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Opinions of Saturday, 26 October 2013

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis

How Another Scholar Portrays Us In The West —Part ll

How Another Scholar Portrays Us In The West: Dr. Molefi Kete Asante—Part ll

Who is Dr. Molefi Kete Asante? We addressed this question briefly. Asante has not always been known as such. In fact, he was born Arthur Lee Smith, Jr., in Georgia, the American South, as Alice Walker, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., rapper Kanye West, Gladys Knight, Ray Charles, and Jackie Robinson, In fact, it was Asantehene Opuku Ware who gave him the name Kete Asante in 1972 when he visited Ghana. The other name, “Molefi,” is a Southern African name, most probably Sotho.

Further, Asante has authored 74 books, books mostly covering every single aspect of the African world, ancient and modern, though his specialty is communication studies (Let’s mention here that the Nigerian-American scholar Dr. Toyin Falola, the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities, University of Texas, Austin, has authored and edited more than 100 books, according to Wikipedia. In fact, I first got to hear of Dr. Falola’s name, his work, and the number of books he had published when I paid Dr. Asante a visit one day in his office on campus). Asante is African American but of paternal Yoruba and maternal Nubian ethnicities.

What other achievements are attributed to Asante? He also wrote “African American History: Journey of Liberation,” a high-school text, which is used in at least 400 schools throughout North America. Further, according to his website, “he has also been recognized as one of the ten most widely cited African Americans. In the 1990s, Black Issues in Higher Education recognized him as one of the most influential leaders in the decade….His work on African culture and philosophy and African American education has been cited in Matices, Journal of Black Studies, Journal of Communication, American Scholar, Daedalus, Western Journal of Black Studies, and Africological Perspectives.”

It continues: “The Utne Reader called him one of the ‘100 Leading Thinkers in America. In 2001, Transition Magazine said ‘Asante may be the most important professor in Black America…In 2002 he received the distinguished Douglass Ehninger Award for Rhetorical scholarship from the National Communication Association.”

His website concludes: “The African Union cited him as one of the twelve top scholars of African descent when it invited him to give one of the keynote addresses at the Conference of intellectuals of Africa and the Diaspora in Dakar in 2004. He was inducted into the Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African descent at the Gwendolyn Brooks Center at Chicago State University in 2004. He worked in Zimbabwe as a trainer of journalists from 1980 to 1982. Dr. Asante holds more than 100 awards for scholarship and teaching including the Fulbright, honorary doctorates from three universities, and is a guest professor at Zhejiang University…In 1995 he was made a traditional king, Nana Okru Peasah, Kyidomhene of Tafo, Akyem, Ghana. Dr. Asante has been or is presently a consultant for a dozen school districts. He was the Chair of the United States Commission for FESMAN lll for three years…Asante was elected in September, 2009, by the Council of African Intellectuals as the Chair for the Diaspora Intellectuals in support of the United States of Africa.”

In addition, he’s founding editor of "Journal of Black Studies"—the premier journal on black scholarship in the world—which he had edited for over forty years. Interestingly, he shares joint editorship with Dr. Ama Mazama, his colleague in the same department, author of 27 books as well as over 70 scholarly articles on the African world in both French and English. Asante also created the Diopian Institute for Scholarly Advancement, an organization which brings scholars working on the African world together under one roof to share research findings.

But that is not all, however. Asante also created the world’s first “international” African think tank—the Molefi Kete Asante Institute for Afrocentric Studies—where some of the most influential and accomplished black thinkers in the world, like Ghanaian-Canadian scholar Dr. George Sefa Dei and Haiti’s ex-President Dr. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, serve as senior fellows, fellows, and board of advisors. The Institute coordinates research activities on issues affecting the African world. Finally, the Institute publishes “The Asante Fellow Report.”

More: In 2010 the American Text and Academic Authors Association (TAA) named him to TAA Council of Fellows (his website omits this). Again, together with Dr. Mazama, they created Afrocentricity International, an organization whose goals, among many others, includes bringing Africans together to coordinate international efforts at resolving Africa’s problems. Once upon a time, he even supported Steve Biko's wife and children finally via subscription fees derived from articles he wrote for a South African paper (See his memoir “As I Run Toward Africa”).

He also worked closely with the Ghanaian-American scholar, Dr. Abu Abarry, with whom he wrote the compressive classic “African Intellectual Heritage: A Book of Sources.” Our good friend, Dr. Kwame Botwe-Asamoah, one of Africa’s finest and leading authorities on Kwame Nkrumah, was his former student. Asante also worked closely with the world-famous Afro-Brazil activist-scholar and artist Abdias do Nascimento, nominated for the 2004 Nobel Prize for Peace. He did the same with Senegalese Abdoulaye Wade and with most African leaders to improve living and democratic conditions of the masses.

Outside his professorial, familial, and authorial responsibilities, Asante has also been involved in conflict resolution activities across the length and breadth of the African continent. Other black communities such as Haiti’s, Brazil’s, Jamaica’s, Afro-Europe’s, etc., have not evaded the purview of his activist politics. More importantly, he has gone as far as Asia to defend the African world during the 2011 “Decolonizing Our Universities” international conference, held in Malaysia. Isn’t it disappointingly shocking that none of Asante’s writings, and, predictably, those of West’s, Appiah’s, and Gates’ made the list of “The 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written,” compiled in 1998.

