Molefi Kete Asante : A (black) genius

black-aristocrat-molefi-kete-asanteI contacted Mr. Molefi Kete Asante, one of the most prominent scholars of the century. This gentleman has done everything in and out his field = 82 books, more than 500 articles, poetries, paintings, …

I publish here our december 2016 correspondence because I believe it is very motivating for students, intellectuals, journalists :

“What, would you say, are your three, four, major books; those you consider to be the most important in the advancement they bring to universal knowledge? And why ?

Asante, The History of Africa, 2nd Edition

Asante, An Afrocentric Manifesto

Asante, The African Pyramids of Knowledge

Asante, The Afrocentric Idea

Asante, Facing South to Africa


Which books have met the greatest success of bookstores and, in your opinion, why?

Asante, Erasing Racism: The Survival of the American Nation

Asante and Abarry, eds, African Intellectual Heritage

Asante, Afrocentricity: The Theory of Social Change

Asante, African American History: A Journey of Liberation


What are your books that have not yet met their readers? Why, do you think ? Is it still too early to radically study your subject ? Does American society seem ready to bend over your story?

My novel, Scattered to the Wind, has not yet met is audience. I am writing short stories that might have a better chance.


Why did you write 77 books, over 500 articles ? Was it a thirst for notoriety, a definite strategy, an obligatory academic exercise, the result of so much knowledge in a science that has never been explored before?

One could write more than the 82 books that I have written and still there would be, if one had the time and energy to do the research, more yet to be written. Eighty two is a relatively small number compared to what is possible.


Have your parents been able to see your professional and social background? Your brothers and sisters? What did they think of it, in your opinion?

My parents are deceased, but my family is very proud of my work. They think that I am awesome; they do not understand everything but they know that as one of the contemporary African scholars they have heard about, I have achieved a lot with my books and teaching.


What are the three black personalities you consider with the greatest respect in world history? Why ?

Imhotep, the father of all modern sciences and arts, philosopher, physician and builder of the first pyramid.

Thutmoses III, greatest conquering king in the ancient world, more military campaigns than any known military leader

Amanirenas, the queen who saved stopped the Roman advance in Africa after Rome had defeated Kemet.

What are the three black scholars currently alive whom you recognize as promising in the cause you are defending? Why ?

I consider the first two peers:

Maulana Karenga, African American scholar

Ama Mazama, Guadeloupian scholar

The following list is of younger scholars in Afrocentricity

Simphiwe Sesanti, South African scholar

Michael Tillotson, African American


Have the research you have undertaken, and the discoveries you have made, have significantly influenced your personal life?

Yes, they have made me more confident that anyone can be involved in social justice if they have a will to humanize the world.


Would you have thought initially that your research would end up where you are today?
Do you think you have influenced your time? In what ?

I believe that there is some influence, please see http://newsone.com/3597076/equally-unsung-10-black-educators-you-should-know/


Do you think you made mistakes in your professional career that slowed down your work, followed bad leads?

Of course, took on too many administrative tasks in my career so far. I need space and time to write.


What was the most rewarding period of your academic career, why?
Who helped you build your academic career? Who encouraged you? Who should you thank and why?

The last 30 years have been fabulous as I have been encouraged by my graduate students and peers in this work. Among the phenomenal students I have had are Michael Tillotson, James Conyers, Jr., Miriam Maat Ka Re Monges, Ana Monteiro-Ferreira, Abu Noman, Ifetayo Flannery, Ibram Kendi, and scores of others. Of my peers, I count Ama Mazama and Maulana Karenga as my closest compatriots in understanding the role of agency in the African renaissance. I count my colleagues who have been around me at Temple University such as C. Tsehloane Keto, Nah Dove, Nilgun Anadolu Okur, and Kariamu Welsh as inspirational people. I count my wife, Yenenga, as the person I most thank for the opportunity to work and write with as much freedom as possible.


What is kemetology, according to you, today?

It is the Afrocentric study of ancient Nile Valley Civilizations. This differs from Egyptology only in the sense that the Europeans sought to take Egypt out of Africa and consequently created an entire field that divorced Kemet from the rest of the continent. It was a bold move to retake it.


About your book: African Pyramids of Knowledge, how do the pyramids combine all the knowledge of antiquity?

