Why Afrocentrism is not like White Supremacy

During the legendary Barack/Black Church/Tucker post there was some discussion of Afrocentrism (in relation to the church) and how it was either the same as or different from White Supremacy. I noted at the time that perhaps this blog needed a post that talks about the difference between Afrocentrism and White Supremacy; this is the post. I’m putting it in the Monday Debate category because I would love to have a dialogue about this. But, for me, I pretty much feel that these two terms, philosophies, and world views are completely different and not at all two sides of the same coin.

Let’s start with some definitions.

White Supremacy is:

a racist belief that white people are superior to other races. The term is sometimes specifically used to describe a philosophical belief that whites are not only superior to others, but should rule over them. (according to Wikipedia… today)

the prejudice that members of the white race are superior to members of other races. (according to theFreeDictionary)

the belief, theory, or doctrine that the white race is superior to all other races, esp. the black race, and should therefore retain control in all relationships. (according to Dictionary.com)

Afrocentrism (or Afrocentric) is:

an academic, philosophical, and historical approach to the study of world history. Afrocentrism holds that Eurocentrism has led to the neglect or denial of the contributions of African people and focused instead on a generally European-centered model of world civilization and history. Therefore, Afrocentrism aims to shift the focus from a perceived European-centered history to an African-centered history. More broadly, Afrocentrism is concerned with distinguishing the influence of European and Oriental peoples from African achievements. (according to Wikipedia… today)

centered on Africa or on African-derived cultures, as those of Brazil, Cuba, and Haiti. (according to Dictionary.com)

centered or focused on Africa or African peoples, especially in relation to historical or cultural influence. (according to the FreeDictionary)

In the context of this conversation, I’m not going to touch on the ‘study of world history’ part of the Afrocentrism definition. Though that is very important, I’m talking more about Afrocentrism in the social/culture sphere. Afrocentrism as it applies to the present time and our present lives.

The definitions alone should show that Afrocentrism and White Supremacy are two different animals. One seeks to focus on the positive aspects of a particular culture and one seeks to diminish and dominate all other cultures. So why is it that some folks (mostly white folks) feel they can toss around accusations that being Afrocentric is just like being a White (or Black) Supremacist?

Maybe because the language we use isn’t always that cut-and-dried. For instance, in the Barack post, Tucker takes exception to the phrase “Soldiers for Black Freedom” and the church’s calls to uplift the black race. If you switch out black for white in that sentence, you get people working for White Freedom and uplifting the White Race. To some people, switching black and white does not fundamentally change those sentences at all. But in my eyes, there is all the difference in the world. Why? Because in one version, an oppressed group is working to gain equal footing with the dominant group, in the other the dominant group is working to ensure their continued dominance. See the difference?

White people in America (and, I would argue, in most of the world, especially when the definition of ‘white’ encompasses most folks of European descent) do not need uplifting. They aren’t in danger of being un-free. This is, of course, in general. Yes, there are poor, lower class white folks in the world. Somewhere there are young blond women who are forced into sexual slavery. But when we’re speaking in broad strokes, white people are the dominant group. So any talk about strengthening the White Race is bound to make any non-white person more than a little nervous. It sounds like White Supremacy, frankly, and I’m going to declare that a Universal Bad.

While I do feel that black people are awesome (because I am one), I don’t feel that black people should dominate other races, either. When I choose to focus on black issues, black heritage, and the contributions of black people in the past and present, I am not doing so at the expense of other races.

If, by focusing on ‘black stuff’ I take some of the thunder away from the all-important ‘white stuff’, it’s only because the white stuff is overly dominant. But, surprise, white people often do not feel this way. Any time you take a piece of candy from a small child, even if you’re doing it because the small child already has too much candy and because some of that candy should have gone to the child’s brothers and sisters, anyway, the child will still cry. (Trust me on this… I lived with a small child.)

My Conclusion:
Afrocentrism is not the same as Black Supremacy. It is a natural outgrowth of an oppressed group wanting to find the positive aspects of their culture (and ultimately themselves as individuals) that the dominant culture tries to suppress, erase, or vilify. Therefore, it is not the same as White Supremacy. Not even in the ballpark.

