For decades, Pan Africanists have dominated what’s euphemistically been called the Black Nationalist movement; that nebulous amalgam of organizations whose political agendas in the 60’s ranged from reforming municipal school boards to overthrowing the U.S. government. But no more.
A half-century later, an evanescent Pan-Africanists movement dwells in the twilight of its halcyon days. African liberation movements toppling imperial powers are the reveries of yesteryear. So too, Mandela’s egalitarian dream has perished beneath the mountain of South Africa’s comprehensive corruption. Visions of a continental African superpower bestriding the planet; empowering its Caribbean, American and European Black diasporas are the tattered remains of radical romanticism that run amok.
What’s left to explain is how Cultural Nationalists and their Afrocentrists counterparts—who still deny Black people are a nation, and deny Black people possess a distinct culture of its own—managed to highjack the mantle of Black Nationalism.
This thought paper explores how these two schools of Pan Africanism that we call “African Cultural Identitarians,” subverted the logic of Black Nationalism, not with a compelling political program or charismatic leaders, but by weaponizing culture to evoke grandiloquent visions of “African identity.”
To our peril, Black Nationalists ceded the cultural arena to Afrocentrists and Cultural Nationalists during and after the Black Power era. The Black Panthers famously derided Maulana “Ron” Karenga’s “US Organization” as “Pork Chop Nationalists” and even clashed with them in deadly shootouts from Oakland to UCLA’s campus where Bunchy Carter and John Huggins were killed. But they never exposed the fallacy of their cultural narrative that Blacks in America are a wayward tribe of “Africans.”
In the end, both organizations and their leaders were ruthlessly attacked and imprisoned by the FBI. But Karenga’s brand of “Wakaida” Pan Africanism became the theoretical template for the future Afrocentrists movement.
This paper summarizes the reasons for Afrocentrists short-term success. It also explains why the gathering confluence of events is accelerating their decline as a political force.
The nexus of African Cultural Identitarians argument has remained Blacks in America’s settler state are “Africans.” And therein lies the reason for the Afrocentrists inevitable demise. As will be argued here, Blacks in America’s settler state are not and will never be “Africans” in the continental or Black Atlantic diasporic cultural sense.
For Black Nationalists, this is a time of rebirth after a long sojourn in the wilderness years of the post-Black Power era. It remains to be seen if Black Nationalists truly grasp the central role culture plays in building a nationalist movement and the revolutionary process.
While rumors of our demise have been greatly exaggerated, we must confront our shortcomings from the past, especially our failure to develop a theory on Black culture. Thus, over the next six months we will be unveiling the framework of our new “Cultural Enlargement Theory (CET).”
The particular focus of this paper contrast how our “Enlargement” theory envisions an organic process of Black cultural development as opposed to the contrived and arbitrary methodology of “African Cultural Identitarians.”
Traditional Pan Africanist thought and practice over the past century focused on building anti--imperialists liberation movements in Africa and across the diaspora. Pan African intellectuals like Senghor, Fanon, Damas, and Nkrumah who fashioned new theories of African-Socialism, Negritude, Antillanite and other constructs were connected with, led, and supported anti-imperialist liberation movements. Thus, Pan-Africanism maintained an equilibrium between theory and practice in the course of several nations winning independence and national liberation wars.
By contrast, African Cultural Identitarians’ can be distinguished by two enduring features: they are almost exclusively an intellectual movement of academics, and they are unabashed supporters of America’s imperial empire. Their accommodation with the Cathedral (American Empire) was effectuated by three strategic decisions made as the revolutionary tide of the Black Power and African national liberation movements ebbed in the 1970’s.
First, ACI’s conversion of Pan Africanism to a strictly intellectual movement narrowed the fight to the realm of ideology and the battle of ideas; namely “African centered” identity and culture. And while there’s no moral equivalency between Afrocentrists and Alt-Right intellectuals (not the Neo Nazis and Klan) it’s not insignificant that the Alt-Right adopted the Afrocentrists metapolitics playbook to wage race-based cultural warfare and promote White Nationalism.
Second, African Cultural Identitarians created a cultural theory and narrative which was refined and popularized over several decades. The promotion of Swahili, African garb, African names and customs, were simply enhancements to the bookends of their foundational cultural constructs: Maulana Karenga’s “Kawaida” theory and Molefe Asante’s “Afrocentric Ideal.”
There’s an old adage that lies repeated often enough become perceived truths. Since the mid-1960’s, African Cultural Identitarians have pushed their theories in a raft of published books, journalistic articles, college and public-school classrooms, and on social media platforms. Black Nationalists offered no competing cultural theory. The lesson to be learned here is that a bad theory or incorrect theory more often than not trumps the absence of a theory.