The building of the pyramids must be considered the core intellectual work at the beginning of history. Neither the Iliad nor the Odyssey, coming 2000 years later, can be placed at the beginning of ancient knowledge and wisdom.

Was ancient Egypt not lacking the humanistic dimension of Greek thought?

Whoever says that ancient Egypt was lacking the humanistic dimension has not read The Teachings of Ptahhotep or the writings of Duauf, Amenemope, Amenemhat, or the story of Khunanup. My book, The Egyptian Philosophers, might be useful here.


Still from your research on the pyramids, do you think that the knowledge of ancient Egypt is still superior to our current knowledge?

No, I would not say that. I would say that but I would say that the combination of sciences and arts that went into the building of the pyramids and the preservation of mummies constituted the first foundation for knowledge that would come later.

Including, in the philosophical field, after the Christian period of Europe and its approach to the human condition, the notions of compassion and love of humanity, forgiveness and individual consciousness? If so, what made us fall lower than many thousands of years ago?

Once must give all cultures their due in regards to advancing our understanding of the world. The contributions of the Chinese, Indians, and Europeans are not less than those of the Africans; it is just that the African civilizations were the first to lay the ground. After all, humans originated on the African continent.


Ancient China also has a rich scientific and philosophical past but it seems to have retained more traces of it than Africa. How do you explain this forgetfulness of the black continent? (See The Painful Demise of Eurocentrism?)

I believe that the series of savage invasions of African civilizations from the time of the Persians and Assyrians through the period of the Arabs and Europeans created large areas where Africa was robbed of its cultural inheritance. Cities like Waset, the greatest seat of culture in the ancient world, was sacked numerous times with many objects smashed and destroyed. Throughout the continent one sees the same pattern so much so that even in this era the city of Timbuktu has had tombs smashed by religious fanatics. Yet, I have visited many museums in the West and have seen thousands of pieces of African art. My own graduate university had 2000 pieces of Yoruba sculpture.


Why have you adopted African outfits? To adopt African fashion in North America and the adoption of African names, from languages not spoken by American black populations, could be utopias or temporary fashion, don’t you think ?

I have not adopted African outfits and names. I have accepted my African identity and have run away from the plantation of European slave names and dress. The curious thing is why have not more Africans seen this light. A slave mentality leads to the enslaved imitating the master. I am a free man.

You were born Arthur Lee Smith Junior in Valdosta, Georgia. Are you more African than American? The African-American, native of Valdosta, does not exist any more in you?

American is a nationality, a passport, a domicile, but African is my origin and my recent cultural roots. Even what some people call American is probably African. There is no people other than Natives who are indigenous to the Americas, all others are either Africans, Europeans, or Asians.


How do you define African Americans nowadays? What did you conclude from your study in The African American People?

Any person who was born in the Americas, Brazil, Mexico, United States, who claims African heritage and identity is an African American. One is passport; the other is cultural identity.


You attended Christian schools (Nashville, Texas, Oklahoma, and Pepperdine in California). What is your view on religion today? Did you remain a Christian or syncretist ? I’m thinking about your book: The way …

Religion is the deification of ancestors and I deeply revere the African ancestors.

I unfortunately did not read As I Run Toward Africa where you deal with your biography. Could you, in summing up, tell me about your childhood in Valdosta? What was your family environment? Your cultural environment? What was the “Geechee-Gullah Middle of Georgia’s Coastal Plains”? Are there any elements of your biography in Valdosta that motivated your academic (and activist) career?

Really, I do not want to repeat this here so you might want to read the book. There is too much to unpack in this interview. Help me.


I read that After the American Civil War, during the Reconstruction era more than 100 freedmen, families of farmers, craftsmen, and laborers, emigrated from Lowndes County to Arithington, Liberia, in 1871 and 1872. (See Eric Dewayne Jackson ) “Lowndes County Georgia List of Emigrants to Arithington, Liberia”) What do you think of this black American colony in Liberia? Are you interested in its history? Do you have contacts?

I would be interested but I do not know this story of Lowndes County and Liberia.


What do you think today of Valdosta, of Georgia, of the states of the South? What memories do you keep? (Incidentally, you are not named as a personality from Valdosta in the Wikipedia page devoted to your hometown!)

I wonder why not?


