Africa Must Resist Academic Racism

Published on 2nd November 2009


                                      Photo courtesy
The foundational paradigms that begin with a pre-opinion are like verdicts that come before the trial, or books that conclude before their start. The discourse on Africa started with an error because the foundational paradigms which inspired the study in the first place were rooted in the denial of African agency. 

This denial extended to denial of self-definitions. In the 18th century, the birth of narrow racial definitions emerged. The “Negro” was defined as a creature with thick lips, black skin, flat broad noses, woolly hair, characteristics that became socially accepted by Europeans as “ugly.” This narrow definition of Africans shied from the reality that indigenous African people are physically the most diverse racial family on the planet.  

In indigenous Africa, you can find epicanthal fold eyelid types as found in the San of Southern Africa, flat noses among the Bakongo, straight fine noses as among the Ethiopians, Somalis, Fulani, Tuareg and Wodabee; Short hair, straight hair, curly hair, light skin, dark skin, very tall and very short, from Berber to Bushman all are part of the African race. Not only were a selected set of physical features assigned to Africans considered ugly, but also African traits and African customs became bywords for lazy, barbaric and primitive. 

Not black and white 

The removal of agency is not a “black or white” issue, it is not an issue polarized by Europeans on one-side and Africans on the other: The color of philosophies, not the color of skin is the greater issue. Many who profess to celebrate pan-Africanism act as agents, mouthpieces by proxy, whose mission is the perpetuation of the removal of agency from Africans.  Some household names such as Henry Louis Gates, Jr and Kwame Appiah are renowned for at times selling African history down the toilet. They sustain in the most delicate of ways that the sole authority on Africa is none other than the European, and that all studies of culture and language are for Europe’s final interpretation.   

Still today, pop-history is littered with “the discovery” approach of Africa. Thus, the source of the Nile was “discovered by...” Crediting an African with exploration in the European mindset would be like crediting a mule or a migrating Zebra. Historically, Africans are made to sway like leaves on the wind, impervious and indifferent to any form of civilization, a people absent from scientific discovery, philosophy or the higher arts. We are left to believe that almost nothing can come out of Africa, other than raw material. 

Agents of academic racism 

The legacy of the African Holocaust has made a profound effect on African academics. As Africans have a profound disinheritance in areas social-economic, there has also been a destructive disinheritance in areas of academics. We are playing on a chessboard where all the pieces are white. The volumes of published works by the Hitler's of the African Holocaust is impossible for Africans to gain any foothold and authority in their history. Year after year, the bookshelves are filled with one opinion. The most “popular” Africans are those singing from this music score. 

Some of the most racist and pejorative material today is taught in schools in an attempt to vindicate the continuation of academic racism. The self-referencing of the “old boys” like Hume and Kant is valid today because it is old, white, and used many, many times. It is thus impossible for the frustrated African to gain any ground because he/she is in a battle whose parameters are set by foes on a battlefield tipped economically and socially, in favor of the opposition.  

We often hear “so and so is acknowledged by everyone to be one of the most prominent scholars of …” so and so is always white. Scholarship is a white only seat, academic apartheid with no room for debate. Any African academic discussing or having a positive take on Africa that contradicts their assertion is called Afrocentric, as if this form of opinion is a cultural slant loaded with the bias of a pseudo-history. They say with one breath that Eurocentric academics were “men of their time” but still keep saying these people were the definitive guide to Africa. How can you say something is wrong but keep using it as a definitive source? The complete dismantlement (deconstruction) of the academic paradigm of authority needs to be a first step in a pure analysis, and it is for Africans to adopt this approach as bases for articulating and imposing a new identify. We cannot overlook the significance of linguistics as a function of oppression. 

Afrocentrism /Afrocentricity 

In a reaction to Eurocentricity, Afrocentrism was birthed. However, this shift inherited many of the same systemic flaws inherent in Eurocentricity: hand picking elements of history for promoting the romantic seperatist ideology. To continually view history through a modern racial lens distorts the historical timeline and creates academic anachronism, this is true regardless of if the author is African or European. Any concept or ideology designed to react to another flawed system ultimately has a shelf life. 

In the academic world, Afrocentric has become a dirty word because a few pseudo-historians have done trash-can scholarship which has marred authentic Afrocentric research. This has ultimately undermined the seriousness of Afrocentrism. But a romantic and poorly understood history can no longer be the legacy of a confident self-aware people. 

Afrocentrics have no problem speaking of the glorious African past and the universities of Timbuktu and Aksum to score racial points but on the next page try to totally demonize Islam and Christianity in Africa as destructive. They praise the battles of Kemet but curse the battles of Songhai. Regardless of the history they discover, they try to force it into their "African purist" ideology of "invasion," " destruction," "conquest," and "foreign religion." 

Africans must be agents of their own history and control the format, agenda, and placement by which African history and culture is taught, disseminated, absorbed and weighted. This does not mean that it is okay to fictionalize history to react against a history of academic racism. For this reason, the Maafa study is a key sign of the Pan-African paradigm-shift where the legacy of the African Holocaust on African people globally is studied within the framework of the natural history in which the Maafa occurred. The emphasis in the historical narrative is on African agents (African-Centred) but this is very different from using history to force modern-day racial concepts into past historical events. 

To be continued.

By Owen 'Alik Shahadah 

Owen 'Alik Shahadah, is an African Cultural writer and a multi-award winning Filmmaker who documents African history and culture. Published with kind permission from African Holocaust

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