Thursday, October 22, 2009

Book Review: Stephen Howe’s Afrocentrism:Mythical Pasts and Imagined Homes

Stephen Howe’s Afrocentrism:Mythical Pasts and Imagined Homes , purportedly explain the research traditions of the Afrocentric scholars via the demerits of Martin Bernal’s Black Athena. As a result, they fail to realistically discuss the contentious discourses surrounding the ancient Afrocentric historical memory and detail the methods and paradigms associated with this pedagogy.

Howe fail to fulfill the anxious expectations of many readers of the books who had hoped his work would be balanced and situated on the evidence. Howe sees the study of ancient Afrocentric historical themes as a tradition of dissent rather than a field of study with its own tradition of normal science. Like D'Souza and Leftkowitz this author without supporting evidence devalue ancient Afrocentric historical education. Moreover, the most exasperating aspect of Howe's writing is that he uses Bernal's Black Athena , as an Afrocentric history text, and then proceeds to use criticism of this work to "disconfirm" the Afrocentric ancient history discipline. This book is not an Afrocentric primer.

In the africalogical social sciences, researchers look at the history and society of African people from an African centered or Afrocentric perspective. The Afrocentrist connects Africans in America and elsewhere to thousands of years of history and civilization.

There are three problems with this book of Howe . These problems include :

1) Howe fails to discuss the research of Afrocentric scholars critically;

2) Howe presents the Afrocentric study of ancient history as a recent development ; and

3) the major reason proffered for his attacks on Afrocentrism is that the “academy” rejects the discipline.

Howe fails to proffer and outline the major Afrocentric ancient history text. Afrocentric scholars make hundreds of detailed archaeological, historical and linguistic claims, which have not been systematically refuted or discussed by the author Howe . The fact that Howe ignores the historical research of Afrocentric scholars makes his works narrow and unrepresentative of the ancient Afrocentric history discipline. In general, we have to dismiss Howe’s work, due to alledged external factors such as “race thinking”, “personal prejudices”, “social and political pressures” and “ideology” rather than disconfirmation of Afrocentric hypotheses.

Howe never presents any historical evidence to refute the paradigms of ancient Afrocentric history. Moreover, he fails to explain how scholars like W.E.B. DuBois and George Wells Parker made it clear in their writings that Blacks probably founded civilization in Greece and China in addition to Egypt is based on the latest historical and anthropological evidence available to these authors during this time. This is important, because if the researches of these scholars was fraudulent Howe and his cohorts should be able to present opposing evidence which disconfirms the researches of DuBois, Parker and the other Afrocentric scholars? But alas, there is no evidence presented to disconfirm the research of these Afrocentrists.

Howe acknowledges the long history of Afrocentric research and provides his readers with a series of negative comments made by critics of Chiek Anta Diop without any concern with checking their accuracy. Then in the next breathe Howe explains that much of the work of Afrocentric scholars like Chiek Anta Diop, cross so many disciplines that he is unable to expertly assess the Afrocentric initiatives/propositions of ancient Afrocentric history. And as a result, he cannot grasp the impressive synthesis of scholarship found in the work of Afrocentric scholars.

This admission negates Howe’s basic premise that Afrocentric research is “untrustworthy”, his lack of expertise in the cross-disciplinary procedures of the Afrocentric scholars make it clear that he is unable to expertly assess and evaluate the initiatives/propositions of ancient Afrocentric history. Consequently, he cannot grasp the impressive synthesis of scholarship found in the works of Afrocentric scholars.

Howe claims that Afrocentric history is reverse-racism because Afrocentric researchers have used the classical, historical ,anthropological and linguistic literature to illustrate the African/Black origin of many of the River Valley and Grecian civilizations (p.48). Yet Howe fails to provide crucial examples of the falsification of the sources used by Afrocentric scholars. This makes the claims of Howe that Afro-American contributions to ancient history are either non-existent or irrelevant, groundless.

Howe’s interpretations of Afrocentric researchers are contradictory and confusing. For example, on the one hand he claims that Dubois’ book the The Negro , “overall, his account avoided the sensationalism and special pleading, being a solid reflection of the state of knowledge at that time” (p.52), and therefore acceptable to the “academy”, yet in general DuBois’ work is romantic. How can a work be both factual and “romantic”. Clearly, Howe’s opinion about DuBois’ work is based more on his personal bias rather than evidence.

Howe asks us to reject Afrocentric research based on “authority”. He makes a number of claims about the inadequacy of the ancient Afrocentric historical memory, but he does not provide critical analysis of the historical claims he disputes. For example, Howe claims that Diop failed to prove his connections between West Africa and Egypt eventhough, he provides a 200-page lexicon of hundreds of cognate Wolof-Egyptian terms. He said that:


The basic flaw [ of Parente genetique ]is that in order to trace the history of languages, to identify shared roots, patterns of evolution and divergence, it is entirely inadequate simply to list similar-sounding or possibly related terms in different languages (p.178).


This comment by Howe, on Diop’s work, would seem to be a reasonable analysis of one of Diop’s major works. But anyone who has actually read Parente genetique de l’egyptien pharanique et des langues negro-africaines, knows that Diop spent the first 200 plus pages of this book discussing in detail the grammatical and structural affinities of Egyptian and African languages. The failure of Howe to discuss this fact leads one to assume that he purposely avoids mentioning this fact so as to imply that Diop was an incompetent scholar.

At the base of Eurocentrism is the doctrine of white supremacy. This ideological foundation aims to thwart the Afro-Americans' search for manhood and self-assertion, when ever they encounter intensified prejudice by white Americans.

This major component of Eurocentrism is the notion of African-American intellectual inferiority. As a result, European scholars can write and research the history of any people on earth. But, African Americans on the otherhand, are believed to lack the intellectual capacity to research, let alone write ancient history.

Fighting C.A.I.D.S.

Due to the alleged intellectual inferiority of Africans it is believed that they are unsuited to write ancient history, international affairs, or archaeology. This may result from several factors especially racial bias and social position. These factors are important ,because of the fact that formerly persons writing ancient history themes usually came from well-to-do or middle-class families that could provide them with the capital to undertake research activities abroad. This belief has ghettoized many African American scholars and authors , to writing only about slavery, the slave trade and/or the cycle of poverty typified by life in the urban centers of the United States.

Little has changed in the past 100 years, Howe asserts that Afro-Americans should reframe from writing about ancient history because “their ideas, like cultural nationalism in general, quite simply have nothing at all to say about the most central problem facing Afro-Americans: the conditions of economic marginality, insecurity and underprivileged under which most of them exist” (p.14). It is obvious from this statement that establishment historians wish to constrain the intellectual inquiry of Afro-American scholars.

Howe’s major contribution to the study of ancient Afrocentrism is criticism of Diop’s use of dated references in many of his works. But this criticism is nebulas because nowhere in Afrocentrism does Howe disconfirm the sources used by Chiek Anta Diop. The failure to disconfirm the research of Chiek Anta Diop and the other Afrocentric scholars mentioned in his book makes Howe's Afrocentrism deeply flawed.

This book by Howe does not refute research conducted by Afrocentric scholars. It is a feel good book for Europeans who want to ignore the long history of African people.

It is shame Euronuts are so jealous of the history of African and Black people.


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