Afrocentrism and Eurocentrism differ in many ways, and have help to advance the cause of both Africans and Europeans throughout history. Some would argue that had it not been for Eurocentrism Afrocentrism would never have existed, and in a sense the former is responsible for the creation of the latter. The manner in which both ethnocentric ideas view the world are totally different from one another but they are alike in the sense that they strive to place each of their ideals at the center.
There is a long storied past associated with these two ideologies as well as a difference in opinion between and among the two. Afrocentrism seeks to teach a worldview that highlights the contributions of African people worldwide to counter the Eurocentric worldview which diminishes contributions made by non-Europeans or non-Westerners. Eurocentrism on the other hand seeks to teach a worldview in which European and/or Western culture is superior to the cultures of the rest of the world, and contributions made by Europeans and the West are of the upmost importance, and significance.
These two vastly different perspectives are both very interesting, and serve the purpose of the advancement of the people in which it chooses to emphasize. Afrocentrism as described by most of its scholars as an ethnocentric ideology that places an emphasis on things African, and attempts to give Africans their rightful place in world history. Its aim is to shift the focus from a European centered history to an African centered one. Afrocentrism through the use or historical research of African culture attempts to distinguish the influence of Arab, European, and Asian peoples from that of indigenous African achievements.
This worldview places focus on African civilizations that existed long before Greek and Roman civilizations such as Ancient Egypt, Nubia, and Meroitic civilizations. Afrocentrism and Afrocentric scholars use history as a way of teaching Africans worldwide their history and culture and reverse the Eurocentric history that has been taught to them which diminish the African presence, and contribution to world history. Eurocentrism is a worldview which places emphasis on things European and/or Western, and views the world from a Western perspective. Eurocentric education places Europeans and the West in a higher esteem than the rest of the world.
This ethnocentric worldview leads people to believe whether consciously or sub consciously that Western culture is universal and other cultures are not important enough to be studied or researched in any depth. For example those who were taught under a Eurocentric doctrine would learn about the Dark Ages and immediately come to the conclusion that this turmoil was not only happening in Europe but all over the world at that time. This perspective leads people to believe that Western culture and values apply to everyone and those who do not practice these beliefs and value system are backwards and primitive.
The ethnocentric ideology known as Eurocentrism is a long developing ideology that has affected nearly every person on the planet in some form or fashion. As far back as the fifth century B. C. E you can see a Eurocentric thought of superiority being developed in the writings of the Greek historian Herodotus. In his observation of the Asian people he describes them as “barbaric” hordes who “despite splendid architecture lack European individuality. ”(Herodotus) Eurocentrism began spreading vastly in the early 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries through European colonization and imperialism.
Eurocentric thinkers and writers tend to believe whether consciously or subconsciously in some basic principles when it comes to looking at other societies and civilizations. Non-European societies tend to be despotic and servile, as against the West’s freedom and individualism. Non-European societies are Islamic, or pagan, or believe in strange religions, which are inferior to Christianity, or lack its truth. Non-European societies are cruel and lack concern for human life. They practice barbaric customs toward women, such as female genital mutilation (North Africa), widow-burning (sati, India) or foot-binding (China).
Non-European societies are inflexible and unchanging. Some European thinkers have attributed this lack of change to topography or climate, for instance extreme dependence on a major river, such as the Nile or the Yellow River, or extreme heat or dryness. Non-European societies are poor, backward, and underdeveloped, as opposed to the industrialized, progressive, and rich West. Non-European societies lack rational modes of thinking and scientific approaches (Ancient African Writing Systems and Knowledge ).
This Eurocentric thinking through colonialism and imperialism has affected the rest of the world a great deal. Those who were born and raised in a society where Eurocentrism dominates are raised to believe that the West is superior to the rest of the world, and that Caucasians are superior to everyone and everything. When looking at and studying the history of different societies across the world where Eurocentrism has spread, one can clearly see how different that society has become since the influx of Eurocentric thought and practices.
In many instances such as countries in Africa these societies do not profit from their natural resources but instead Europeans and/or the West collect most of the profits and use these natural resources in order to benefit them and their societies. In a Eurocentric frame of mind that shall be explained later, there is nothing morally wrong with this. Although Eurocentric thinking and ideals are an old tradition the term “Eurocentric” did not come about until very late during the decolonization period of World War II (Shohat). It was based on an earlier word “Europe-centric” which scholars began using in the early 20th century.