Further compounding the problem of lacking a cultural theory, Black Nationalists did not lead the intellectual opposition against Afrocentric theory. It was mainstream Black intellectuals like Harvard’s Anthony Appiah and the elite white academic establishment who took the lead in challenging Afrocentric theory.
But being attacked by the ebony and ivory intellectual guardians of Western civilization created an unanticipated effect; it dramatically increased Afrocentrists profile, bestowing on them the panache of an irreverent intellectual insurgency fighting to overrun the intellectual establishment’s palace guard.
Afrocentrists cleverly positioned themselves to win the argument irrespective of the outcome. If bourgeois academics ignored Afrocentrist theory asserting Greeks stole Black Egypt’s intellectual treasures, Western civilization’s defenders would have to plead guilty to intellectual fraud, thereby undermining the foundation of their vaunted civilizational superiority. If they attacked Afrocentrist theory, it would constitute indisputable evidence that they were racists defending the ramparts of white Euro-centric superiority.
Third, ACI’s strategically targeted a social base for their identitarian cultural movement among educated middle-income Blacks tethered to educational systems at the primary, secondary and higher education levels.
Afrocentrist professors in college Black Studies and African Studies departments are the furniture of their movement. Targeting public schools to approve Afrocentric books and educational materials in school district curricula provided ACI’s with a captive audience of teachers and students to build future capacity.
Schooled in the sciences of stagecraft and academic controversy, Afrocentrists created fake African holidays like Kwanza, challenged Western racial classifications systems, and claimed Socrates was Egyptian, not Greek. Having lobbed hand grenades in the antechambers of Ivy League academia, Afrocentrists were catapulted from their chairs in African Studies departments to the front line of the cultural wars.
As wrongheaded as their ideas are, we don’t question Afrocentrists’ right to proffer their African identitarian theories. Our quarrel with them is far more serious. To make their case Afrocentrists attempted to erase 400 years of Black history and culture by claiming Blacks in America’s settler state are cultureless cretins and intellectual dolts. In this regard they are deserving of contempt and condemnation.
“The reason the black man is such a weak-minded person, why he so easily led by the white man is because he has no standards, no culture,” said the arrogant self-described Cultural Nationalist, Maulana Karenga. Molefe Asante’s insult was more subtle, “Until African Americans are thought of in terms of African history, it will be impossible to write a coherent sociology or psychology of the African American experience.”
History argues otherwise. Black culture has historically vibrated to the rhythm of resistance and liberation since we landed on North America’s shores four centuries ago. Black culture is the dominant cultural force within the Cathedral (America) and is admired and emulated by billions across the planet for its boundless creativity.
Nevertheless, Afrocentrists claim there’s nothing in our struggle for liberation against slavery, Jim Crow, and state sanctioned violence that endows Black people with historical and cultural agency. This is a bizarre argument from people who insist Black children will be empowered and their self-esteem enhanced by proving Queen Cleopatra was Black.
And while Afrocentrists expend their intellectual energies refuting theories (Black Athena) that Egyptians and North Africans were closely related to Caucasoids, they almost completely ignore the contributions of Black Sub-Saharan empires and civilizations, especially those that hadn’t developed written language.
Why African Cultural Identitarians denied Black culture and instead chose to create a specious African cultural identity out of whole kente cloth has been the subject of long-standing debate. One article that caught our attention provides a provocative and instructive analysis.
What Afrocentrists Want
“The Afrocentrist Hustle,” by social critic Stanley Crouch offers the following explanation of the motives and goals of Afrocentrism. According to Crouch;
“The Afrocentrist goal is quite similar to that of the white South in the wake of Reconstruction. Having lost the shooting war, white racists won the policy war, establishing a segregated society in which racial interests took precedence over the national vision of democratic rights.
Afrocentrists responded to the fact that black nationalists and their “revolutionary” counterparts lost the struggle for the black community in the Sixties. In the wake of the dissolution of black nationalism and groups like the Black Panthers the Afrocentrist is waging a policy war through a curriculum that preaches perpetual alienation of black and white.
Afrocentrists also reject education as “Eurocentric indoctrination. But why this obsession with Egypt being African and black? Firstly, monuments. There is no significant African architecture capable of rivaling the grand wonders of the world, European or not. Secondly, Africa has no body of thought comparable to that upon which Western civilization has developed its morality, governmental structures, technology, economic systems, and its literary, dramatic, plastic, and musical arts.
By attempting to win the souls of black college students and to fundamentally influence what is taught to black children in public schools, the Afrocentrist seeks a large enough constituency to bring about what white segregationists once promised—a society that is “separate but equal.”
For all its pretensions to expanding our vision, the Afrocentrist movement is not propelled by a desire to bring about any significant enrichment of our American culture. What Afrocentrists almost always want is power—the power to be the final arbiter of historical truth.”
