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How to do the Afrocentric Hustle
When people who know what they’re talking about say “Afrocentrist,” they refer not to all “African people,” but to a small minority, the Afro equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan, and a worldview best described as “black suprem-acist.” Many assume the term is an ethnic catchall, and Afrocentrists exploit this misconstruance by imitating real activists, revolutionaries and scholars who address racist, or flawed scholarly or social paradigms, and make inflammatory statements inviting blanket responses directed at “Africans.” This “debate” (Afrocentrism vs sanity) has been through several “rounds.” Derek Walcott and Kamau Brathwaite slugged it out in the 60s (see Walcott’s What the Twilight Says, and anything of Brathwaite’s.) Naipaul exposed it in Guerillas and the Mimic Men. In the US there was the Black Athena imbroglio, and Henry Louis Gates Jr and Molefi Asante sparring in the 1990s. Gates’s op-ed in the New York Times on April 22, 2010, “Time to stop the slavery blame game,” was a victory lap. The victory moment was the exploding heads of Afrocentrists who’d made careers of scholarly axioms like “they’ll never let a black man be President of the United States.”
In the (US) public sphere, over the last 15 years, cultural critics like Stanley Crouch (The All American Skin Game, The Artificial White Man), John McWhorter (Authentically Black), Randall Kennedy (Sellout) and many others have pretty much demolished Afrocentric populists who promote gangsta rap, Nation of Islam lunacy and “reparations” as black culture. Crouch’s benchmark essay “The Afrocentric Hustle” (1998) sums it up. Afrocentrism is: “A form of therapy, a born-again order making it possible to cease being an American shackled by a feeling of inferiority and turn [it] into a wise and confident African.” This perfectly describes Trini-dadian/Caribbean Afrocentrists, the lost battalion still fighting a war that's long over: the ethnic novelist seeking “reparation” from and rapprochement with a white man who does not care; the “elder,” in African costume who declares himself a “master,” and is endorsed by pathetic fantasists in high positions in state, institutional and NGO apparatuses; the “activist” who arranges smirking criminals into heroic poses with lunatic arguments about Canboulay and slavery.
This insanity is ubiquitous in Trinidad, and mixed into conceptions of nationalism, culture, and patriotism. But a clear statement of what some black Trinidadians want, and mean, is available from a series of recent texts: Melisse Ellis’s article in the Guardian on July 30; Pearl Eintou Springer’s articles in the Express on March 10 and February 23; Leroy Clarke’s ongoing surreality show; Khafra Kambon’s article in the Express on September 8; and Karene Asche’s and Cro Cro’s calypsoes at Dimanche Gras this year. Common to all are rage, insecurity, violence, hyper-emotionalism as ersatz fact and glaring psy- chopathology. Nothing in there is about “African” uplift, or anything so sane. Common is individualist power-lust, which con- flates with the PNM’s power-as-narcotic cultishness. What makes Afrocentrism relevant now is its implicit belief that once the PNM is in power, Africans are mystically empowered, and crime, poverty, a wrecked economy and society, and the welfare of other citizens, do not matter. Any other government is illegitimate, and their authority is subject to challenge—as seen in the SoE responses from all over. The persistence of the position is enabled by the lack of dissent, and the suppression of sane discussion of the difference between Afrocentrism and national culture. It is aided by the importation and destructive decontextualisation of Afro-American pop culture among the PNM constitu- ency.
Thus there is no distinction in the Afro-Trini intellectual eco-nomy between Tyler Perry and Spike Lee, Cornel West and Leo-nard Jeffries, Steve Harvey and Dave Chappelle, the Nation of Islam and the AME church. Naturally, this epistemic violence has implications for other citizens. Melisse Ellis’s article admits to an essential part of the Afrocentric creed: the belief that “Africans” are the original, entitled tribe, and “others” are outsiders, ineligible to comment and participate in African affairs—like, presumably, government. Non-academics might not rec-ognise the enormity of this use of the term “other” (Ms Ellis is actually Dr Ellis, PhD, History, UWI), but to admit that you consider yourself “central,” and everyone else “other,” is as funny as a video of “wrongfully arrested” youth seeking “reparations” from passing motorists on Nelson Street. Or as sad as people cheering for criminals who have terrorised the country for a decade, on grounds of clownish misconceptions of “democratic rights,” “racial discrimination” and the like.
Many of the “activists” respond this way because they’re programmed to; it’s almost an autonomic ethnic response that results from the conditioning of PNM cult members by the Creole cultural complex to react once any comment is not articulated by an “authorised” source (ie, black authority). It starts at UWI, which, as I’ve maintained, is an Afrocentric manufacturing zone, which products it disguises as Carnival, culture and history. But it’s not en- tirely the UWI’s fault—if programmes go unchallenged proponents can assume institutional complicity. Who can be blamed is a former UWI lecturer, who, when mandated to initiate national discussions on the matter in 2003 by the President, said: “It’s not about race”. He is, in this regard, emblematic of the PP Government which, through its own inanition, cynicism, and ignorance, has endorsed the cultural status quo.
Without an acknowledgement of Afrocentrism and its relation to state symbolism, the public sphere, nationalism, art, and education, we will keep reliving this historical-political moment indefinitely, or at least until we collapse.
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