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Afrocentrism is many things to many people, from the insistent claims of Leonard Jeffries to the commercialism of the mainstream media. In the last five years it has pushed its way into the American consciousness, both as an academic movement and as an attitude. Several years ago I watched Eddy Murphy as Akenaton, Iman as Nfertiti, and Michael Jackson as a Trickster Imhotep in the music video "Remember the Time." MTV had met Afrocentrism? At any rate, it was an ambitious fantasy set in ancient Egypt for the delectation of Black Americans and, perhaps, the consternation of Whites.
Afrocentrists argue that Blacks must see themselves through Black eyes, as agents of history, rather than as simply subjects of investigation. Their view must proceed from an "inside place." Most emphasize the civilizations of northeastern Africa, namely Kemet (Egypt), Nubia, Axum, and Meroe. Early on it was truly a "Black Thing," involving as it did its own conferences, publishing and networks. By 1978 Jay Carruthers' Kemetic Institute was established in Chicago. A year later a similar thematic course was taken by the Institute of Pan-African Studies in Los Angeles. A meeting in that city in 1984, the First Annual Ancient Egyptian Studies resulted in the organization of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations. In the same year Ivan Van Sertima's Nile Valley Civilization group held a major conference. His Journal of African Civilization became a major diffusion point in the burgeoning corpus of Afrocentric literature.
In spite of criticism (or maybe because of it), Afrocentrism (or Afrocentricity) was and is spreading. Elementary schools in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Detroit, as well as other locales, have initiated new curricula, impelled largely by the demands of parents and students. The African American Baseline Essays, created for the Portland, Oregon, school system, have had a wide impact. Covering a number of disciplines,...
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