Reflections on the Revision of The African Centered Paradigm

Jacob H. Carruthers
Then command the servant, thusly: Make an Elder's staff causing my son to stand in my place I will instruct him through the speech of the listeners and the counsels of the first of the ancients who listened to the divinities. In so doing troubles will be removed from the people. - Ptahhotep, 4500 years ago It is expected that all coloured men, women, and children, of every Nation, language and tongue under heaven,...(Who are not too deceitful, abject, and servile to resist the cruelties and murders inflicted upon us by the white slave holders, our enemies by nature) ... will try to procure a copy of this appeal and read it, or get some one to read it to them, for it is designed more particularly for them. Let them remember, that though our cruel oppressors and murderers, may (if possible) treat us more cruel, as Pharaoh did the children of Israel, yet the God of the Ethiopians, has been pleased to hear our moans in consequence of oppression; and the day of our redemption from abject wretchedness draweth near, when we shall be enabled, in the most extended sense of the word, to stretch forth our hands to the Lord our God, but there must be willingness on our part, for God to do these things for us, for we may be assured that he will not take us by the hairs of our head against our will and desire, and drag us from our very, mean, low and abject condition. David Walker, 1829 C.E. The two statements by African master teachers are separated by more than four thousand years or as Ayi Kwei Armah put it "two thousand seasons." Each statement is part of an introduction to an instruction designed to guide African people toward appropriate ways of thinking, speaking, and acting. The instructions are examples of the two historical points of reference from which revisions of the African Centered Paradigm have developed and should continue to proceed. If we define paradigm as a model which guides in the development if a serekh (an epistemology or a discourse about knowledge), the relevance of Ptahhotep and David Walker's instruction become apparent. Instruction is the mode of knowing par excellence. Therefore, our project involves the revision of the instructional model. We must first recognize that the African

Centered perspective emerges from African life. Its existence, is found in the intergenerational transmissions among various African peoples. Obviously no one can "create" or "father" African Centeredness in such a context. Each generation reproduces or revises the way of thinking. Representative articulators comment and otherwise clarify the worldview as dictated by contemporary circumstances and issues. The revision project must first revisit and read the two historical points of reference and then clearly examine the present situation regarding the challenges to African Centeredness. In other words, revision of the African Centered paradigm must be based upon an African historiography and an African worldview. The resulting theoretical construct will allow us to explicate ends and evaluate means. The historical point of reference nearest to us is the late eighteenth century development of Ethiopianism as expressed in the texts of Africans of the diaspora. They used the only literature available to them, a literature that was used by their oppressors to debase African humanity. They read the European texts from an African centered perspective and reached diametrically opposite results. The European intellectuals had fabricated a theory of the absence of African civilization; African thinkers found the reverse, i.e., the priority of African civilization. The African perspective that we have inherited was the product of the African offensive against the intellectual atrocities of European philosophers such as Montesquieu, Hume, and Kant. The insertion of the doctrine of white supremacy and its correlative hypothesisAfrican inferiority by great thinkers of France, Britain, and Prussia in the seventeenth century reached the United States in full force with the publication of Thomas Jefferson's Notes On Virginia, during the debate on the U. S. Constitution. David Walker's instruction was in part an offensive against Jefferson's genocidal intellectual assault on African peoples. At the outset he confronted Jefferson's project with the following query; "Has Mr. Jefferson declared to the world, that we are inferior to the whites, both in the endowments of our bodies and our minds?" The answer of course is yes. Indeed, for David Walker the liberation from chattel slavery required first of all a victory over the European intellectual campaign, white supremacy. For our purposes let us focus on three interwoven components of David Walker's instruction: 1) the curriculum philosophy, 2) the restoration of African humanity, 3) the study of the oppressor.

These themes were treated in each of Walker's four appeals and were combined in various ways to teach the absurdity of the African condition in a European dominated world. While the instruction was explicitly directed "to the coloured citizens (read African peoples) of the world" Walker also included a message to the oppressors including those who would plot to murder him for his courageous instruction. Walker's curriculum philosophy called for a historically based PanAfrican course of study. The teaching is the duty of all informed persons of African descent. The literate must read the lessons to the illiterate. Parents must instruct children because the chattel slave industry is maintained primarily due to the ignorance of the masses of African people. Once the African mind is liberated there is no shackle which can keep the African enslaved. The major content of this curriculum includes the other tow components of the instruction. A second emphasis of Walker's Appeal is the priority of restoring African humanity. Such restoration begins with self identification. Walker confronted the question quite bluntly: "If any are anxious to ascertain who I am, know the world, that I am one of the oppressed, degraded and wretched sons of Africa,". That self-identification leads to the recognition of the historical and cultural unity of African peoples. Teaching about this Pan-African unity in time and space is necessary to combat the divide and conquer strategy of the oppressor. The reconstruction of African history with emphasis on the Nile Valley is another pillar of the restoration. The ancient Egyptian must be accepted as a part of self-identity. For the information of those among the "brethren (who) do not know... the Egyptians were Africans or coloured people such as we are." The Egyptians must also be viewed from an African perspective which finds that they were much more civilized than the ancient Europeans and much more humane than the contemporary "American Christians." Therefore the African curriculum must: ... take a retrospective view of the arts and sciences the wise legislators the Pyramids and other magnificent buildings the turning of the channel of the river Nile, by the sons of Africa or Ham among whom learning originated and was carried thence into Greece. Teaching about the role of Africans in world history destroys the European fabrication "negro inferiority" which prepares the way for Europeans to cultivate ignorance among African masses and servile

