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Abstract: This essay
is concerned with the cultural identity of
Ancient cultures are being transformed through globalized social reengineering into an electronic, legal, linguistic and moral parking lot that blankets the earth in an undifferentiated paved uniformity. Both the lot and access to it are Indo-European (including clones and associates) owned and managed. Upon the certification of their postmodern Euro-American-cultural reorientation, formerly distinct nationalities, states, clans, [ethnicities] are provided with bar-coded entrance keys and assigned parking spaces (fixed economic roles/status) to facilitate the rapid production, transfer and consumption of goods and services. Ownership and control of the means of production, rule making agencies, financial centers and the global telecommunications that facilitate the transactions are securely in the hands of the American, European, and Japanese business elite” This is the current face of an old monster that feverishly reinvents itself. This is a wolf pack that changes clothes between slaughters. This is the rapacious and insatiable Indo-European expansionism.
The ‘parking lot’ analogy is
both purposeful and instructive. For our purpose, the analogy
contextualizes the discussion that follows, elucidating some of the current
global and local truisms of the condition of African people. This essay is
concerned with the cultural identity of
If the study of
ANCHORING AND OWNERSHIP IN THE STUDY OF
The situation that Owomoyeka
describes has its origins in the inception and development of African studies
in the academy. Given the academic character of African studies in the
Despite efforts by notable scholars such
as Leo Hansberry, who designed the first African
studies course at Howard University in the 1920s, the development of African
studies has been dominated outside of the African world and largely through
non-Africans. In American institutions, primarily historically white
institutions, between 1953 and 1961 ten African studies programs and/or
departments were established. By 1970, there were approximately
seventy-eight African studies programs and/or departments in the
The development and expansion of the African and its cultural and societal order is intimately linked to the notion of Africana studies, rather than African studies. African studies and its development is akin to African ‘political independence and development [which]” have been illusionary.’ Africana studies, in contrast, is an insurgent movement originating in the 1960s that "shifted the center," brought about new ways of knowing and constructing knowledge, and challenged the established socio-political order. Africana studies critiqued the established order within the academy. This insurgent posture emphasized an alternative perspective related to liberation that eventually led to a rupture within the African Studies Association and the creation of the African Heritage Studies Association in the late 1960s.
In addition to the posture and foci of
Africana studies, its motto of ‘commitment, connectedness, and
consciousness’ expresses the necessity of having substantive links with
communities of the African world outside academia and its mainstream
discourse or knowledge project, and Western racialized
and genderized epistemology. The reason
historically white institutions can point to diversity in their schools is
due to the insurgence of people of the African world in the 1960s; and the
large majority of students and instructors of the African world, in these
institutions, owe their presence to the Black (Africana) studies movement of
that same period. This movement has raised the most challenges about
the production of knowledge and affirmed the notion of African
cultural-historical continuity by way of its focus on the African world--that
The study of
The debate whether African or Africana
studies is a field or discipline highlights the ideational dilemma, which is
apparent by the conceptual dependency and use of non-African paradigms and
theories. It is said that a discipline is marked by a) clearly
established intellectual parameters with apparent theoretical configuration;
and b) ideational and analytical ‘meanings’ that must be
delineated (i.e., what specifically characterizes what ‘we’ do as
different in the social construction of knowledge). By these standards,
both African and Africana studies lack a consummate theory of the study of
TOWARD THE STUDY OF
The implication for African and Africana
studies then is to either move in the concerted and necessary direction, as
described below, or suffer the eminent fate of outmoded ideologies.
Though both African and Africana studies face similar challenges, it is my
contention that Africana studies--due to its scope and design, and it being
the product of an insurgent movement which sought to establish an
African-centered intellectual enterprise in higher education--is more
suitable to accomplish the global tasks of the study of
Firstly, Africana studies must define
itself as the study, learning, and living of
If epistemology is preoccupied with the nature of knowledge and science is the means by which we validate what we know, then it would follow that all methods of inquiry are scientific methods (i.e., they confirm what we know). Yet, science must be understood as a cultural science that is anchored in the Africans’ understanding of the dynamism of their culture and their ideas about the organization of reality. Otherwise, what is the use (for the African) of critical examination and empirical verification if these processes are not consistent with the African conceptual universe and cultural orientation? Thus, theoretical definitions and characteristic explanations and description of its methodology must be addressed within the collective ‘circle’ of those Africans who are committed to the endeavor of Africana studies. Once this need is satisfied, Africans can actually begin to concretely, through communication and consensus, address the historiography of the African experience beyond the currency of mainstream historical knowledge and criticisms of ‘revisionist history.’ The fact is all history is revisionist. This, in part, explains why the task of addressing the historiography of the African experience is a serious one, perhaps, the most dynamic task of them all.
