The Significance of the African World / 2.1 of 10

Education for a New Reality in the African World

by John Henrik Clarke
Part 2 of 10

The Significance of the African World

A distinguished African American poet, Countee Cullen, began his poem “Heritage” with the question: “What is Africa to me?” In order to understand Africa, we must extend the question by asking, “What is Africa to the Africans?” and “What is Africa to the world?” With these questions we will be calling attention to the need for a total reexamination of African history. Considering the old approaches to African history and the distortions and confusion that resulted from these approaches, a new approach to African history must begin with a new frame of reference which will help us better analyze the issues of slavery, colonialism, imperialism and nation-building among black people.

We must be bold enough to reject such terms as “Black Africa” which presupposes that there is a legitimate, “White Africa.” We must reject the term “Negro Africa” and the word “Negro” and all that it implies. This word, like the concept of race and racism, grew out of the European slave trade and the colonial system that followed. It is not an African word and it has no legitimate application to African people. For more details on this matter, I recommend that you read the book, The Word Negro—Its Origin and Evil Use, by Richard B. Moore. In a speech on “The Significance of African History,” the Caribbean writer, Richard B. Moore observed:

The significance of African history is shown, though not overtly, in the very effort to deny anything worthy of the name of history to Africa and the African peoples. This wide-spread, and well nigh successful endeavor, maintained through some five centuries, to erase African history from the general record, is a fact which of itself should he quite conclusive to thinking and open minds. For it is logical and apparent that no such undertaking would ever have been carried on, and at such length, in order to obscure and bury what is actually of little or no significance.

The prime significance of African history becomes still more manifest when it is realized that this deliberate denial of African history arose out of the European expansion and invasion of Africa which began in the middle of the fifteenth century. The compulsion was thereby felt to attempt to justify such colonialist conquest, domination, enslavement, and plunder. Hence, this brash denial of history and culture to Africa, and indeed even of human qualities and capacity for ‘civilization’ to the indigenous people of Africa.

Mr. Moore is saying, in essence, that African history must be looked at anew and seen in its relationship to world history. First, the distortions must be admitted. The hard fact is that most of what we now call world history is only the history of the first and second rise of Europe. The Europeans are not yet willing to acknowledge that the world did not wait in darkness for them to bring the light, and that the history of Africa was already old when Europe was born.

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