Black History and Black Identity:

He thus rejects Afrocentrism as a fundamental political act of self-definition by American Blacks along with the term as an African Diaspora to describe slavery, given that the slave trade dispersed members of Black tribes in Africa and in other areas of the Western world. Black Americans, once again, have produced a unique cultural legacy and suffered unique historical injustices, as distinct from the injustices of colonialism. Also, even before slavery, Africans lived all over the world but for reasons distinct than those originating with the Middle Passage. While well-intentioned as Afrocentric ideology “reflects the renewed pride of black people in shaping a future based on the concept of one African people living in the African Diaspora, “the notion of Diaspora fails to convey a sense of the “vast global presence” of black Africans and their descendants and “the African Diaspora concept, as it is usually used, puts black Africans into Western hemispheric history and reality much too late in human history.

Additionally, Black Americans, although they may feel a sense of kinship with Africans, do not have the same geopolitical interests, necessarily, as Africans living in Africa, and Africa is not a homogeneous identity block. While “events on the African continent and in the African Diaspora [Western Hemisphere] have profoundly affected Afro-American thought and action… An interest in the political objective of unity between black Africans and black people of the “African Diaspora” should not be permitted to supersede” Black interests and concerns in America. In contrast to the concept of the Diaspora, Wright instead suggests the term “African Extensia” or the extension of African contributors into other spheres of the world, without denying the fusing and blending of cultures as an alternative framework for Black studies. This Extensia was partially compelled by slavery, of course but “could be said had its origins millions of years ago when prehistoric creatures initially left Africa and migrated to the continents of the world.”

Many modern Black historians will no doubt resist the contentions of Wright that in fact contemporary Black historiography has actually disrupted and confused Black history from its original focus, given its blending of various histories of other nationalities.

Colonialism in African and White racism in America is linked, they might respond. But Wright would respond: “Black historians for the most part, and this is also true of other kinds of Black intellectuals for the most part, are utterly careless when it comes to projecting the identity of Black people, invariably eschewing the historical evidence.” Black identity is used conveniently to assert a theory, in other words, rather than with consistency and the uniqueness of the experience must not be undervalued, although parallels and commonalities may be drawn with colonialism.

Wrights assertion about the need for division between Blackness and Africanness may be too extreme — it is hard not to argue that a lack of sensitivity towards suffering in Africa, versus suffering in Europe, for example, has no ties to the history of racism in the United States. Furthermore, what of African immigrants who maintain strong ties to their homeland, yet still have the experience of being Black in America? If Black identity is based upon a divorce between the Black experience in Africa and an inability to tie ones roots back to Africa, this might define many Black Americans out of Wrights definition of Black history.

In the future, it will be interesting to see if the new Black president differs in his relation to Africa, to see if there is a marked difference that might call into question some of Wrights definitions of “Third-Wave Black historiography.” At times, Wrights obsession with excluding certain individuals from Blackness becomes troubling, and more of a verbal exercise than something that seems really helpful from the point-of-view of a policy-maker, historian, or even a human being. Still, his challenge of an easy assertion of Afro-Centric pride by those who have not really explored what ties to Africa mean makes his work a valuable contribution and argument in favor of the continued usefulness of the term Blackness.

W.D. Wright, Black History and Black Identity: A Call for a New Historiography. (New York: (Praeger, 2002), p.1.

Wright, p.20.

Wright, p.1.

Wright, pp.17-18.

Wright, pp.53-54.

Wright, p.37.

Wright, p.65..


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