Tell me about your poet’s work. What are your themes, your works? Why did you make poetry? What are your influences ? What gave you the taste for poetic art? (Where can I read your poetry online?)

I have written several books of poetry, but there is nothing online.


Tell me about your work as a playwright. What, again, are your themes, your works? What were your goals when you launched yourself into a playwright? What inspired you to do it? What were the circumstances in which you were able to introduce yourself into the world of the documentary, the film?


Tell me about your work as a painter. Where did you exhibit? Why paint “untaught art”? What do you seek to represent by this media? What are your influences ? (Where can I see your works online?)


Poet, playwright, academic, painter … Everything interests you. Are you involved in all these areas with always as much passion? Are these activities complementary to one another?

I am engaged in many things at once. I have paintings, poems, and plays, but these are not yet public items, except in the case of the poems and the one mounting of one of my plays at Temple University.


What does afrocentricity present as interest as a philosophy? (See The Afrocentricity, translated by Ama Mazama, Menaibuc, 2005)

I think Mazama’s own work, The Afrocentric Paradigm, defines Afrocentricity in a way that makes its functional, that is, usable for creating change in people’s social and economic conditions.


You have appeared in many media (television, radio, magazines). What do you think of your notoriety? What were the major steps? Appearances in the media that were really strategic in recognizing your action? Do you think you have experienced more intense periods than others (which, why?) Or an increasing progression up to today? What do you think of the notoriety? Is it useful? Negative? Indispensable to be able to do?

Notoriety is nothing; action is everything. Notoriety comes easily and it leaves easily. I seek a transformative influence on society and really I like my privacy.

Which media best relay your work today? What do you think are the major magazines, newspapers, black radios today? Why ?

Social media, Facebook, Twitter, academic journals, and WURD Radio in Philadelphia. I was once a host of Afro-Central on that station for three years.


You have established important links with Africa. Which countries are you most proud of and why? The cultural differences between the African continent and the American black world are important, what do you think? Can you tell me a little about your contacts and give a few anecdotes about your stays, things that may have astonished you?

There was nothing that I have seen in my almost one hundred trips to Africa that astonished me as an African. There are many things that are different but they all have some equivalences in black communities in the West. I have just spoken today, December 2, at the Embassy of Burkina Faso in Paris in honor of Joseph Ki-Zerbo, the great historian.


You have also lectured in Asia (Japan and China). How do you feel about Asia, its welcome to your research? Do you think that Asia is in the same state of mind as the United States compared to studies on Africa?

Yes, I have a good feeling about Asia. I have traveled to several countries and I have found similarities with African nations. I believe that the work of Yoshitaka Miike, the great Japanese scholar, is paradigmatic in the study of communication. I am impressed by the Chinese sense of cultural continuity in the midst of modernity. My lectures have been well received in both China and Japan.


On the same subject, what do you think is the basis of the communication problems between Koreans and African-Americans in the United States? In your book: Socio-Cultural Conflict between African and Korean American, written with Eungjun Min in 2000, what do you bring as a basis for reflection to solve this difficulty?

Well, I think there is often misunderstanding and tensions that come when new people move into a neighborhood. These issues are not as major now as they were when we wrote our book.

Could the solution you are proposing on the conflict between Afro-Americans and Koreans apply to other ethnic conflicts in the United States and elsewhere in the world?

I am not sure; I think that one has to study the issues first to see what is possible.


How do you see the cohabitation of the animist/christian African world and Islam? I am thinking of your articles on the war in Sudan and, in general, the anti-black racism of the Muslim world. What solutions could you propose to address the issue in the contemporary Arab world? Has the emergence of international jihadism been able to relegate the question of afrocentricity to second place today, in that it violently contrasts the Arab-Muslim world with the Christian West with violence ?

I am not sure I understand what you are asking here. However, I have written against the Arab Muslim persecution of Africans in Sudan and Mauritania. I think that the African people must awake to the attempt to subvert the will of the majority of the people and to impose ideas from Arabia. We know white racism but we are often unwilling to see Arab racism against blacks. My work has meant to wake people up to this reality as well. Losing one’s own cultural traditions is the source of spiritual and cultural death.


What are your relations with Louis Farrakhan today?

I have no relationship with Minister Farrakhan. Many years ago he tried to recruit me to the Nation of Islam, but I do not follow any non-African religion.

Did he respond to your argument on the situation in Sudan?

