The Struggle with Afrocentricity

Afrocentricity is a world view that emphasizes the importance of African people, culture, history and philosophy throughout the diaspora. The roots of Afrocentricity lie in a reaction to repression of Black people and Black culture throughout the Western world view. It is a direct opposition to the theory that attributes advancement of civilization to European immigration into different countries (i.e.- the thought that the African's weren't civilized until the Europeans came, kidnapped, and colonized them).

The above paragraph contains some paraphrasing from Wikipedia

I find Afrocentricity to be a consciousness of the influence African culture has on the world at large, and a consciousness of the non-stereotypical nature of Black people. A person of any race, color, or creed can have an Afrocentric perspective.

There is also the area of Afrocentricity that encourages Black people, or Black Americans to embrace their African roots and culture - and not conform to, or believe that Western or Euro-centric world views are superior or the standard of beauty, education, ideals, etc.

The title of this post is The Struggle with Afrocentricity. The struggle with identifying with an Afrocentric perspective for Black Americans comes from many things:

The feeling of clinging to a culture that was ripped away from them. African people from various countries were stolen away from their homeland and spread throughout the globe. At this point, even so many years later, that hurts. For some Black Americans they feel slighted to not be able to know what country they are from, and all the culture, customs, and language that goes with that. It can be painful to try to have any type of connection to a home you don't really know and that was stolen from you.

The feeling of trying to over-identify with something they don't know. Because so many Blacks are unable to really pinpoint their specific African roots it can feel like they are attempting to over-identifying with a culture they don't really know about. General symbols and African type print clothing makes them feel like a fraud. Because Africa is so large, with so many different cultures on one continent, a generic Afrocentricity seems frivolous to them.

There is as much of a African American (Black) Culture, as there is African Culture. At this point, Blacks have been in America for many years, and there is a distinct African American culture. Although a lot of African American culture is based from African cultural roots, there is a Black culture that has developed over time from being in the United States. It makes more sense to many African Americans to just be Black. Meaning, rather than attempting to embrace an Afrocentric world view, to have more of a Black world view. A focus on the achievement, philosophy, culture, and traditions that have developed during our time in the United States, and not be bothered with African specific identification.

Continental Africans look down upon African Americans. It has been the experience of many African Americans to find that Continental Africans (meaning, African people who are here in the states but still have direct ties and family on the continent) don't embrace them, and their want to learn about Africa. Because Continental Africans are fortunate enough to still have heavy ties to specific African Countries, customs, and culture, they don't see Blacks or African Americans as the same as them.
I might go as far as to say that Africans aren't Afrocentric, they are just African. Afrocentricity is a world view adopted by individuals outside of Africa. For African people who still have ties to the continent they simply are African, and it is their native world view.

Where do I fall in all of this? Well, although as far back as my living family members can remember, we have been in the United States, I know I am African. I may never know what specific country, but I know. I embrace the natural curl of my hair, and the darkness of my skin-tone because I know that being me is something to be proud of. I feel a connection to my ancestors through music, dance, and art.

Afrocentricity doesn't define who I am, it is just a part of what makes me, me. I don't believe it mandatory for anyone, but it works for me :-)


  1. While I understand the added complexities due to the difference between coming to American by choice (presumably) and coercion, this is the same type of problem that most immigrants, several generations removed, have to deal with. I know the country of origin of 3 of my 8 great grandparents. That's it. I know nothing of either language (Danish or German). Only know one "tradition"...a danish pastry. That's all I have from my ancestors, all that's passed down.

    While my family (at least the parts that I know) haven't been in America for that long (late 1800s), this is even more difficult for those whose families have been in the States for much longer.

  2. Cool read. Having grown up in a predominately white area for almost the entirety of my life, understanding what it is to be 'black' has been slow. I don't think of much in terms of 'color' or behavior. I guess I think that I am me not matter what I look like, but on the other hand I realize I am not white nor do I try to act a certain way. As I've gotten older and done more traveling (To bigger cities and Africa itself), I've found that encountering other people changes how I see myself. When I was in Africa, they were adamant that African Americans only be called Black Americans. Also, I found that with my skin color ppl have an automatic perception of how I am.

    So, the long and short is I don't think too much about color, but I am trying to be more aware of who I am in general. I guess we'll see how an Afrocentric view plays into that. :0)

  3. Ronnica? this is not the same type of problem that "most immigrants, several generations removed" have to deal with. not even close.

    black americans don't know the country of origin of 3 of their 8 grandparents. they don't know where ANY of their ancestors were taken from. they can't even tell you what part of the continent they were taken from. okay? not. the. same.

    also, our ancestors were brought here by force and were not allowed to speak their, literally, they would get whipped for doing so...which accelerated and deepened the separation from our roots. i could go on, but i'll leave it there.

    i know you meant no harm by making that comparison, but it was a very flawed one. have a nice day.

  4. Anonymous: I wasn't discounting the added difficulties that slavery presents (as hard as it is to say that academically). I was merely trying to point out that LaNeshe's observations on this specific issue is actually good commentary on larger one that she wasn't seeking to address.

    Of course the forced co-mingling of the peoples and the stripping of cultural ties makes this especially hurtful.

    I can't help but grieve that I have no idea what my ancestors' lives were like 150 years ago. I'm not implying that my situation is worse than anyone else's, just a personal comment.

  5. This is a great topic which can be discussed at length. My parents are Nigerian and I am first generation American, and my siblings and I struggle with trying to remain connected to our African roots while conforming to an American lifestyle. It's hard because there are many elements to culture including language, fashion, religion, history, etc. Afrocentricity is a culture unto itself, however it is not "African culture". I have to argue that with globalization (which some scholars would claim is actually the Westernization of the world) Africa itself is losing it's heritage. Many people living in Africa can not even speak their own native language. So your description of Afrocentricity as a reactionary measure is fairly accurate. I thoroughly enjoyed this article.

  6. @Everyone, thank you for your thought provoking comments. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

  7. i love this! i have tried very hard to not over identify with "africa". I dont want to seem like im turning my back on my roots but i feel that this is not my culture. My daughter is part kemyan and I really know the difference in cultures between american blacks and africans . i think we need to find out own identity

  8. I love this post and I am continental African and i gotta tell you. I LOOOVE my African American friends, BUT,, BUT i had a VERY negative perspective when i came in the US.. when leaving Tanzania, i was 13 yrs old, my Granny told me to be "careful of the Black Americans" since they "hate us" and they are "violent" people who do "drugs and LOTS of drugs".. so for the first 1 yr i was in the US i avoided all African American even in church!..
    but later on boy i met a sweet guy who was African American but had opposite views abt me ex.. African are "dirty, stinky, wild, animal-like, tribal, old-fashioned and violent"

    so there we were...
    both of us had misconceptions abt each other's culture and we overcame them.. so i challenge all my African American people to make an effort to know at least one continental African who was BORN and RAISED in Africa.. not US and all my continental African people to make an effort to know one person who was BORN and RAISED in the US BLACK community!.. Amen!

  9. oh by the way, we ended up dating in HS, our parents met etc and turns out we had more in common than we thought.. both our families were Christian, I wasn't a violent refugee and he wasn't dealing drugs.. and both our grandma's loved knitting, going to church and gossiping, and drinking orange juice and were both nice ladies.. so i had to give a call and tell my grandma that she had lots of things in common with Black American even if she's never been to America :)



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