Afrocentricity/Afrocentrism is better referred to as African-centered thought. The term has endured several political and vernacular changes, but conceptually it has remained consistent. African-centered thought symbolizes the intellectual, psychological, and social struggle of descendants forcibly removed from Africa and placed in the Americas. It is representative of an intellectual and practical effort to reclaim a cultural legacy, consciousness, and history that positions an authentic cultural unity of the continent of Africa as the worldview lens from which human endeavors are interpreted and engaged.
Afrocentricity/Afrocentrism is relatively recent nomenclature. The precursor to stake a modern literary claim recognizing a distinct cultural identity of African Americans can be found in the pioneering work of W. E. B. Du Bois in 1913, The Souls of Black Folk. Indirectly anchored in African-centered thought, Du Bois articulated a paradoxical condition of being an African in America. Du Bois’s concept of “double consciousness” is a historical reference point for acknowledging an alternative worldview at conflict with the hegemonic Eurocentric worldview in America. Contemporary African-centered anthropologists, social scientists, and psychologists have articulated an authentic African worldview for such concepts as personality, identity, and optimal health and behavior.
Based on the pioneering scholarship of Cheikh Anta Diop and G. G. James in 1954, Afrocentricity/ Afrocentrism postulates that an African-centered world-view places African cultural unity, history, and philosophy as the central perspective for which the world is experienced, interpreted, and engaged. Contemporary scholars such as Marimba Ani, Molefi Kete Asante, Asa Hillard, Maulana Karenga, and John Mbiti have stated that the African worldview provides a method and process of analysis that reflects the historical continuity, collective consciousness, and cultural unity of ethnocul-tural groups on the continent of precolonial Africa. Afrocentricity/Afrocentrism, although similar to Pan-Africanism or Black Nationalism, is not a political ideology but a cultural consciousness.
Some themes of an African worldview are ancestor veneration, social collectivity, and spiritual basis of existence. Ancestor veneration in Africa is the belief that ancestors are deities, much like saints and prophets in other traditions, and they are very much part of the cosmology and influence daily living. They are respected and celebrated but not worshipped. In a therapeutic setting ancestors play an important role in the healing process. Social collectivity by clan groupings influences the distribution of wealth and labor. Social roles are flexible to meet the needs of the collective.
Research investigating African Americans must include the impact on the community or other systems that are connected to their lives. The spiritual basis of existence refers to the belief that all things are spiritually manifested. Spirit is the essence of existence. There is only one God, a Divine energy that flows through all things and thus creates our interdependence. Truth is revealed through signs, the rhythm of nature, symbolic imagery, the cosmos, and the human being. This value introduces the notion and acceptance of phenomena, which are critical to the analysis of human behavior from an African-centered worldview. In essence the African worldview takes a teleological orientation.
African-centered psychology is concerned with defining African psychological experiences from an African-centered worldview. According to Na’im Akbar, Kobi K. K. Kambon, and Wade Nobles, an African-centered worldview assumes a philosophical premise that utilizes an affective inclusive metaphysical epistemology and that employs an axiology that is based on a member-to-member values orientation, an ontology that is diunital (the attraction of opposites or curricular thought), and a cosmology that acknowledges the interdependence of all things seen and unseen, which is the essence of the Divine Spirit. In essence African-centered psychology is conscious and unconscious.
African-centered psychological theory has emerged from roughly three general periods on the continuum of African world civilization: Africa in antiquity, traditional, and re-establishment. African-centered psychology situated in ancient Africa draws on the wisdom of the world’s first known and recorded scholars of the world. During this period covering several dynasties and thousands of years, there was a particular focus on teleological orientation (attention to purpose) and maintenance of the self in a God-like fashion. Spiritual illumination through harmonious and balanced behaviors (actions and thoughts) was the criterion for a functioning African mind. During the traditional period African-centered conceptualizations of the self continued to focus on spiritual connectivity as the central purpose of existence. As the previous dynasties expanded and then fell, populations shifted with migrations. During this period the basic concepts for understanding the African mind remained consistent with those of the previous period, though the models and practices (i.e., rituals) were adapted for new environments. The central teleological orientation (attention to purpose) remained consistent. In fact this provided the foundation for cultural unity that preserved the various ethnic groups during hostile Arab and European invasions and colonization. During this current period of re-establishment, African-centered psychological theory has adopted and integrated the language and practices of its colonizers while maintaining its core theoretical tenets from the previous periods. While challenges to African cultural unity, as a result of colonial hegemony and religious missionaries, have created contention within postmodern African cities, African-centered and non-African-centered praxes coexist.
Afrocentricity/Afrocentrism is a representation of African thought and worldview that is placed at the central perspective of analysis. As a unit of analysis, African-centered thought is both individual and institutional. An Afrocentric/Africentric orientation can inform individual and institutional behaviors, methods, and practices. In particular, African-centered thought can provide a framework for understanding such concepts as spirituality, humanity, functioning, illness, identity development, purpose, assessment, personality, community, and civilization.
In the future, Afrocentricity/Afrocentrism, as influenced by African-centered thought, should be placed as the primary unit of analysis for the development of appropriate interventions, assessments, and theories for addressing the health of people of African descent. Non-African-centered perspectives should be seen as supplemental or alternative.
The challenge of an African-centered thought is inclusion in the traditional canon of psychological theory. Dominant Western theories have produced a condition of scientific colonialism that employs “different equals deficient” logic. Eurocentric thought, institutionally, has taken the position that alternative intellectual traditions are alternatives, deserve prolonged empirical scrutiny, and are seen as supplemental to its original position. As the issues of, for example, ethnic-specific health and educational disparities continue to exist, the claims of intellectual supremacy and universal applicability of Western thought will be difficult, if not impossible, to defend.
Worldview-oriented psychological thought offers a true depiction of humanity’s cultural pluralism.
- Kambon, K. K. K. (1992). The African personality in America: An African centered framework. Tallahassee, FL: Nubian Nation Publications.
- Myers, L. J. (1988). Understanding an Afrocentric worldview: Introduction to an optimal psychology. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.
- Nobles, W. W. (1980). African psychology: Towards it reclamation, reascension, and revitalization. Oakland, CA: Black Family Institute.
- Parham, T. A. (2002). Counseling persons of African descent: Raising the bar of practitioner competence. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.