American demands, African treasures, Mixed possibilities

American demands, African treasures, Mixed possibilities

The African Diaspora Archaeology Network
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
December 2006 Newsletter
ISSN: 1933-8651
16 pages

Daniel R. McNeil, Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies
Newcastle University, United Kingdom

In the 1990s, many Americans sought to cast themselves as heroic defenders of the liberal arts by condemning Afrocentricity. This paper reveals how many such profiteers and schemers were invested in Eurocentricity, but it also critiques Molefi Asante – the man who coined the phrase “Afrocentricity” – and points out his reliance on AfroAmericocentric norms.

…Television history, employed by Gates in his PBS documentary, Wonders of the Ancient World, “while unquestionably powerful . . . is of necessity superficial . . . programmes have to be fast-moving if they are to retain their viewers” (Kershaw 16). Producers often assume that their history programs require a respected narrator and perhaps a charismatic interviewer, as “problems of interpretation tend to muddy the waters, and to leave the viewer confused, baffled or at least unable to decide which of variant interpretations is the most valid” (ibid.). According to cultural critic John Fiske, lumpers (broad synthesizers favoured by lay opinion) are preferred to splitters (narrow specialists favoured by professionals) because television history, like soap opera and sport, should be open and full of contradictions so that it invites “viewer engagement, disagreement, and thus popular productivity” (191). Perhaps ignoring the need to challenge the continuing deference to professors, such as Reisner, who considered Black Africa to be without history, Fiske also thought that televised history “must not preach or teach” (emphasis added; ibid. 196). Yet his comments remain important if curators and “public intellectuals” are to be encouraged to present themselves as possessors of technical competence whose function is to assist subordinate groups to use elite resources in order to make authored statements within the public sphere (Bennett 104). In this fashion, one can applaud Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s attempts to use his position as director of the Du Bois institute at Harvard to encourage to African Americans to enter Ivy League universities, even if one doesn’t support his desire to question Blacks of mixed parentage and/or Caribbean descent that “beat out” Black indigenous middle-class kids on the front page of The New York Times (Rimer and Anderson)…

Read the entire article here.

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