During the European Renaissance is where most scholars trace the earliest forms of a mass Eurocentric thinking among the leaders of Europe. The effects of this type of thinking developed during the age of European imperialism which began occurring during the 15th century (Tibebu). This worldview had many different catalysts such as the Commercial Revolution, the Scientific Revolution, and the rise of colonial empires. Around the 17th century European scholars began placing rationale for European domination over others in encyclopedias and published novels and books.
In 1741 Johann Heinrich Zedler wrote “even though Europe is the smallest of the world’s four continents, it has for various reasons a position that places it before all others…. its inhabitants have excellent customs they are courteous and erudite in both sciences and crafts. ” In the Brockhaus Enzyklopadie of 1854 it states that Europe “due to its geographical situation and its cultural and political significance is clearly the most important of the five continents, over which it has gained a most influential government both in material and even more so in cultural aspects. ? Eurocentrism reached its height during the 18th and 19th centuries through the Industrial Revolution as well as a second European colonization age. Europe and the West were becoming more of a technologically advanced society, and felt superior when placed in contrast with societies that still practiced traditional hunting, farming and herding where Europeans were beginning to conquer and colonize(Shohat). Western historians during this time wrote of a world history in which Europe became an almost perfect model for the rest of the world to follow.
They described other nations and cultures as being outdated and just entering an age in which Europe had long since passed. Famous Eurocentric writers such as Karl Marx expressed his view of European superiority by teaching through his writings that European culture should be the model for the rest of the world to follow. In education despite who is attending the school or university a Eurocentric doctrine is almost always taught, especially here in America. Rarely will non-Europeans learn anything of their own culture and history, but only of the West.
If they are taught anything about themselves and their history it is only through the lens of a Eurocentric reality. Eurocentrism not only dominates in classrooms and through imperialism but also through time. The prime meridian is based in Greenwich London and provides the basis for most maps which are based on longitude and latitude and has been used since 1851. These and many other Eurocentric practices throughout the world shows the dominant effect that Eurocentric thinking has had on people of no European or Western origin.
Europeans who saw themselves as superior to others felt it only right that the entire world adjust to them, instead of adjusting according to where they were at in the world. Out of this Eurocentric form of thinking and domination arose a new type of ethnocentric ideology in which African people and principles were placed at the center. After being stifled for so long both mentally and physically Africans all around the world, longed for a new understanding of the world that placed an emphasis on their contributions.
The study of Africans and their history was started by a small but powerful group of scholars almost 200 years ago. These men and women provided scholarship that attempted to rewrite history and provide evidence which proves the global role African people played in civilizing the world. Samuel E. Cornish and John B. Russwurm were the first African Americans to discuss and explain the African origins of ancient Egypt, Ethiopia, Babylon, and Nineveh. Through the Freedom’s Journal the newspaper founded by the two men on March 16, 1827, they began telling the untold story of African history and influence throughout the world. Bacon) Edward Blyden in his works in 1869 discussed the African role in West Asia, Egypt, and even ancient America. In 1883 Dr. G. W. Williams wrote the first book on African American history entitled The History of the Negro Race which provided further evidence to support the African origin of not only Egypt and West Asia but the presence of Africans in Indo China and the Malay Peninsula as well(Williams). A decade later in 1893 R. L. Perry also provided evidence relating to the African role in Greece, Mesopotamia, and even Phoenicia.
Pauline E. Hopkins in 1905 also added to this unprecedented research related to the role of Africans in Southeast Asia as well as China. (Ancient African Writing Systems and Knowledge ) These scholars provided archeological and anthropological evidence in their published textbooks which proved the existence of ancient civilizations in Egypt, Nubia/Sudan, Mesopotamia, Palestine, and North Africa. In these early textbooks scholars included discussions of several things relating to African history and influence throughout the world such as;
The artifacts depicting Blacks found at ancient sites recovered through archaeological excavation; The confirmation of the validity of the classical and Old Testament references to Blacks as founders of civilization in Africa and Asia; The presence of isolated pockets of Blacks existing outside Africa; and that the contemporary Arab people in modern Egypt are not the descendants of the ancient Egyptians (Eurocentrism-Examples). By the end of the 19th century substantial research had been dedicated to uncovering the lost history of Africans throughout the world.
In the early twentieth century Caribbean and African American intellectuals greatly expanded on the scholarship done by the aforementioned Afrocentric scholars. Black publications such as The Crisis and the Journal of Negro History discussed the African dominance in ancient Egypt and investigated the history of black Africa. As editor of The Crisis W. E. B. Dubois researched West African culture and made attempts at constructing a Pan Africanist value system based on West African traditions. Dubois is also credited as the creator f the term “Afrocentrism” as early as 1961 in his typescript draft of proposed plans for an Encyclopedia Africana, which was to be unashamedly Afro-Centric. (Lewis) Dubois is one of the most influential of all Afrocentric scholars through his works in The Crisis, his groundbreaking work Souls of Black Folks in which he characterized the style as “African”, contending that “the blood of my fathers spoke through me and cast off the English restraint of my training and surroundings” (Lewis). W. E. B.