treachery among a few collaborators. The foundation in African antiquity is linked to a focus on outstanding examples of successful contemporary African freedom fighters. In this regard Walker asserted: But what need have I to refer to antiquity, when Hayti, the glory of the blacks and terror of tyrants, is enough to convince the most avaricious and stupid of wretches. ...I hope that she may keep peace within her borders and be united, keeping a strict look out for tyrants, for if they get the least chance to injure her, they will avail themselves of it, as true as the Lord lives in heaven. But one thing which gives me joy is, that they are men who would be cut off to a man, before they would yield to the combined forces of the whole world-in fact, if the whole world was combined against them, it could not do any thing with them, unless the Lord delivers them up. Teaching about the Haitian revolution as the model for African liberation completes the framework for regeneration of African humanity. The inspiration and examples from African antiquity and present day Africans because the core of African pedagogy from the time of Walker to the present. A third component of David Walker's Appeal emphasized teaching about the oppressor. He traced the aggressive conflictual culture of the Europeans from antiquity to his on time. He especially exposed the American Christians. He singled out Thomas Jefferson, Henry Clay and a few others. By penetrating behind this rhetoric in documents like the Declaration of Independence and the statements of the American Colonization Society he taught about the white supremacy project. His analysis of "American history" is clearly African centered. David Walker viewed his project of African education as a link in an intergenerational chain of transmission. He tied his teaching to his mentor Bishop Richard Allen who had begun the reclamation of ancient Egypt and Ethiopia a generation earlier. Even though David Walker did not use the term African centered or Afrocentric (as far as I know), his discourse is clearly African centered. He identifies himself as a "son of Africa- his curriculum philosophy is an African teaching for Africans and by Africans. While all African peoples in time and space fall within the scope of his project, the course of study includes an in-depth study of world history including Asia and especially Europe.


Thus, African centered discourse is a conversation among Africans based upon the interests of Africans. The project which Walker articulated so well and which he had received from his elders was passed on to those who followed him, Henry Highland Garnet and Martin Delany. They revised the discourse and passed it on to their followers. It passed to the pre-World War II champions of African civilization who taught our mentors John Henrik Clarke and Yosef ben Jochannan. The use of the term Afrocentric in the context of our present project can be traced to the formation of the African Heritage Studies Association in 1968 when one of its objectives was the study of history along "Afrocentric lines." Such was the context when the "Chicago Group" of nationalists began the publication of the Afrocentric World Review in 1973. At the outset Anderson Thompson stated: Putting Black interests first, the view of Afrocentricity, is the plateau from which we launch our dialogues with those who are dedicated to the establishment of power among African peoples. Afrocentrism strives for reinforcing the New African Frame of Reference being forged by Black brothers all over the world. It seeks for a collective identity founded on Black ideas, rather than the ideas of non-Blacks. We propose that the best place to begin this endeavor is with our collective experience, rather than the preconceived theories of aliens, how-ever attractive these theories may seem. This methodological directive necessitates, among other things, Black studies about non-Blacks. It is only when we focus on what actually happened, rather than some European ideological theory for what happened, can we begin to know what our real interests are. Thus we choose to seek out those ideas and objectives which truly represent the interest of the bulk of scattered African people, wherever they now exist in the world. Revisions of the African centered discourse since David Walker have been extensive but the basic core remains intact. Some of his positions have been criticized or rejected, for example, his allegiance to Protestant Christianity; and his deference to the British people who had outlawed the chattel slave trade and were on the brink of abolishing chattel slavery itself. Although Walker asserted that "we are a people" thus distinguishing the African population from the Christian American people, the explicit explication of African nationalism was made a generation later by Martin Delany. The other relevant historical point of reference is the classical African civilization which Walker emphasized. An examination of the

