning reverence for Kemet (ancient Egypt). This causes them to ignore information about it that might seem distasteful to them like homosexuality, violent conquest, honor killings, etc.
- They are theoretically in favor of Blacks and Africans in all they do until their thinking and actions do not fit the mold that they have constructed. Therefore, African Christians and Muslims are all brainwashed; Africans that marry outside of their race are all self-hating; etc.
- They are prejudiced against:
- Europeans for slavery and oppression in America.
- Arabs primarily for corner stores in Black neighborhoods, secondly due to post-9/11 propaganda, and tangentially for their history of slavery in East Africa.
- They are prejudice against all Muslims for the actions of Arabs and Black Christians for the actions of Europeans.
At one point in Dr. Valentine’s lecture, the crowd turns its attention directly to Islam and Muslims. One can observe that he does not know much about Islam and he would rather avoid the topic, but since audience members ask, he is compelled to say something. At around the (1:04:15) mark in the video, he makes the comment:
“Islam is an off shoot of the same triumvirate. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all have the same prophets. If they share the same prophets, they share the same bullsh*t.”
After being prodded with specifics, Dr. Valentine states that the Muslims took the act of women covering from the ancient Africans. He said that it was done for protection from the sun and to guard against male pheromones that would cause them to ovulate. Then he said that it degenerated into something to keep a woman down. When addressing men praying in front and women in the back, he said that was also taken from Kemet. In his interpretation, women behind men meant that they were the support. He goes on to say that when the Arabs came and saw the hieroglyphs, they interpreted it to mean subservience based on their cultural values.
While Dr. Valentine appears to confirm the “correctness” of these Islamic practices in as much as they are conform to his brand of scientism and Kemetanism, he denies Muslims the intellectual capacity for having a similar reasoning. He assumes that the Muslim woman’s veil and her praying behind men are necessarily oppressive when coming from Muslims and cannot be interpreted in any other way. One person in the crowd states that he heard from a Muslim that women praying in front of or along side men could be a distraction, but he does not address this comment.
The conversation devolves into a rant against Christianity. In the process, he mentions a hallmark that distinguishes cultural nationalists from revolutionaries. He believes that at some point in the future when all Black people recognize their true selves, only then will we live happily ever after. This grand approach is not all dissimilar from some religious dogma that posit that everyone should believe the same in order for us to live happily ever after. It can also be argued that such a unity of thought and belief is pure fantasy and has never been achieved along racial or religious lines in history.
Revolutionaries, however, tend to take a different approach. They meet people where they are at and do not obligate them to buy into a particular paradigm before attempting to make a positive impact on people’s lives. Conflicts and controversy have always existed, and religious movements have historically helped people wade these waters. In waiting for an imaginative collective consciousness, Afrocentrics and other cultural nationalists fix a permanent chip on their shoulders and ensure that they will always have a reason to not take action.