Walker muddles Afrocentrism

May 27, 2001|By Gregory Kane | By Gregory Kane,Sun Staff

"We Can't Go Home Again," by Clarence E. Walker. Oxford University Press. 172 pages. $25.

Here's how to guarantee yourself a book contract: pen a treatise bashing Afrocentrism. It's already worked for Jared Taylor in "Paved With Good Intentions," Dinesh D'Souza in "The End of Racism" and most recently John McWhorter in "Losing the Race." Granted, the theme of each of those works is to bash black folks in general, with the Afrocentrists thrown in for good measure. In fairness to Walker, he keeps his focus on the Afrocentrists, but oh, how egregious the offenses he commits along the way.

The shenanigans start in the introduction, when Walker says "A curious amalgam of historical fact and fiction ... occupies a central place in [Molefi K. Asante's] and other Afrocentric scholars' work." Walker mentions several other authors and their works in a footnote, including Chancellor Williams' "The Destruction of Black Civilization." But nowhere in the rest of his book does Walker support his claim about Williams' book.

The author also buys into the "Negro" terminology, apparently forgetting, if he ever knew, that the use of the term by Western anthropologists to classify those African blacks who showed signs of developed civilization as "non-Negroid" and those that didn't as "Negroid" sparked the Afrocentric movement in the first place. In a major gaffe, he criticizes the work of another Afrocentrist, the Senegalese writer Cheikh Anta Diop, by using a footnote to give James Baldwin's negative assessment of Diop's contention that ancient Egyptian civilization was a black one.

Baldwin was a superb writer, but history -- U.S., world, European, African, ancient -- was not his bailiwick. It's bad enough that critics of Diop and Williams waited until both these men were in the grave before attacking them, but Walker reaches a new low by hiding behind Baldwin to attack Diop.

Walker fails most miserably when he accuses Afrocentrists of victim envy by trying to equate the Jewish Holocaust of World War II with the holocaust of slavery. The enslavement of thousands of Africans doesn't qualify as a holocaust, in Walker's view.

"The holocaust and the slave trade / slavery occupy separate analytical spaces," Walker writes, failing to capitalize the "h" on the Jewish Holocaust, which is critical. Webster's New World dictionary defines "holocaust" as "a great or total destruction of life," which the African slave trade certainly was. The upper case "Holocaust" is defined as "the systematic destruction of over six million European Jews by the Nazis before and during World War II."

Walker pillories Afrocentrists throughout his book, but even they know how to pick up a dictionary. Having trapped himself in this logical bog, Walker seeks help in getting out. He quotes a Deborah E. Lipstadt on the Holocaust. "It was the only time in recorded history," opines Lipstadt, "that a state tried to destroy an entire people regardless of an individual's age, sex, location, profession or belief."

Lipstadt, whoever the Dickens she is, fails Walker miserably here. The Holocaust most certainly was not the first instance such happened. The Germans did it at the turn of the century, when their stated policy was to exterminate the entire Herero and Nama population of Southwest Africa to the last man, woman and child.

This may have been expected of Walker who, in an earlier work called "De-Romanticizing Black History" dismissed Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association as a "West Indian movement." He doesn't do much better here, even failing to use the only argument necessary against Afrocentrists, which is this:

"It isn't important what black Egyptians were doing four or five thousand years ago. It's only important what black people are doing today."

Gregory Kane, a columnist for The Sun, was half of a reporting team that in June 1996 bought two slaves in Africa, freed them and then wrote a series of articles demonstrating that slavery is still practiced.

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