Molefi Kete Asante, creator of the nation's first accredited African American Studies doctoral program, defended his philosophy of Afrocentrism in a spirited 90-minute discussion with a diverse audience filing Science Center A last night.
"Afrocentricity is simple," Asante said. "If you examine phenomena concerning African people, you must give them agency. If you don't you're imposing Eurocentrism on them."
Asante, chair of the African-American Studies program at Temple University, said that Afrocentrism is not a ethnocentric philosophy, but merely a means of looking at African people as agents and actors in history rather than as marginal historical figures.
"The Afrocentric idea is a transformative idea; it takes people from the margins," Asante said.
Asante criticized academics' Eurocentrism. "Harvard is a premiere example of white hegemony," he said.
The speaker said he believed that all Afro-American studies courses should be taught from an Afrocentric perspective, while DuBois Professor of Humanities Henry Louis Gates, Jr. chair of Harvard's Afro-American Studies department, does not.
Asante said, however, that this perspective did not require that the courses be taught only by Black professors.
Early in the discussion, Asante paused, asking, "is Professor Appiah here, or Gates?"
He then had a student read aloud from an article he distributed, "The Black Studies War" from the January 17 issue of the Village Voice, in which Gates claimed that in a debate, K. Anthony Appiah, Professor of Afro-American Studies and Philosophy, "could kick Molefi's ass."
"Gates said he or Appiah was gonna kick my ass," Asante explained after the discussion, "so I expected them to come."
Gates attended an international conference this week, The Crimson reported yesterday.
"Asante's points are refreshing with in an institution that is still in the process of building and developing an Afro-American Studies Department," said Kristen M. Clarke '97, president of the Black Students Association (BSA).
Other students said they supported Asante's desire to change the teaching of Black history.
"I don't know what the controversy is about," said Florencia M. Greer '97, commenting on Asante's philosophy. "I think his belief about Afrocentricity as a philosophy that does not wish to impose itself is completely logical. I think his goal is to teach true history of the African nations and their rulers."
Clarke added that Asante's appearance was part of a larger BSA platform which invites controversial Black figures to explain their views.