In fact, not a single African appeared on the list. Essentially, the list included nearly 98-99% Westerners and the rest Asians. However, seeing the absence of Africans, diasporic and continental, on the list, the Kenyan scholar, Ali Mazrui, convened a conference, in 1998, out of which came “Africa’s 100 Best Books of the 20th Century.” Njabule Ndebele chaired the conference. Appiah’s “In My Father’s House” made a surprisingly strong appearance here. On the other hand, his White patrons ignored him. That’s, when it came to the compilation of the best books ever written, West, Asante, Gates, and Appiah, all Africans, were ignored.

Yet, despite the accolades showered by White America on scholars like Appiah and Gates, some influential White thinkers, like Harvard University’s ex-President, Larry Summers, looked askance at African and African American Studies. Gates recalls the following about the public impasse between Summers and West: “There’s no question that at the time, he [Summers] was skeptical about the intellectual legitimacy and academic legitimacy of African American Studies...” Of course, Summers is Jewish and there are many universities and colleges across with Jewish Studies, so what was the moral basis of Summers’ contention?

Thankfully, Summers prior position has since changed. Again, Gates recalls: “But I’ve gotten to Larry, and I know his attitudes about the field of African American Studies have changed dramatically since that time (See Frank Mace’s “A Legendary Gangstar With A High IQ”). Yes, West actually referred to Summers as “a gangstar with a high IQ.” On another occasion, for instance, West, again, referred to Summers on NPR’s Tavis Smiley Show as “the Ariel Sharon of higher education.” This characterization angered some Princeton University intellectuals.

Finally, many are those who want to de-emphasize Eurocentrism in non-Western universities. Further, some of the world's best thinkers from the African, Asian, European, and American worlds attended the conference, “Decolonizing Our Universities,” presenting impressive papers. And do we know why? Non-Westerners are simply fed up with the hegemonic, condescending, and monopolizing proclivities of Eurocentrism. In fact, Asante’s lifetime achievement has centered on making sure African voice and personality have equal representation with others in the marketplace of ideas. Yet while White America pretends he and his transformative work don’t exist, others have taken on the challenge, as the White American sociologist, James W. Loewen, does with the following books:

1) “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong.” 2) “Teaching What Really Happened: How To Avoid the Tyranny of Textbooks and Get Students Excited About Doing History.” 3) “Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong.”

This is the challenge we face in the 21th century: Let’s us ask ourselves these questions: Who benefits the most from Eurocentric distortions? Whites! And who suffers the most from Eurocentric distortions? Africans, Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans, and other racial or ethnic “minorities.” In other words, the emotional complex of African cultural psychology is bruised, so devastatingly, while that of the White world is correspondingly upped—disproportionately! Therefore, the cost of Eurocentrism’s usurpation of African cultural psychology is inestimable. Namely, Africa’s psychological cultural overhauling is the new challenge boldly staring us in the face. We need to have our own publishing and distribution outfits.

Here’s another dilemma we face: Even Howard Zinn's bestselling book, "A People History of the United States," a book which attempts to give equal historical weight to the assorted voices of African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics, etc., in America’s nebulous “melting pot,” has come under fierce attack. Mitch Daniels, the present President of Purdue University, says it's a literary portmanteau of historical lies, this, despite the verifiable primary sources the renowned historian used.

More pointedly, Daniels has dismissed the book out of hand, variously labeling it “fraud” and “anti-American.” He even wants it banned. Again, why? Because the book neutralizes the monopolizing voice of Eurocentrism. Remember that the revisionist threats of Prof. Mike Ocquaye and Ayikoi Otoo, from Ghana, to overturn the transformative nationalist aspirations and unquestioned legacy of Kwame Nkrumah, are no different from Appiah’s devastating methodological postmodernism and Daniels’ putschist Eurocentrism!

In fine, we have these questions for readers: Why is that White America pretends Dr. Molefi Kete Asante and his corpus of work don’t exist? Why are all the credits going to Appiah, Gates, and West, when, in fact, Asante has done more than these individuals? Why did Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., John F. Kennedy’s biographer, take issue with Asante’s African name in “The Disuniting of America: Reflections On A Multicultural Society”? Why does Asante’s undisguised and unapologetic defense of the African world hurt so many people? Why do people, White Americans mostly, take offense at Asante’s self-identification as African, not American?

Of course, like Appiah and Gates, he has rights of self-definition. During a presentation “Africa And Africa: The Convergence of Consciousness,” given at University of Maryland Baltimore County, Asante had this to say: “I am an African. I live as an African. That’s my religion. The question of being American is citizenship. I am an American, that’s the passport I carry.” What a profound statement.

What do we make of Burning Spear’s epigrammatic “Greetings”? Are African Americans the only Africans who have no intention, have no respect for African culture? Again, Spear says the first black man and the first black woman come from Africa, but, technically, what are we doing to ensure we become the first in science, technology, in fact, the first in everything? Have we paid close attention to Burning Spear’s “Identity?” Please do, if you haven’t already! These are the questions for us to address in the 21st century.

We shall return with an article(s) on Ama Mazama, Afrocentricity International, and the Molefi Kete Asante Institute for Afrocentric Studies. Stay tuned!