Dubois provided African Americans an outlook on history that gave them a new sense of self pride and love through his many years of historical research and analysis. Along with Dubois there are many influential African Centered scholars who have provided substantial research, published books, essays, as well as given many lectures that have helped to uncover thousands of years of African history. Cheik Anta Diop is credited as being the founder of modern Afrocentrism(Asante, Cheikh Anta Diop: An Intellectual Portrait).
Diop an African French historian, anthropologist, physician, and politician help lay the foundation for Afrocentric thought in education and argued in his works that ancient Egypt was a completely black civilization (Asante, Cheikh Anta Diop: An Intellectual Portrait). Although Diop had been doing research and publications for years he would not get widely recognized until his first work was translated into English.
The African Origins of Civilization: Myth or Reality was published in 1974 and provided Diop with a much wider audience for his works and provided a resource for young African Centered scholars who refer to this book as the foundation for their research (Asante, Cheikh Anta Diop: An Intellectual Portrait). In this work and others Diop explained how all European archaeologists past and present continue to understate the extent and possibility of African civilizations. Dr. John Henrik Clarke one of the most well known of all Afrocentric scholars credits Dr. Diop as a major influence in his works. Dr. Clarke who Marimbi Ani describes as a man who “exemplifies those values upon which the victorious movement of our people depends. His work and his character together have created a symbol that inspire greatness” (Ani). Dr. Clarke sought out early in his life to learn and to teach his people as he learned.
He is a pioneer in creating Africana Studies as a major in universities all across America (Ani). A self educated scholar, Dr. Clarke through his essays, and many many lectures in classrooms and churches all across the world provided millions of African people with a historical backing as proof to their greatness. A more modern African scholar who was influenced by both Dr. Diop, and Dr. Clarke is Dr. Mualana Karenga who is most known for being the creator of the Afrocentric holiday Kwanzaa. Dr. Karenga with his series of textbooks “Introduction to Black Studies” and his activism in the late 60s and 70s help to further the Afrocentric education paradigm (Asante, Maulana Karenga: An Intellectual Portrait).
After receiving his first doctorate in 1977 Dr. Karenga formulated a set of principles called Kawaida which is a Swahili term for tradition and urged African Americans to adopt the tradition of Kwanzaa in place of other practices which he said were myths (Asante, Maulana Karenga: An Intellectual Portrait). Through his tiring research and dedication, thousands of African Americans celebrate and practice the seven principles of Kwanzaa which teach valuable African Centered ideas and values every year. Many African Centered scholars like Dr. Karenga and his US organization were not only historians and philosophers, but activists as well. Afrocentrics see their fight as going beyond the classroom and lecture halls and on to the front lines against a Eurocentric system they see as oppressive. Most of these scholars were a part of many different so called radical organizations that fought for Pan African ideals worldwide. Cheikh Anta Diop for example was the founder of three political organizations in Senegal which called for African independence which ultimately caused him to be thrown in jail where he nearly died (Asante, Cheikh Anta Diop: An Intellectual Portrait).
Dr. Clarke as a young man was a member of the Young Communist League and years later he would help form the Organization for Afro American Unity, along with another well known Afrocentric scholar Malcolm X (Clarke). These many scholars past and present were so dedicated to their cause that writing books and lecturing was simply not enough to correct the problems of Africans worldwide. They felt a need to agitate the political structure and systems that in their mind were the root cause of these issues.
Afrocentrism calls for Africans all across the world to return to traditional African Centered ideals and principles which most scholars believe will help to free Africans both physically and mentally. These ideals are very ancient and based on a sense of communalism and family. They were developed due to the environment where Africans dwelled in ancient years. Due to the vastness of plant and animal life throughout the continent, these early Africans learned that sharing and communalism was the best means for the survival of their societies.
Through this communalism developed other ideals and principles which resonated throughout the continent although each society varied in their beliefs. Principles such as “the survival of the group is of the utmost importance” (Religious Traditions of Africa and the African Diaspora) shows how individuality did not play a prominent role in African societies. They felt that “men should appropriately utilize the materials around them “Ones self is complementary to others”(Religious Traditions of Africa and the African Diaspora) and regulates how the group as a whole functions as a means for survival.