What these passages suggests is despite Crouch’s stinging criticism, he shares the same sense of fidelity to America and Western civilization as Afrocentrists do. “The aim of Afrocentrists” said Molefe Asante “is to seek ways to unite the country based on mutual respect for the cultural agency of all its peoples. The Afro-centric model is for intercultural agency in which pluralism exists without hierarchy and respect for cultural origins." Stripped of its radical veneer, Afrocentrism is a profoundly patriotic and conservative project.
Crouch sees Black culture as a powerful vector driving Black integration into the American social mainstream. Asante envisions “African culture” as most representative of Black people in a multi-cultural America in which pluralism empowers Afrocentrists with cultural autonomy.
It is the potential for Afrocentrists cultural autonomy writ large across the Cathedral that personifies the power grab Crouch refers to. At the end of the day both groups are competing to mobilize Black culture in the service of American Empire as an indispensable bonding agent to maintain social cohesion.
Black Nationalists take the opposite view. We uphold the existence of a distinct Black culture created in America’s settler state. Black culture is distinct from both American and African ethnic cultures.
Black culture was created by Blacks of a common African ancestry, forged on a common territory in the South. As a majority population in the "Black Belt", Black spoke a common language, created unique musical and artistic modes of expression, and sharing common institutions and similar religious beliefs. As such, Black culture is not a subculture of any other culture. This is a profoundly different vision than African Cultural Identitarians.
Black Nationalists do not pick and choose chapters of our national experience to ignore or purge from our collective memory as if they never existed. Nor, like Afrocentrists do Black Nationalists attempt to stretch the boundaries of reality to prove we are something we are not. Black culture, like the Black nation it represents, possesses a storied history that stands on its own.
We have no desire to lay claim to Western thought and its decadent civilization that bought Black people forced kidnapping in the millions, 300 years of slavery, and a century of Jim Crow, all justified by European-based white supremacy. For Black Nationalists, our culture is the foundation and the substance of our identity--the DNA that’s been our genetic marker powering our resistance to oppression and sustaining our will to create a new national reality.
We stated that Blacks in America’s settler state are not and can never be “Africans” in the continental or diasporic cultural sense. What does this mean? It means that Afrocentrists have no idea how culture is created, and their intellectual honesty is subject to question.
African Cultural Identitarians insist there is a singular “African culture.” Not true. Zulu culture is not the same as Ibo or Akan culture. African pastoralist societies of the Sahel had a completely different culture than Zimbabwe’s sedentary agricultural empire. African Christian societies are dramatically different than African Islamic societies.
What then is Kerenga’s Nguzo Saba principles to create an “African humanist” culture. Nothing more than a few random principles cobbled together with Swahili names and presented as a holistic theory in the same way he described his creation of Kwanzaa.
"People think it's African. But it's not. I wanted to give black people a holiday of their own. So, I came up with Kwanzaa. I said it was African because you know black people in this country wouldn't celebrate it if they knew it was American. Also, I put it around Christmas because I knew that's when a lot of bloods (blacks) would be partying!"
Kerenga’s and Molefe Asante’s Persian bazaar style of peddling phony African holidays and Black Cleopatra’s as African identities, should not surprise us. After all they believe Black people are clueless minions brainwashed by Whites and Jews.
More fundamentally, African Culture Identitarians mistakenly believe culture can be conceived out of thin air, marketed and mass produced like commercial products, and sold in boutique bookstores. True enough, cultural theory can be espoused in lectures halls and unveiled in PowerPoint presentations, as Afrocentrists have done.
Real culture, however, cannot be manifested solely as an intellectual activity. Authentic culture cannot be artificially transferred from one people to another or from one geographic space to another. It cannot be created in university classrooms of Black Studies departments--not even in North Philadelphia. It can’t be divined from reading books.
As explained in our Cultural Enlargement Theory, cultural development is a profoundly human activity.
Cultural Enlargement Theory and How Culture is Created
Culture has many definitions and twice as many interpretations. As we are considering cultures’ role in relationship to nationalism, we adopted the definition below as a working model.
Culture refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, development of arts, music, literature, and history acquired by a group of people over the course of generations.
Beginning with a concept of how culture is created, we assume human beings in general terms are endowed with certain basic drives. Among them self-preservation, territoriality, aggression, protecting their young, and others. But none of these basic human drives ensures mankind’s survival on earth.
It is mankind’s intelligence; his ability to synthesize knowledge, to interact with and transform his environment, and adapt to specific environmental challenges that insures his survival.
How groups of people analyze and respond to their environments, make choices about how to work together, form families or kinships groups, develop leadership and decision-making models, engage in leisure, create symbols and language to communicate with each other, hold certain things sacred, and make assumptions about the larger universe around them, marks the genesis of cultural development.