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20 Responses

  1. Sounds good to me.

    I would quibble a little with some of your language, though. The white race needs plenty uplifting. It just doesn’t need any more control of material things, or any more ability to be listened to first and last, or to be told, any more, how important and normal and typical and correct it is.

    What the white race needs is more self-respect: the kind of self-respect that would make racism impossible.

    And the other thing the white race needs is more connection. One of the primary processes of racism is to create a profound sense of isolation in white people — isolation from people of color (“I’m in Southeast. Because my car broke down! Can you come pick me up? Of course the doors are locked!”), between classes of white people, within white families, especially as you go up the class ladder (“Daddy? I don’t know where he is. Have you looked in the library?”), and plain old psychological isolation within our own heads.

    The manufacturing of this isolation and its concomitant terror is necessary for racism to function.

    You’ve observed this, all of you. Jokes about it are strewn through the popular culture. Look at black comics impersonating white people in the movies or in stand-up. We don’t have rhythm, right? We cover our mouths when we yawn, sit poker-straight, fold our underwear before we have sex (with the lights out), mangle the slang we’re trying to appropriate, and don’t get the joke. We are, in a word, uptight.

    This however seems to be almost embarassing to mention, right, in a discussion of real oppression. People of color are being murdered overtly by overt racists and murdered more subtly and antiseptically by systematic bias (in jurisprudence, health care, economic activity, education) and you’re worried about being uptight?

    Well, yeah, because these are two faces of the same coin. The driving force behind all that murder is *fear*. Oh, maybe not exclusively fear — plenty of greed and convenience in there too. But I think the structure would collapse without the white race’s fear of its own shadow.

    That this deep-seated irrational terror gets turned into a joke (as “uptightness”) is a lot like how in the first scene of Mary Poppins the oh-so-silly mother is strutting around with the banners and hats of her oh-so-silly sufragette movement instead of attending to her all-important children. The Patriarchy is sneaky like that.

    So you’re wrong to say that “strengthening the white race” necessarily equates to “white supremacy”; though certainly that confusion about what the word “strength” means (a confusion whose roots are in sexism) is very common.

    In fact, just like I think religious liberals should stop hiding and pretending they don’t exist and thus yielding the word “God” to those who mean by it “the KING who damns you to HELL if you have sex in funny ways!”, I think white liberals ought to start saying what they mean by “strengthening the white race”.

    I went to the Ringling Brothers Circus this weekend. Among maybe a hundred performers, there were (a bunch of silent Chinese acrobats, one — child — Asian speaking part, and) one black guy, a clown dressed in hip-hop clown gear, rapping a little bit in the pre-show, (the white American Idol alumna took over the rapping, as “Missy Elephant”, for the main show) and looking pretty pissed off the whole time. And other than the fresh-off-the-boat Eastern European Cossacks (who looked honestly proud and feisty and like they were having a good time swinging off of, around, and back onto those horses, and would probably laugh with their whole bodies over their vodka later), all the pretty sparkly feather-costumed white dancers and clowns and ringmasters and aerialists were smiling *those* smiles — you know the ones — their lips stretched wide over their gritted pearly teeth, cheeks stiff, the eyes not smiling, looking like someone could die right in front of them and they’d just keep smiling those lady-and-gentlemanlike, slightly hysterical smiles.

    Scared to death.

    My poor, scared white brothers and sisters.

  2. Wow. You both complete me. ‘Specially you Benjamin, as I think ABW’s argument is rather intuitive for another ABW like myself, I hadn’t considered your “irrational fear” argument.

    I’m pretty stubborn and hard to pursuade so snaps to the both of you. Perhaps I’ll contribute something more edifying and less cheerleadery to the discussion later.

  3. You make some excellent points.

    Two factors that seem to contribute to such extreme comparisons are: First, the tendency of the “media people” to paint things simply and thus ignore many critical differences. Second, the tendency of the “media people” to take steps to create or enhance conflict and controversy.

    I do understand why they do both of these things. After all, most people are not critical consumers of news (hence the simplicity) and controversy helps generate attention.

  4. One thing I’ve thought the last few weeks I’ve been reading here is that the same psychopaths who beat and enslaved and oppressed were the ones who raised the generations that led to the white folks of today.

