In This Review

Afrocentrism: Mythical Pasts and Imagined Homes
Afrocentrism: Mythical Pasts and Imagined Homes
By Stephen Howe
Verso, 1998, 337 pp

America's recent culture wars have included many skirmishes over afrocentrism, an ideology expounded by assorted black writers such as Molefi Asante of Temple University. Howe enters the fray with two objectives: to trace afrocentrism's intellectual genealogy from its myriad antecedents and to evaluate the contemporary ideology as history, myth, and social theory. Fifteen well-researched and relatively dispassionate chapters survey pan-Africanism and negritude, Caribbean and Masonic influences, nineteenth- and twentieth-century ideas about ancient Egypt and Nubia, cultural diffusion, and ethnonationalism. One chapter critiques Martin Bernal's Black Athena and another evaluates the seminal ideas of Senegal's Cheikh Anta Diop. Howe then comes out with guns blazing to deride the contemporary purveyors of the myths of afrocentrism. Bogus as historians and fraudulent as Africanists ("Their Africa is an imaginary place"), they advance "something akin to a new religion" that dispenses "compensatory therapy for the disadvantaged" along the way. Worst of all, he says, afrocentrism offers no strategies to alleviate black poverty; people need accurate information, not fantasy, about the world in order to change it. A serious introduction to a controversial subject.