Because different groups of people respond differently to their unique environments and their geographical space, no two cultures can be alike. Fiji island culture will not be the same as Russian culture or Haitian culture.
As this process is repeated over hundreds and in some cases like China and Persia over thousands of years, the collective knowledge of the people is passed on to the succeeding generations. Over time these cultures become more specific and refined. This process produces a culture that is “organic” or unique to its people.
Organic culture derived from historically formed communities tends to engender individuals with an inner-directed compass. This internal compass essentially acts as a default to its cultural frame of reference when an individual encounters challenges with its environment. Culture situates the individual in the world and helps define the individual’s relationship to his people and surroundings in the broader world.
For example, confronted with slavery and Jim Crow, Black culture has demonstrated a remarkable ability to modulate its cultural responses; creating, recreating, mimicking and mirroring its environment, depending on the exigencies of the moment.
Organic culture also imbues the individual with a distinct form of consciousness. The philosophical anthropologist Arnold Gehlen called this form of consciousness second nature or an instinctual response. How individuals perceive life, meaning, and certain events is colored by their cultural frame of reference.
Over time the continued perpetuation of a culture creates a logic of its own. In a sense, culture is a vector that anticipates the future direction a people are likely to take and how they will react to particular circumstances.
In this sense it can be said that Black attitudes and sensibilities regarding government, music, language, justice, affinity to Africa, and religion have remained remarkably uniform, though hardly monolithic.
This is not to say that culture produces automatic responses. Mankind has the power to make a variety of different choices. But even dissent against prevailing cultural norms often has the effect of infusing that same culture with new vitality, rather than overturning its norms. Culture is not static. It evolves with new circumstances and challenges.
In human activity then, culture is the coin of the realm. There is no such thing as “natural man” free from culture just as there will be no single universal culture produced by globalization. In the absence of culture mediating our encounter with nature and the world, mankind would be reduced to a pathetic undifferentiated mass with no chance of survival.
The concept of organic culture is precisely the reason why Blacks in the U.S. cannot and will never be African, culturally speaking. Our collective lived experience since the 1600’s is not rooted in the African experience.
That African slaves fought to maintain their traditions and cultural practices is unquestioned. Some of those African traditions and modified forms of those customs brought to America still exists. We proudly claim them. Nevertheless, we have created a unique culture that is distinct from anything that exist in Africa.
The historical Pan African experience, including its post-Sixties Afrocentrists reminds us is that a compelling vision of Blackness remains embedded in our national psychology and imagination. No where was this more evident than in the movie Black Panther. Despite its regressive, neo-colonial depictions of a prosperous Wakandan African state whose government’s succession was determined by a dual or competing tribal warriors, the record Black viewership and atmosphere the movie was unleashed was unprecedented.
Thus, we return to the question of Black Nationalists grasping the importance of culture in all its manifestations. Pan Africanism is fading as an ideology because the Darker Nation’s level of understanding of politics, history and culture has become far more sophisticated over the past few decades. The allure of engaging in vainglorious nostalgia for a mythical African past is fading, and is no longer requisite to fostering a sense of ethnic pride.
Instead, today’s Black millennial scholars are reevaluating the historical legacy of the Sixties, the Black Arts Movement, and new conceptions of “Blackness.” Moreover, in our view, the "Black Feminist footprint" is the most important cultural development within the Darker Nation the last half-century. Black Feminists have spawned new leadership styles and methods of organization.
Moreover, Black Feminist have dramatically impacted Black attitudes of the power dynamics between Black men and women, and helped recast Black outlooks on sexual orientation, and acceptance of the LBGTQ and transgender communities. Black Feminists have profoundly influenced new organization forms and leadership structures of protest movements. Black Feminist writers, theorists and literary critics have also broadened the ecosystem of Black Culture, by resurrecting traditional Black folklore and its organic spiritual sources.
Cultural Enlargement Theory expands our cultural model beyond the traditional strictures of ancestry, history, music, visual arts, literature and religion. CET exploits new frontiers to capture the universe of the Black experience. It embraces the Darker Nation's return to its state of nature as a spiritual reality whose cultural essence is peculiar, assumes a life of its own, and cannot be comprehended in purely Western rationalist terms. Black culture is an exceptionally young culture, and not fully formed by virtue of the fact that we lack a nation state. But the seeds of Black culture that are geminating today, will provide us with new platforms in areas such as urban planning, agriculture and ecological stewardship, architecture and new concepts of time and space. These new and emerging cultural expressions will create the foundations of our future state. Black Nationalist must have an enlarged vision of our future that embraces the vast potential of our people--a "Cultural Enlargement Theory."