literature of Kemet provides us with the foundation for a paradigm for the African centered project which was revised by Walker. The master teacher Ptahhotep laid out the framework for the Sebayet (the Kemetic systems of education), which was actually preparation for leading the Good Life. What the student needs is not just rekh (knowledge) which comes through the seeing of the eyes, the hearing of the ears, and the sniffing of the nose carrying impressions to the mind; the particular knowledge needed to direct human action is medew nefer i.e., good speech. Good speech is tied to the command dd mc3t, ir mc3t (speak truth, do truth). In other words speech must be consistent with action. Ptahhotep explained what instruction itself is. Instruction is an Elder's staff. "Elder's staff" is a double metaphor: 1) The next generation raised to replace the Elders who make a staff to lean on, 2) The instruction or speech which the Elders transmit to the next generation which "makes" them i.e., enables them to carry on. Instruction then is the chain of transmission of the knowledge and memory that defines a people. "Knowledge" must be refined and evaluated through the community in time and space because as the text states, "No one is born wise." The ancestral transmission through good speech is the source of wisdom - the only kind of knowledge that defines the human mission. The Instruction of Ptahhotep, as sited here is a revision of an earlier text which has not yet been found. In the available edition it is part of the Weheme Mesu launched in the Twelfth Dynasty. Weheme Mesu means Repetition of the Birth and is the, perhaps, first expression of the concept of renaissance in history. The textual explosion which followed the announcement of the project included revision of certain traditional texts. This brings us to the question Cheikh Anta Diop raised in 1948, "When can we talk of an African Renaissance?" His pursuit of the answer led him to the reclamation of Kemet. The revision of the tradition which centered on the restoration of classical African civilization is the objective toward which all champions of African humanity must aim. The situation in which African peoples found themselves in 1829 and again in 1948, inevitably drove the champions into the arms of African antiquity. Walker was perhaps unfamiliar with the teachings of Ptahhotep and Diop in 1948 was probably unaware of both


Walker's instruction and the Weheme Mesu. But both ironically revised traditions that their own works became a part of. In a similar fashion, the works of Diop, George G. M. James, and J. C. de Graft-Johnson in 1854 and later Chancellor Williams, John Henrik Clarke, and Yosef ben Jochannan were revised by the Black Studies Revolution. The Black Studies Movement was a project designed to overthrow the curriculum of white supremacy, which in turn led to the African Centered project. Thus for over two centuries the champions of African Civilization have been revising the African Centered paradigm as an offensive against the atrocities of the European campaign of white supremacy. Let us now review our present situation by extending a statement by David Walker:If any are anxious to ascertain who I am, know the world, that I am one of the oppressed, degraded and wretched sons of Africa, rendered so by the avaricious and unmerciful, among the whites. If any wish to plunge me into the wretched incapacity of a slave, or murder me for the truth, know ye, that I am in the hand of God, and at your disposal. I count my life not dear unto me, but I am ready to be offered at any moment. For what is the use of living, when in fact I am dead. Thus, Walker anticipated his own assassination. The price put on him dead or alive by the State of Georgia and his murder a year later, was an attempt to murder the voice of Africa. The present campaign by the defenders of Western Civilization is designed to murder the voice of African Centeredness. The attack by Diane Ravitch joined by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and Mary Lefkowitz aim at the intellectual assassination of the current champions. This attack indicates the extent to which we have succeeded in inspiring large numbers of Africans throughout the world to study African life and history "along Afrocentric lines." On the other hand their attack is related to the co-optation and/or dismantling of African Studies programs. But, like David Walker they may "murder" us but our revision is here to stay. In review of this historical context, the particular term we use to call the epistemic is relatively unimportant; whether we use Afrocentrism or Africentric and all of their derivatives what we mean is African Centeredness as we put it in 1974 in the second issue of the Afrocentric World Review: ... we assert that all foreign isms, doctrines, ideologies, and systems


of thought are not only inadequate but must be avoided. In taking this stand we are not so much anti anything, we are merely pro Afrikan, or in other words, Afrikan Centered. The African centered paradigm in both its ancient and modem versions is an instructional process. Our revision must continue that tradition since instruction is designed to enable students to lead the meaningful life. Therefore the epistemology is comprehensive. The paradigm should be a model curriculum. Let us call it the Sebayet (African curriculum). Classical African texts contain the guidelines for the core curriculum. The course of study should include medew netcher (theology), medew nefer grammar (Logic), maat (governance), hepu nefer (ethics), soneb (health), hesebu (mathematics), sesh (writing), and genut (history). The development of these disciplines of these disciplines in the context of an African centered historiography of the world is the appropriate approach to our project: the "reproduction" of knowledge about Africa and for African peoples.


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