I believe someone said that he did. I never saw it or read it. He also came out against racism. That is a good sign, but Farrakhan is not an Afrocentrist. You can support black people and not be an Afrocentrist.

Even before organized slavery (massively) for the Europeans, was there not massive slavery organized by the Arab raids on black Africa? And which continues today?


Henry Louis Gates spoke of the blacks who had flourished on the slavery of other blacks. You replied that they had only been “collaborators”. Are there no ethnic groups that have dominated (enslaved) other peoples they have subdued? I think of the condition of pygmies.

There is no evidence that slavery was ever used as a principal mode of production in any African culture. Furthermore, there is no evidence that slavery was ever a part of the African philosophical system prior to the coming of Arabs and Europeans. I do not know where the Twa or Mbuti people were enslaved. The Zanj Rebellion by Africans in Iraq in 900 AD was the first massive uprising against Arab slavery. Both the Arab Slave Trade and the European Slave Trade dislocated Africans psychologically and spiritually.


What is your relationship to the politics and diplomacy of America in Africa? Has US government tried to use you to strengthen the American presence in Africa?

No, the United States has not tried to use me to advance its policies in Africa. I am not interested in that activity. I am neither a politician nor the son of a politician. I seek an Africa free, self-confident, united, and independent; then we shall talk about an African resurgence. My political interests however are always about liberation of the oppressed from victimization.

Similarly, do you think that the interest of the Chinese university can be linked to the Chinese expansion on the African continent?

I am not sure I understand this question. But certainly university types will be present and are already present in Africa from China.


Similarly, still in the geopolitical field, what do you see coming today about South Africa? And on the southern part of Africa? Are we getting to democracy?

I think that South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions of any state. I am not certain what we are asking of a people so long under apartheid. I feel that there is a real possibility that South Africa will become an anchor for Africa’s economic growth. It has resources and smart people.


What are the regions of the black continent on which you most hope for the development and well-being of peoples? Why ?

Ghana has the most developed and sophisticated sense of unity and solidarity within the country and for Pan Africanism. I think that Senegal is also a country to watch because of its long intellectual tradition of leading Pan Africanism.


What concrete actions have you taken, and do you advocate, to “humanize” the world?
In your book: The Global Intercultural Communication Reader, you are trying to establish a new approach to the world through a non-Western prism. Do you think you have reached your intellectual goal? Are there any difficulties that remain to be overcome today?

There are many difficulties and I have not reached my goal.


In your book The History of Africa, you write a new approach to the history of Africa. What, in your opinion, are the fundamental elements that were lacking until then?

Do not you think that this method can be relevant, even through the historical treatment of Europe itself? I speak of Greco-Latin history and its reading on the Celtic “barbarians”, Ligurians, and so on.

I believe that European history must be seen through the lens of European culture; but African culture and history must not be subjected to European interpretations. One must ask Africans what something is or isn’t.


What do you think of Barack Obama as an individual? Do you define him as an Afro-American representative of your community? What are your relations with him? Do you support him?
What is your relationship with Barack Obama’s political team? Do you think that the appointment of a black president has considerably advanced the cause of black Americans? In the USA ? In the world ?

Barack Obama is a brilliant intellectual and a gifted politician. He will become known as one of the best presidents in the history of the United States because of his ability to achieve despite the attempts of whites to string him up, to tie his hands. He has served the presidency as a class act; few presidents have had more grace and dignity. My book, Lynching Barack Obama: How whites Tried to String Up the President, includes my sentiments about him and the political situation. Of course, the first black president in the Americas was Vicente Guerrero of Mexico.


The reaction of some African Americans, who turn more towards the white community to assimilate, I suppose, a model of success more than a black community, identified with ghettos, gangsta rap, poverty and violence. Does it seem to you, if not legitimate, at least motivated by the metissage? Many African Americans also have white blood in the veins? Is it not, in the logic of social success conveyed by Protestantism and the American Way of Life? (See Rooming in the Master’s House)

There will always be confusion, identity and class confusion, and sometimes people will join their oppressors and/or their enemies because they do not have a sufficient understanding of their cultural or class history. I am not surprised by this notion of escaping blackness; in some circles it is considered a negative. I embrace my African heritage because I do not see it as a negative.