Africans also saw nature as something that should be held in high regards and respected at all times. They believed that there was a “oneness between humans and nature” due to their studies on plant, animal, and human life. Africans through their research and daily lives saw how nature and humans could work together in order for them to live side by side in harmony, and benefit each other. Africans also used nature as a means of spirituality and developed different deities to represent things that they observed occurring in nature which they believed to be sent from the creator.
Many people outside of these societies have interpreted this as meaning that Africans worshiped many gods when in most cases these were manifestations of one God represented by different forms of nature which Africans gave a name. These early Africans also believed that “change occurs in a natural evolutionary cycle” (Religious Traditions of Africa and the African Diaspora) and due to this belief viewed death as being a part of life. To them life was a circle of 360 degrees in which death occurred in order for new life to be created once again.
When someone in the group died it was looked at as a transition into another part of life, which then made them an ancestor that was to be respected and called upon for guidance. They also believed that harmony between men and women was of the “highest value in life” (Religious Traditions of Africa and the African Diaspora). One of the most old and well known African symbols, the ankh clearly shows the importance Africans placed on male and female relationships.
The Ankh was a symbol that represented life and death as well as male and female balance. (Ellison) The Ankh closely resembles the Christian cross and some would argue is the basis for the cross. At the top of the ankh is a circle which represents the sun and the female sexual organ while the bottom represents the male sexual organ, and the vertical bars join the two together(Shaw and Nicholson). This was a spiritual symbol among the Africans in ancient Egypt which displays how deeply they felt about male and female relationships.
This respect for each other regardless of gender resonated throughout each society to the point where men had no problem living in a matriarchal society where women held most of the power, and did not see their manhood diminished in any way because of this. Africans also valued their elders, and saw them as the teachers and wisdom that held their societies together. They did not put their elders away in homes but instead took care of them as well as learned from them until their dying day.
Becoming old in age was not viewed negatively but instead it was a place of honor and meant that your opinion held the most weight, which is why there were a council of elders in most African societies which handled disputes and made decisions in order to keep the society prosperous. In Michael Bradley’s book “The Iceman Inheritance” he lays out an historical and scientific argument that explains not only white supremacy but the origins of Eurocentrism as well. In this book Bradley explains how Europeans originated in a harsh cold environment that did not have much vegetation or animal life for them to sustain themselves with (Bradley).
This created a harsh hostile human being and laid the basis for Eurocentrism which places an emphasis on the individual (Religious Traditions of Africa and the African Diaspora). In the caves that Eurocentric principles were developed there was no sense of community or sharing, due to the fact that there was nothing to share and each person had to look out for his or her own survival (Bradley). This outlook created a perspective among Europeans which gave them the desire for domination of everything around them, whether it be nature or humans.
Europeans may have felt that the only way to survive is to dominate nature and force it to benefit you. Europeans saw a separation between humans and nature so they did not see anything wrong with exploiting the natural materials around them because they saw nature as something that was created to benefit humans instead of humans and nature benefiting each other. The Eurocentric individualistic ideal states that “one’s self is distinct from others” (Religious Traditions of Africa and the African Diaspora)meaning that the survival of one person has nothing to do with that of another person even if they live in the same society.
Europeans saw all men as “individualistic, unique, and different” which meant that whatever choices you made as an individual were not determined by any outside force or the society you were raised in, but by you and you alone. “The survival of the fittest holds the most importance” (Religious Traditions of Africa and the African Diaspora) in a Eurocentric framework and those who do not survive simply were not smart or strong enough to make it.
Europeans believed that competition was the only way of producing a great society, in which the lesser would be separated from the greater. The Eurocentric worldview is a linear one in which “all events are separate and there is no togetherness” (Religious Traditions of Africa and the African Diaspora). Death is seen not as a part of life, but as the ending of life and the person or thing that dies ceases to exist completely. Eurocentric ideals also teaches that “that there is only one supreme deity to worship” and that “a distant and impersonal god holds the most significance”.
Europeans did not see something as close to them as nature representing God, but instead as a creation of God that must fight to survive just as they have to. These two different ways of thinking shows more than anything how the realities of a person’s surroundings and environment have a great impact on their outlook on life. When researched one can arrive at the conclusion that both ways to thinking are neither wrong nor right, but perhaps an inevitability which arose out of an occurrence of events throughout history.
On one side you have Eurocentrism which arose out of a means of survival and developed into domination of nearly the entire world. On the other side there is Afrocentrism which developed also as a means of survival but eventually re-developed as a way to re-introduce Africans to Afrocentric ideas and principles. Regardless of which ideology you choose or were raised to agree or not to agree with, the fact remains that each serves the same purpose which is the uplift the ethnic group and way of thinking as a means for survival on this planet.