Secondly, Africana studies must resolve the central question of ‘to be African or not.’ That is, Africans ‘must realize their indisputable connection to their African origin and that which brought [them] into existence.’ The question of being African or not is one of authenticity or mimicry. Let me illustrate. In this illustration, the African is analogous to the ‘bee’ and the non-African is to the ‘mole.’
A mole will perceive the world in terms of tunnels and tunneling. Similarly, an ant or bee will understand reality as an expression of the collective” The imposition of the mole’s conception of reality on the bee can only result in a confused and self-destructive bee.
The African must be like the sun, which contributes greatly to human life, but does not proselytize; in all humility, it shines brilliantly each day and simply does what a sun does. The sun (as we know it) does not attempt to be the moon or another star, because that is not its nature. An African proverb summarizes my point best: ‘A piece of wood may stay in water for ten years, but it will never become a crocodile.’
Thirdly, Africana studies must exercise caution with comparative methodologies or postures that are polemical in nature (e.g., African discourses that are preoccupied or even consumed by non-African concerns). Comparative hypotheses and methodologies represent inferences based on incomplete evidence characteristic of European thought and behavior as the referenced universe. Conceptual dependency or incarceration would have one believe that comparing African reality to that of non-Africans, as the referenced universe, is sensible. European epistemology is fundamentally concerned with the creation or invention of the ‘object’ (e.g., the thing, the other). When Africans assume the posture of comparative methodologies or polemical preoccupation, the totality of what is European or non-African becomes the reference and Africans therefore create ‘masters’ out of a function of fear, a fear that is ostensibly transferred through European epistemology and cultural hegemony. The appropriate posture is that the collective wisdom and sensibilities of African people must be asserted and affirmed through collective intelligence and not through the individual intellect. It is a process, not a step-by-step procedure, of cultural rediscovery and reclamation, and by extension, personal transformation. Again, all answers can and will be found in the ‘circle’ (collective).
Lastly, Africana studies must acknowledge and move beyond the fact that the African’s psychic and institutional spaces are contested and congested areas. They are contested in the sense that many Africans do not control and independently operate institutions, and produce thinking outside non-African spheres of influence and hegemony. The African’s psychic and institutional spaces are congested mentally as a result of cultural confusion and ambiguity, and institutionally as a result of replicating European schooling and, upholding the primacy of Western culture more than Westerners themselves. It is only within this psychic and institutional arrangement, for instance, that one can be an ‘expert’ in African or Africana studies and not know an African language. This is unheard of in any field of study, teaching, and learning. In addition, the issue of psychic and institutional space that Africans identify as theirs is closely related to the direction of Africana studies outside the academy (i.e., independent of non-African funding, theories and paradigms, learning structures). It is clear, at numerous levels, that Africans worldwide are dependent upon the non-African socio-political and economic order.
The key question is to what extent is proximity (to that order) an indication of compromise, at best, or surrender at worst? History informs us that the closer Africans get to ‘things’ non-African, whether they be liquor, money, or gadgets (technology), the more these Africans became dependent, mystified, and lose their sense of cultural being (including their cultural and materials resources). The point here is not that liquor, money or gadgets are exclusively of non-African origin but rather, these entities cannot be divorced from the cultural context from which they are derived. Africana studies must therefore be an intergenerational transmission process and an institution of cultural knowledge to ensure continuity. It should develop leadership competence in community and culture. Such a process and institution may have associations with non-African learning structures, but should be relatively self-sufficient and located in physical and psychic spaces that Africans identify and defend as theirs. To develop leadership competence in community and culture is a centrifugal movement which would demystify foreign ideologies embodied in ‘things’ non-African and a simultaneous shift centripetally to an African reality in terms of living, learning, and studying.