  5. Oh, and thank you for the afrocentrism definition, because I never quite understood that.

  6. awesome. it’s clear to me, but you really laid it out in a way i would think any thinking person can grasp. great page to link to, put in that Racism 101 collection….

    the idea makes so much sense to me because it reminds me of the shape of my own scribblescrabble on the fallacious flip.

  7. Wow. While I didn’t disagree with a word ABW said, I totally have to second Benjamin. Most white people are absolutely terrified of something. Of losing their place at the top? Maybe, because it seems to get worse the more power they have.

    I think maybe it’s that they aren’t challenged enough. I’ve noticed that whites who have to overcome things – some women, some poor whites, etc. – tend to be more enthusiastic about life. Maybe when your way is paved ahead for you, you’re never quite sure you could last a day without all that privilege, and that fear of being turned loose without it always lurks in the back of the mind.

  8. I really enjoyed this post.
    I enjoyed Benjamin’s response less, although he made good points. It’s just that the phrase “strengthen the white race” makes me grit my teeth, even with the perfectly acceptable definition he gave it.
    I think this is my problem. When I read ethnocentric minority literature, I generally approve of the aspects that uplift or create positive narratives of ethnicity in the way that ABW describes, because (as she puts very well) there is a need to balance out the negative narratives that were created for them by class and race oppressors. I generally disapprove when ethnocentric literature threatens to flatten out ethnic experience, make it homogenous instead of plural and varied. So maybe it’s the word “race” that throws me off, because I think it’s more productive to examine ethnic communities (implying that ethnicity is a social experience) than race (implying that ethnicity is essential).
    But that’s splitting hairs, and I would still grit my teeth over “strengthening the white community.” American whites have made a literature and a history out of identifying themselves in relation to the races they are not… so what would strengthening a white community even look like? Would it mean tightening connections with those who look like us but share genes with ethnic groups that were previously disowned by dominant whites (Jews, Irish, Italians, etc.)? Tightening connections just within individual families? With all people of all races?
    I’m not asking to criticize, I’m just throwing some stuff out there, hopefully for discussion.

  9. Very nice article.

    I think the main confusion for many is Afrocentrism vs. Black Supremacy. There is nothing wrong with preservation of culture; there is a lot wrong with trying to oppress others.

    I think that irrational fear stems from us being showed an extreme. For example, we don’t hear much about anything in the news unless it is dramatic, presenting an extreme within a culture. It has been the case the beginning of mass communication. This psychosocial programming is pounded into our brains until even the most rational people possess irrational thoughts about those who are different from them. The Arab you’re sitting next to in a plane, for example. He’s probably a nice guy, but your psychosocial programming portrays him irrationally, having seen the images from the Middle East, and you begin to wonder if he’s a suicide bomber or a religious extremist.

    We are presented with an extreme and are made to believe that extreme. It is then that the irrational and fearful part of the brain takes over, and bigotry begins.

  10. I belong to truth seekers message board and we have had a discussion that I refered to as “race relations in the United States as it pertains to black people”.

    I had to direct it like that because other whites were throwing everything else but the sink into the mix. Other countries, other races, etc etc etc. It became taxing, but we are throwing it down again because it needs to be.

    Lately the topic was about african american boys and a program that was specificaly introduced to help them succeed. But of course whites then had to pop in and exclaim they too may need this help.

    Doing this, and the continuation to do so, proves to me that they still want to be the problem and not the solution.

    As I have said in my own blog, I see “I don’t see color” as a cop out. And even further, I see it as a guilty plea from people. A consideration apparent in it, they refuse to look.

    I see every problem that blacks have in this country as the fault of the whites within. And I am one.

    I just try in vain in most cases to tweak the thining of my fellow whites.

    -=topper=-

  11. Hello ABW,

    Thank you for such an insightful, thought-provoking post. Matters not what colour you paint it. Hate is still ugly.

    If people whose skin is “lighter” than a brown paper bag are “scared to death,” imagine how people whose skin is “darker” than a brown paper bag must feel whenever we step outside our homes.

    Until powerful people sitting in lofty positions of influence speak out an expose the root of what feeds and breeds hate, nothing will change.

