A New Perspective

3rd Voices on Afro-American Studies


Dr. P. Chike Onwuachi is the Director of the African Studies and Research Program at Howard University. His piece is taken from an article that appeared in A Current Bibliography of African Affairs.

The Student Self-interview contains excerpts from a memo by the concentrators in Afro-American Studies at Harvard to the McCree Committee reviewing the Department.

A.C. Epps is dean of Students.

Dr. James Turner is Director of the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University. His remarks are adopted from a speech delivered at Harvard in December.

In a period of transition and social upheaval, such as the world is now engulfed in, the African peoples have seriously begun to redefine their values and the value-systems under which they have been forced to exist. With this redefinition, newly formed or rediscovered ideas and beliefs are appearing. Through these ideas and beliefs, conscious efforts are being made to establish human-liberating modes of thinking and acting. In the academic dimensions, the black scholars of today are demanding revolutionary changes in the educational processes in keeping with the challenge of the time. The black educators are no longer satisfied to win honors and enjoy the status of being scholars, while the black masses are being subjected to the criminal inconsistencies of white-European educational systems. For the African peoples the question is no longer how successful the present educational processes are in relating to high sounding verbalisms about educational validity and democracy, but rather how well the educational processes are preparing the African peoples to cope with the realities of the contemporary world.

New perspectives in African studies must lead to the creation of new educational processes which must become the emancipation proclamation to millions of black peoples not freed by Abraham Lincoln. These processes must help break the shackles from the souls of black peoples and offer them the sheer joy of utter and complete freedom. The processes must have the idological base of Negritude and Pan-Africanism. They must be cognizant of the entire social, historical, economic, political, psychological, and ideological factors that connote the very meaning of blackness as new humanism in Pan-African perspective. The implications of the Pan-African perspective in black education have been well articulated by Malcolm X in his discourse on Afro-American history when he said that: "Persons who are narrow-minded, because their knowledge is limited (provincialism), think that they are affected only by things happening in their block. But when you find a person who has a knowledge of things of the world today, he realizes that what happens in South Vietnam can affect him if he is living on St. Nicholas Avenue, or what's happening in Congo affects his situation on 8th Avenue, or 7th Avenue, or Lennox Avenue (New York). The person who realizes the effect that things all over the world have on his block, on his salary, on his reception, or lack of reception into society, immediately becomes interested in things international." Hence any African Studies Program today must move with a new perspective of Pan-Africanism in the objective effort to develop the Afro-Centric perspective in education. Such Afrocentric perspective enables one to deal with African problems with characteristic African methodologies and processes.

In keeping to the true ideals of Pan-Africanism as well as meeting the objective needs of the African peoples, the Program does not tolerate white racialism nor black chauvinism, but articulates the fundamental equality of man and respect for human personality.

Today, the black American counts the Africans as his brothers. The black American calls for a truer expression of historical and ethnic relatedness between himself and the African. This demand for historical and ethnic roots, and the vehement quest of identity requires a deep and vital interest in the social and cultural sources of Black America. Americans of other ethnic descent, while still remaining hundred per cent Americans, are proud of their ancestral traditions, and acknowledge them freely. The black American, while also insisting on remaining American, is now beginning to acknowledge his African heritage, and seeks with enthusiasm knowledge of the history and cultures of his ancestors.

A strong African Studies and Research Program as an integral part of the educational processes at Howard, will greatly widen the students' intellectual and social horizons. These studies will release them from the psychological limitations of a restricted historical, ethnic, and mono-cultural bias. Such students will thus be better equipped to provide effective leadership in today's world. As the distinguished American Anthropologist, Melville Herskovits, once put it, "To give the Negro an appreciation of his past is to endow him with the confidence in his own position in this country and in the world which he must have and which he can best attain when he has available a foundation of scientific fact concerning the ancestral cultures of Africa and the survival of Africanism in the New World". There is no question that when such a body of facts is firmly and scientifically established, it can create an intellectual ferment that, when popularly diffused, can change prejudices and stereotypes about the blackman in the diaspora, and thus contribute to a lessening of interracial tensions. Furthermore, there is today in America an acute need for an understanding of the problems of development in the nations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The study of the problems of these nations has become one of the fastest-growing areas of academic interest and concern. This concern is specifically fostered by the United States' growing participation in the efforts of these nations to build stable and progressive political, economic and social systems.