In spite of its challenges, Africana
studies is better equipped and well-suited to address the study of Africa(ns)
in a substantive way as well as contribute to African life and
practice. My position is certainly not the same as Gavin Kitching (2000, 2003), as expressed in his piece, "Why
I gave up African studies" (African Studies Review, 22(1): 21-26), but
his sentiments do underscore if not confirm some of my observations and
conclusions about African studies. Essentially, Kitching
found African studies depressing as a result of his optimism and hope (in and
The fact of the matter is that we cannot
and should not be so inclined to start from the ‘problems of
Africa(ns)’ but rather from what has worked in the best interests of
Africa(ns) and what will contribute to the genuine self-sufficiency,
ideational clarity, and physiological health of Africa(ns). In the
realm of research, study, and teaching, the notion of Africana studies can
substantively contribute to that reality as it addresses those challenges
expressed in this essay. The Africana Studies and
The last 30 years in Africana studies has not been so much about building--institutions, families, villages, and African personhood--in the African world but more so to clarity exactly what Africana studies is and should be about. Until recently, most, if not all, African scholars were trained in non-African traditions of inquiry or disciplines and then ‘came over’ to African or Africana studies. Today, however, we have older and young scholars, such as myself, who have had ten or more concentrated years of training in Africana studies and are now in a position to build from a consummate foundation and with a clearer vision. That vision is expressed in this essay. A people without a sense of history are visionless and so, with vision, those who are committed to the enterprise of Africana studies have to do the work that is necessary and not be distracted by illusionary debates or events that do not contribute to African life and practice in any real way.
Akoto, Kwame A. and Akua N. Akoto. "Beyond Chaos." Sankofa 4, no. 2, (2001): 4 - 22.
Akoto, Kwame A. and Akua N. Akoto. "Parenting and Priorities." Sankofa 2, no. 2 (1999): 31 - 34.
Akoto, Kwame A. Nationbuilding: Theory and Practice in Afrikan Centered Education.
Copans, Jean. "African Studies: A Periodization." In African Social Studies: A Radical Reader, ed. Peter C. W. Gutkind and Peter Waterman (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977), p. 21.
(1991). Africana Studies outside of the
July, Robert. An African Voice:
The Role of the Humanities in African
MacGaffey, Wyatt. "Epistemological Ethnocentrism in African
Studies." In African Historiographies: What history for which
Neale, Caroline. "The Idea of Progress in the Revision
of African History, 1960 - 1970." In African Historiographies: What
History for Which
Nobles, Wade W. "To be African or Not to be: The Question of Identity or Authenticity--Some Preliminary Thoughts." In African American Identity Development, ed. Reginald L. Jones (Hampton, VA: Cobb & Henry Publishers, 1998), pp. 187-192.
Owomoyela, Oyekan. "With Friends Like These” A Critique of Pervasive Anti-Africanisms in Current African Studies Epistemology and Methodology." African Studies Review, 37, no. 3, (December 1994): 77-101.
Onoge, O. "Revolutionary Imperatives in African Sociology." In African Social Studies: A radical reader, ed. Peter C. W. Gutkind and Peter Waterman (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977), pp. 35-40.
Turner, James E. "Africana Studies and Epistemology: A discourse in the sociology of Knowledge." In The Next Decade, ed. James E. Turner (Ithaca, NY: Africana Studies and Research Center, 1980), pp. xv- xvii.
 Akoto and Akoto, pp. 5-6.
 Owomoyela, pp. 96-97.
 Copans, p. 21.
 Onoge, p. 35.
 MacGaffey, p. 42.
 Onoge, p. 39.
 Onoge, p. 40.
 According to James Turner, “Africana studies’ recent emergence as an academic field is much more related to the endeavors of Black intellectuals during the past [seventy] years” but it was during [the 1930s] that the idea of Black Studies as a separate academic field began to emerge. (pp. xv, xvi).
 July, p. 182.
 Akoto, p. vi.
 Spiritual receptivity should not be confused with religious orientation or convictions. The nature of African spirituality requires a much lengthier discussion, which will not be provided here.
 Nobles, p. 187.
 Nobles, p. 189.
 Turner, p. xvii. Here, I am using the word ‘circle’ purposely to invoke the African philosophical assumption that all answers can and will be found in the circle made by those who create and complete it.
 Neale, p. 112.
 Nobles, p. 192.
 Akoto and Akoto, p. 31.
Kwasi Konadu recently obtained his Ph.D in African Studies from
Reference Style : The following is the
suggested format for referencing this article: Konadu,
Kwasi. "The Cultural Identity of
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