Cover image for We can't go home again : an argument about Afrocentrism
We can't go home again : an argument about Afrocentrism
Walker, Clarence Earl.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xxxv, 172 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E185.625 .W35 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Afrocentrism has been a controversial but popular movement in schools and universities across America, as well as in black communities. But in We Can't Go Home Again, historian Clarence E. Walker puts Afrocentrism to the acid test, in a thoughtful, passionate, and often blisteringly funnyanalysis that melts away the pretensions of this "therapeutic mythology." As expounded by Molefi Kete Asante, Yosef Ben-Jochannan, and others, Afrocentrism encourages black Americans to discard their recent history, with its inescapable white presence, and to embrace instead an empowering vision of their African (specifically Egyptian) ancestors as the source ofwestern civilization. Walker marshals a phalanx of serious scholarship to rout these ideas. He shows, for instance, that ancient Egyptian society was not black but a melange of ethnic groups, and questions whether, in any case, the phaoronic regime offers a model for blacks today, asking "ifeverybody was a King, who built the pyramids?" But for Walker, Afrocentrism is more than simply bad history--it substitutes a feel-good myth of the past for an attempt to grapple with the problems that still confront blacks in a racist society. The modern American black identity is the product ofcenturies of real history, as Africans and their descendants created new, hybrid cultures--mixing many African ethnic influences with native and European elements. Afrocentrism replaces this complex history with a dubious claim to distant glory. "Afrocentrism offers not an empowering understanding of black Americans' past," Walker concludes, "but a pastiche of 'alien traditions' held together by simplistic fantasies." More to the point, this specious history denies to black Americans the dignity, and power, that springs from an honestunderstanding of their real history.

Author Notes

Clarence E. Walker is Professor of History at the University of California, Davis.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

University of California history professor Walker takes on the controversial subject of Afrocentrism, maintaining that it is a therapeutic mythology that turns Eurocentrism on its ear and has little to do with the academic rigors of history. He traces it back to eighteenth-and nineteenth-century efforts to answer racist historical and anthropological theories. He points to early arguments among philosophers and historians about the various contributions of racial groups, which discounted black Africans' and African Americans' contributions. He examines the negritude movement, Afrocentrism's intellectual forebear, as a reaction to colonialism that emphasized differences based on culture. Afrocentrism, however, attributes racial differences to biology, ascribing all virtues to blacks and all vices to whites. Because it centers Western civilization in Egyptian culture, Afrocentrism has become "Eurocentrism in blackface." The dangers of Afrocentrism lie in its neglect of black African descendants and its shortcomings as a platform for the future. Walker also takes to task the current rightward-leaning American politics that advocates so-called color blindness, "a form of disavowal," he says, of America's racist past. --Vanessa Bush

Library Journal Review

Like Stephen Howe's Afrocentrism (LJ 5/15/98) and Mary Lefkowitz's Not Out of Africa (LJ 2/1/96), this book is a discourse on the historiography of "Afrocentrism." In this boldly conceived and well-executed analysis, Walker (history, Univ. of California, Davis) basically questions Afrocentrism as a form of historical consciousness. He argues that it is based on "European romantic racialism" and is a "therapeutic mythology" designed to restore the self-esteem of black Americans damaged and disoriented by "Eurocentrism." Like Howe, Walker critically analyzes, and in some cases debunks, "truth claims" (e.g., ancient Egypt and not Greece as the progenitor of Western civilization) in the writings of leading proponents of Afrocentrism like Molefi Asante, John H. Clarke, Yosef Ben-Jochannan, and Maulana Karenga. He equates Afrocentrism with white conservatives' views of black Americans' problems and sees Afrocentrism as a form of "Totalitarian groupthink" within the context of contemporary black political and cultural politics. This fantasy or "Afromessianism" as he renames it is dangerous for even black Americans today and poses a threat to cross-racial alliances. Intriguing and challenging, this work will appeal to scholars and students of African American studies and race relations in America. Edward G. McCormack, Univ. of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Lib., Long Beach (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Walker (Univ. of California, Davis) presents the most scholarly analysis of Afrocentrism to date. He demonstrates that the movement is seriously lacking in the rigors of research and scholarship, his major theme being that Afrocentric scholars have only produced a form of therapeutic mythology focused on restoring the self-esteem of black Americans severely wounded by years of Eurocentric deficit model perceptions and analysis. Afrocentric scholars have placed much emphasis on demonstrating that a black civilization existed in Egypt and that from this history Western civilization emerged. This reinterpretation of history becomes crucial in order to recapture the minds of black Americans and further prevent what one Afrocentric scholar describes as "menticide," or the suicide of black minds. Walker reminds readers that the oppression of blacks was not the result of lack of self-esteem, but of being black. He is critical of Afrocentric scholars' lack of emphasis on politics and the social and economic development of black Americans, concluding that Afrocentric scholars have no answers in response to the economic plight currently faced by black Americans in a cybernetic society, other than improving their psyche or self-esteem. All collections. E. A. McKinney Cleveland State University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Note on Usagep. xv
Introductionp. xvii
Part 1 If Everybody Was a King, Who Built the Pyramids? Afrocentrism and Black American Historyp. 1
Part 2 "All God's Dangers Ain't a White Man," or "Not All Knowledge Is Power"p. 83
Notesp. 133
Indexp. 165