    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best. “There’s comes a time when silence is betrayal. That time is now.” The violence of silence is the worst betrayal.

  12. If people whose skin is “lighter” than a brown paper bag are “scared to death,” imagine how people whose skin is “darker” than a brown paper bag must feel whenever we step outside our homes.

    Ah, but your fear is rational.

  13. “White people in America (and, I would argue, in most of the world, especially when the definition of ‘white’ encompasses most folks of European descent) do not need uplifting. They aren’t in danger of being un-free. This is, of course, in general. Yes, there are poor, lower class white folks in the world. Somewhere there are young blond women who are forced into sexual slavery. But when we’re speaking in broad strokes, white people are the dominant group.”

    I think this is changing rapidly…I believe this description is of the world of yester-year. While race struggles have always been fueled by greed and desire to dominate “others” for financial gain, today the greed sees no color. I believe the greed has gotten so bad that it’s no longer profitable enough to exploit only “others”…you have to also exploit people of your own group, if you wish to stay on top. This becomes obvious when you look at wealth distribution. 10% of the people in the U.S. have 90% of the money here, but whites make up 80% of the population total. Even if the whole 10% on top is comprised of white men, that still leaves a vast majority of whites far behind them. When you say ‘in general’ that there are whites that are not in danger of being un-free, I fear that you lend your arguments elsewhere in the post to irrelevance.
    This is not to say I have never seen poor white racists, or that for the most part white people haven’t been enjoying an over-privileged position, but to continue to ignore the direction this is going, (even if it is to resolve an injustice as great as american racism), I fear will lead to a greater inequality, taking the ultimate form of discrimination:
    “Me over All”
    Those 10 percenters are working as we speak to put all the other whites in the same position everyone else is just beginning to break out of, while continuing to fight the old race battle as well.
    Thanks.

  14. I wonder what would have happened if all people on the earth were blind. Was there racism? Maybe not. Maybe there was a different kind of discrimination, but not in a stupid way like, by color, physical appearance, and sex, etc. We would not have connected color with human value. Our overly developed sense desensitized our sense of value? I know I am out of the discussion point. But I just wondered.

  15. racism will never die.

    because of angry racists like you and your full of hot air ambulance chasing leaders.

  16. ten:

    Lemme guess: That’s your age, right?

  17. Racism will only begin to differ once the word “Nigger” has lost its meaning altogether. Black people use this as a sort of power over everyone else and in a search for equality there can’t be anything of the sort. Also you can’t just uplift the black race, you have to uplift the asians, mexicans, and other races too. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is often mistaken as a black leader when in reality he was an equality leader. He was in a search for everyone to be equal. As our society continues to delete things from history it makes the entire system biased. ten is right, racism will never die. Angel H. proved it by not looking into the details and automatically responding with a remark directed at him for the other people to agree. We have gotten nowhere.

  18. I agree with a lot of points in this article. But I also agree with Benjamin Rosenbaum. Whites are now being targeted by whites in power. In a world where whites stuck together for so many years I do beleive that now the whites who are in power have this everyman for himself attitude, I.E., Bush administration and Enron. Corporate scandals where thousands of white (and some non-white), employees are having their pensions ripped from under them. So today the notion of a white supremacist is more idiotic than ever, because while white supremacists’ today are worried about non whites, powerful whites are raping their children(rampant pedophilia) and robbing them of their retirement funds. Karma!!!!

  19. The Paleman (Caucasian) wants you to think that he is the original man so that he can be superior to you. Through his educational system and the media. The Paleman is able to perpetuate that superior image of himself by disguising it as history. Yet, we know that his-story is just that, his-lie (as in “told a story”). This is why when Blacks who realize that they have been lied to for the past 400-plus years, begin to speak about the true Black history ,the Paleman calls us racists.

  20. I very much agree with ABW’s post but with one point. White, Black, Yellow, Brown, Green, or Blue, ALL races need uplifting. You cannot limit one race’s sense of pride and fulfillment just because that race happens to be the dominate group. You have to keep in mind that people of the same race do not always agree with one another, so while some people of said race may very well want to rule over other races, others do not think that way, and vice-versa.

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