appreciation of the contributions of all cultures, while also encouraging students to view history from multiple perspectives. Afro centrists consider the reforms advocated by multiculturalists to be both inadequate for solving the problem of African American inequality and ideologically suspect. Rather than placing a few sporadic and disconnected items about African Americans into a fundamentally biased curriculum— the charge Afrocentrists make against multiculturalism— Afrocentrism is a multifaceted “racial project” that seeks to reorient how all children (though, most importantly, African American children) learn about the roots of Western civilization. Pointing to the miseducation that African Americans have received throughout the history of the United States, Afrocentrism aims to decenter Eurocentric biases in the standard social studies and history curriculum by establishing Black Egypt as the cradle of Western culture. Scientific discoveries, medicine, philosophy, mathematics, and art are said to have emerged in northern Africa and to have been stolen by the ancient Greeks, who then represented these accomplishments as their own. By teaching children a corrected history of their ancestors, Afrocentrism’s advocates intend to improve the educational achievement of African American children.
Based on the scholarship of several key figures, including Molefi Asante, Asa Hilliard, and Maulana Karenga, Afrocentrism is known as an “essentialist” philosophy of race, which argues not only that ancient Africa’s great accomplishments have been overlooked in the standard curriculum, but also that all descendants of Africa—no matter where they now live, following the Black diaspora—are essentially similar in terms of cognitive, cultural, and aesthetic characteristics. In keeping with this philosophy, Afrocentrists argue that African-descended school children must be taught new content about their history in the curriculum, using new pedagogical methods. Among the different teaching methods proposed are more cooperation than competition, an emphasis on rhythm, and repetition.
Afrocentrism differs from the more widely recognized multiculturalist curriculum supported by most educators. While multiculturalism has many variations, its proponents generally seek to infuse standard history and social studies curricula with a pluralist. Afrocentrism’s supporters argue that public school curricula must be fundamentally transformed to emphasize the uniqueness of African peoples and the impact of African people on world civilization. Afrocentric scholars believe that their mission is revolutionary, rather than reformist, and as such, irreconcilable with the conventionally pluralist claims of multiculturalism.
A spate of Afrocentric curriculum challenges occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, mainly in school districts with majority African American students and teaching staff. Some of the most visible sites for challenge were in Washington, D.C.; Detroit, Michigan; Atlanta, Georgia; and Camden, New Jersey. The first district to seriously incorporate Afrocentric materials into its curriculum was Portland, Oregon, where the baseline essays attracted national attention, both from supporters and detractors. A related challenge also occurred in Oakland, California, where school district officials received widespread criticism for proposing to teach Ebonics (Black English vernacular) as a recognized language.
- Asante, M. K. (1990). Kemet, Afrocentricity, and knowledge. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.
- Binder, A. J. (2002). Contentious curricula: Afrocentrism and creationism in American public schools. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
- Marable, M., & Mullings, L. (1994). The divided mind of Black America: Race, ideology, and politics in the post-civil rights era. Race and Class, 36, 61–72.
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