Stop Being Victims of Western Historical Narratives – Molefi Asante
by Dr. E. Obiri Addo, Accra-Ghana
Dr. Molefi Kete Asante has urged all African people to insist on their own stories rather than continue to be objects of Westerners’ historical portrayals. In order to do this they have to interrogate the foundations of African cultural beliefs and practices. Dr. Asante is a professor of Africology and African studies at Temple University in Philadelphia, USA, and was the featured speaker at a public lecture at the Ghana National Theatre on June 16, 2015. It was part of the celebration of the official launching of the J. H. Nketia Center for African Studies to be housed at the African University College of Communication (AUCC). He spoke on the theme, “This River is from Long Ago: Imagining a New African Studies Future.”
Dr. Asante opined that, “Africa is full of surprises, and nothing stuns a conscious, assertive, self-assured African anymore than to see a mature, adult African rushing to become new victims of Western stories whether they are Harry Potter or Jesus Christ or Michael Foucoult.” He lamented that, new movies of the Exodus: God and Kings and Moses continue to project “a white Africa that built the pyramids.” These, he argued, are processes that marginalize African people from their own cultures. “China will build Africa China wants, Africans should build Africa Africans want by perfecting what their ancestors build, including the traps they used to catch fish in the river,” he stated.
Professor Asante advised young Africans not to be ashamed to speak the names of their ancestors, as well as speak their languages and proverbs, adding that, “serious conversations of who we are and what we’ve lost should happen.” He expressed dismay about the plight of Africa today. He observed that, “no place on earth displays so much contradiction. Africa is the richest continent on earth, yet it has the poorest people.” He noted that African people lack access to ancient sources of knowledge and wisdom, and insisted that African studies should be an active field to revive African ideas.
Dr. Asante identified four main pillars of what he called “Westernity” that have axed African creativity: Imperialism, neo-liberalism, neocolonialism, and conceptual aggression. “Why is everything European considered as universal? Why is everything African considered as negative? Why do Africans bleach their skins, and take Western names? Because something is wrong with us,” he quipped. He maintained that African people are no juniors to anybody, adding, “let us interrogate our own narrative as well.” He condemned what he described as “Eurocentric particularisms” that negate African contributions to the world’s cultural heritage. He challenged the presence of Islam and Christianity in Africa and questioned why African people do not see these religions as disruptive forces in African historical narrative. “Neither of the two religions is African. We embrace them because we don’t know who we are,” he explained. He mentioned how Arab slavery started in Africa only to be continued by Europeans, beginning with the Portuguese. “If we don’t remember these historical disruptions we will always lose,” he stressed. Furthermore he wondered why African people have not used their foundational values for industrialization. “We will continue to be victimized so long as we remember the ancestors of our conquerors and colonizers more than our African ancestors,” he added. The Professor admonished African people to do away with “trust-the-Whiteman syndrome” which makes them follow the West even if it leads to destruction. Dr. Asante encouraged African people to dismantle European control of their brains that has resulted in “technological imperialism.”
Dr. Asante is considered by his peers to be one of the most distinguished contemporary scholars. He has published seventy-seven books and over five hundred academic articles. Among his most recent books are, As I Run Toward Africa; The African-American People, and Maulana Karenga: An Intellectual Portrait. The Utne Reader has called him one of the “100 Leading Thinkers” in America. In 1995, Dr. Asante was made a traditional chief in Ghana with the stool name Nana Okru Asante Peasah, Kyidomhene of Akyem-Tafo. He is donating a number of his own academic collections to the new Kwabena Nketia Center for Africana Studies.
Professor Kofi Asare Opoku, chair person of AUCC’s Center for Africana Studies introduced Dr. Asante with a simple Ghanaian proverb: “A child who will be a success is not raised on a good mat.” He explained that Dr. Asante was one of 16 children from Gullah parents in Valdosta, Georgia. “He had very humble beginnings. He picked cotton as child, but he rose to world acclaim,” he added.
The event was chaired by Nana Kobina Nketsia V, Omanhene of Essikado. In his remarks Nana Nketsia observed that Africa is going through a slumber in its cultural development. “Africans are abandoning the continent as if it were cursed. Yet Africa is still a panorama of delightful and engaging cultures.” He stated that because of the works of tenacious and patriotic individuals such as Ephraim Amu and Kwabena Nketia, Africa has not lost its rhythm; there is hope. He argued that the Western world re-arranged Africa to suit the whims of Europeans. “This re-structuring unleashed a cultural terrorism on Africa. The violence touches Africa in ways that make us accept Western values as universal and normative,” he explained. Nana Nketsia wondered why the Asantehene Nana Prempeh I was made to kiss the boots of the then Governor Hodgson in a public humiliation and was exiled to the Seychelles, only to eventually return as “Sir Edward”. “A victim cannot benefit from its victimization,” he stressed. He charged African scholars to be critical in their thinking about their own histories and cultures, adding, “If we’ve lost anything, it is our cultural centeredness; we live in borrowed space. It is not enough to know; we must act to humanize the world.” He described Kwabena Nketia as a “living icon” and a “cultural thinker” who connects us to the African space.
Travel funds for this article was provided by Drew University through its Mellon Arts and the Common Good Faculty Mini-Grants.