In the name of the emancipation of the black community and the various ethnic, sexual and religious minorities, would it be necessary to “destroy” the United States as it exists today? To revise the political institutions, to question the political and administrative structures, to restore the United States to the image of their population?

The United States missed an opportunity during the Civil War to have a Second Revolution that would have criminalized racism, for example, or created a society based on justice. It would not have left in place the white supremacist attitudes one can still find in the country or the misogynist and anti-Semitic actions one sees in the nation today had there really been a revolution. What seems more likely is that the people of the country will move from one political fix to the next, wobbling along until the system is transformed by the weight of it inability to account for itself.


With the genetic tests developed fairly commonly in the United States, “whites” discover Asian, Amerindian and African origins among their ancestors. Do you think that this could have a positive influence on the American people’s understanding of the complexity of its history and its population?

All human groups are mixed. Full stop.

Do you think you’re addressing all ethnic groups or primarily African-Americans of your time?

I write to African people regardless of ethnicity or nationality because this is my principal audience. I see African people as a major part of the world and so in saying that I am claiming that I write for humanity as a Jewish writer who writes in Hebrew to Jews could claim that he or she is writing to humanity or an English writer writing to English people can make a human claim. No, I do not deliberately, for the most part, write to people who are not African.


What is the state of pan-Africanism today? How would you define Muhammar Gaddhafi role in panafricanism ?

Pan Africanism is alive and well with the PanFederalists and the Afrocentricity International cadres doing groundwork to launch appeals to the African masses.


Your son is a professor at Morgan State University. Are you proud of that?

He’s very sensitive, very honest in his biography. He brings many intimate autobiographical elements in his work? Did that shock you? Did that allow you to evolve as a man?
Your daughter, according to your son’s statements, has endeavored to find non-African origins. Given your status and your efforts to valorize your Africanity, do you consider that as one of those insolences that life reserves?

My younger son is an entertaining writer. I am proud of his talent and his work as a professor. My daughter is an artist and a poet. She is a private person but has incredible sensitivities due to her schizophrenia and I did not recognize her in my son’s book; perhaps he is reporting from a thirteen year old’s memory. My incredible daughter’s DNA report says that she has no European ancestry but in addition to African she has Asian and Native American ancestry. I love all of my children and grandchildren. They have different understandings and it is not necessary for them to believe or see as I see. My own DNA reports goes to Yoruba of Nigeria on the Y-Chromosome and to Nubian of Sudan on the mitochondrial DNA on my maternal side.


What do you think of your son, Junior, career as a young man before becoming a recognized writer? The street, the gangs, the difficulties encountered by your eldest son? Do you think this is a consequence of the black condition in North America? What do you think of the black American families, their social heritage?

MK Asante is a writer and many of the events described in his book must be looked at as “the memory,” as he says, “of a thirteen-year old child.” I cannot recognize many things in the book. My son grew up in a middle class environment with warm, emotional, loving parents at 707 Medary Avenue, Philadelphia. (You can Google it). I think the imagination can play tricks on us.


Do you think your children were impressed by your background? Did your leading intellectual activity require the sacrifice of your presence in the family? Is it a suffering for you?
Do you think, in the end, that the conditions in which you grew up back in Georgia made you strong, hard, compared to your children raised by a couple of artist and intellectual, and having grown up in a society much different from Georgia in the 40’s ?

I do not know what you mean by children being impressed by my background. They are my children and they did not see me as anything other than their father; and perhaps they saw that I worked hard and cared about their security and support. I am not sure my Georgia background had that much impact on them; the only thing they knew were universities and urban environments. They understood that I had fifteen brothers and sisters and that my family had been peasant farmers.

Do you think your intellectual work has promoted peace and understanding in American Society or increased hate and racism ? (I know it’s a bit provocative, but no offense. I’d like to get your feedback on American society

I am not a public intellectual so I cannot claim anything. I do not claim that I have promoted peace and understanding although my books have attempted to explain how we can escape racism and live peacefully. I am an activist intellectual who believes that one must create, do, and make things happen. That is at the bottom what a living religion is all about, creativity. On the other hand, hatred and hate speech are endemic in the white community in the United States; it is the basis of the society’s origin and it is written in the documents where presidents such as Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson, Dwight Eisenhower, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and others used what today we call hate speech against Africans, Japanese, and other people.”

 

 

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