A shot across the bow of Pan-African claims of a unified African culture.
Postcolonial discourses on African Diaspora history and relations have traditionally focused intensely on highlighting the common experiences and links between black Africans and African Americans. This is especially true of Afrocentric scholars and supporters who use Africa to construct and validate a monolithic, racial, and culturally essentialist worldview. Publications by Afrocentric scholars such as Molefi Asante, Marimba Ani, Maulana Karenga, and the late John Henrik Clarke have emphasized the centrality of Africa to the construction of Afrocentric essentialism. In the last fifteen years, however, countervailing critical scholarship has challenged essentialist interpretations of Diaspora history. Critics such as Stephen Howe, Yaacov Shavit, and Clarence Walker have questioned and refuted the intellectual and cultural underpinnings of Afrocentric essentialist ideology.
Tunde Adeleke deconstructs Afrocentric essentialism by illuminating and interrogating the problematic situation of Africa as the foundation of a racialized worldwide African Diaspora. He attempts to fill an intellectual gap by analyzing the contradictions in Afrocentric representations of the continent. These include multiple, conflicting, and ambivalent portraits of Africa; the use of the continent as a global, unifying identity for all blacks; the de-emphasizing and nullification of New World acculturation; and the ahistoristic construction of a monolithic African Diaspora worldwide.
Tunde Adeleke —
Tunde Adeleke is the director of the African and African American Studies Program at Iowa State University. He is the author of UnAfrican Americans: Nineteenth-Century Black Nationalists and the Civilizing Mission and has published articles in several academic journals.
Adeleke, Tunde. The case against Afrocentrism. University Press of Mississippi, 2009. 223p bibl index afp; ISBN 9781604732931. Reviewed in 2010aug CHOICE.
Presenting seemingly as much a brief for the prosecution as a work of scholarship, Adeleke (African and African American studies, Iowa State Univ.) pretty much announces his intent in his book's title. The initial impetus for the book came from a conference presentation nearly two decades ago, in which Adeleke presented the earliest stages of his criticisms about Afrocentrism, which he finds to be essentialist, reductionist, and, perhaps most significantly, ahistorical. At the conference, Adekele found little but vitriol in response, which pushed him along his intrepid path of pursuing this project. And what a rigorous project it is! From start to finish, Adeleke finds little to redeem Afrocentrism, and his arguments, especially about the ways in which Afrocentrists either misunderstand or misrepresent both African history and its relationship to the diaspora, are compelling. Afrocentrists will likely accuse Adeleke of reducing their cause to men of straw. But his book provides a formidable rejoinder to the prevailing Afrocentric scholarship. This book will likely not work especially well in most undergraduate classes, but graduate students and scholars will find much in Adeleke's impassioned case with which they will have to engage.
Summing Up: Highly recommended. Graduate students, faculty. -- D. C. Catsam, University of Texas of the Permian Basin