Can psychology help spur the re-birth of African civilization? Notes on the African personality (psychological Africanity) construct: normalcy, development, and abnormality.

Author:Azibo, Daudi Ajani ya

We must redesign the Afrikan personality to serve us through these difficult times.

Del Jones (1992, 109)

African Personality: A Clarion Call?

Frantz Fanon (1963, 316) entreated Africans "to set afoot a new man [sic]". Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. encouraged social scientists to play a role in bringing about "psychological and ideological changes in Negroes" (King, 1968, 183). Amos Wilson (1989) acknowledged dissatisfaction with many male African-U.S. (descendants of Africans enslaved in the United States) and admonished emphatically "make another man." John Henrik Clarke (1997, xvii) pointed to the continuation of this social engineering imperative for the African descent person (ADP) whether man, woman, or child: "In the twenty-first century.... first we change ourselves." Caucasian Canadian Michael Bradley (1992) pleaded for the direction the change must take:

I cannot help but make a plea: African Americans must forsake the white man's social structures, concepts of justice and, yes, even religion and return, as far as possible, to genuine African values and identity (insofar as these can be accurately recovered and reconstructed). (243-244)

Bradley's plea may be applied equally to worldwide populations of ADPs in light of global domination of them by Eurasian civilizations historically and at present (Azibo, 2012; Horne, 2007; Jones, 1992; Rajshekar, 1987, 1992; Nikam, 1998; Rodney, 1974; Wilson, 1998). These clarion calls or pleas and Jones's epigraph would seem to suggest the need for reemergence of the African personality. As well, knowing the contours or parameters of the ordered, appropriately functioning African personality as dictated by the African personality construct would seem imperative for undertaking efforts for its social engineering and for making accurate diagnoses of disorder and identifications of inappropriate psychological functioning.

The African Personality?

Fathoming the Very Idea. Recently, the International Journal of Psychology (2006) recognized a role for "indigenous psychologies" definable as scientific investigations (mostly) of concepts about human behavior and experience from an emic framework meaning within the cultural traditions of the group under study, preferably using its own emic terminology. Indigenous psychologies, then, may provide important alternatives to Western-based psychological knowledge which, in turn, may yield "variations and communalities that could provide the basic material to create a more truly pan-human psychology.... [a] more representative psychology" (International, 2006) as emic knowledge can bring about etic knowledge.

As the idea of a folk or cultural psychology peculiar to different populations is not new (Benj afield, 1996; Murphy & Kovak, 1972) it is no surprise that in its Western psychology origins it is fired with racism and ethnocentrism. Wundt's folk psychology, for example, was developed within his society's obsession at the time, identified as "German romantic tendency to emphasize white racial superiority and the Germans as the pure race" (Onyewuenyi, 2005, 91). In contrast, the circumspect assessment of the Eurasian collective as Johnny-come-lately to and differentially developed in their humanity as overall pitiably pejorative by Nilotic African civilization attributed a non-supremacist, environmental causality (Moore, 1986, 242) distally responsible. For example, "[d]uring the twenty-first century B.C., the pharaoh Merikare [pointed out] ... 'Lo the miserable Asiatic, He is wretched because of the place he's in, short of water, bare of wood, it's paths are many and painful because of mountains, he does not dwell in one place, food propels his ego, he fights since the time of Horus'" (Carruthers, 1999, 22-23). This observation is best explained by Diop's 2-cradle theory (Carruthers, 1984, 57-72; Diop, 1978b, 55-113; Wobogo, 1976), which if correct that "human consciousness has been modified since the very earliest days by the particular experiences undergone in communities which developed separately.... [i]n this sense, there existed in the beginning, before the successive contacts of peoples and of nations, before the age of reciprocal influences, certain non-essential relative differences among peoples" (Diop, 1978b, 9), then the self-reflection of African civilizations is undeniably grist for the psychological mill. The point may be well-taken from Killens (1975, 24) without referencing remote relative differences that "surely as East is East and West is West, there is a 'black' psyche ... and there is a 'white' one, and the sooner we face up to [it]," the better for our multicultural knowledge base.

Yet, about the African personality construct, there are contrary positions (Tembo, 1980). In the anti-African personality school Western biases figure prominently. This school is either in toto negative to the very idea which they dismiss as not factual or view it pejoratively from the anachronistic colonial standpoint of civilizing the savages. The pro-African personality school, however, views as valid manifestations of cultural uniqueness among Africans, inside and outside of the continent, as reflected in their behavior, social norms, customs, values, beliefs, religious zeal, attitudes, explanations of the cosmos and the supernatural, social and political systems historically or in contemporary times. This essay proceeds, agreeing with Tembo that the African personality construct should be expanded and integrated into formal economic, social, psychological and political theory where and whenever possible as this would afford the emergence of authentic centered African intellectual theory, which is in line with multicultural knowledge (American Psychological, 2011), and perhaps a practicality pertaining to the development of African civilizations wherever ADPs are found.

In Regard to Themselves. Africans have always produced ways of thinking and behaving that culminated in psycho-behavioral modalities that are identifiably African (Khoapa, 1980; Tembo). In doing this, the African personality "project[s] to the world values distinctively African" (Bengu, 1975, 82). Her sons and daughters on the continent and in the Diaspora have defended their traditions against the onslaught of Eurasian civilizations that began as early as 4,500 B.C.E. (Williams, 1976).

Said onslaught has been presented in Western scholarship as a clash of cultures (Fagan, 1998) that inevitably resulted in the colonized world of the West (Blaut, 1993) that endures into these times (Chomsky, 1993). It is the resistance of African civilizations across millennia and continents, however, that is important to the present analysis for its psycho-cultural relevance, namely the continuing of centered African tradition among ADPs even under unspeakable Eurasian conquering that has psychologically dislodged many ADPs (Azibo, 2011b). For example, the Honorable Patrice Lumumba of the Congo may be invoked as representative: "We are Africans and wish to remain so. We have our philosophy, our customs, our traditions.... To abandon them ... would be to depersonalize ourselves" (All African, 1983; also Maglangbayan, 1979). Also, "Amilcar Cabral of Guinea-Bissau says the cessation of self-destruction [by ADPs] is motivated through one route only--a return to the source--a journey back to renewing myths of our pre-colonial origins" (Baker, 1991, i). For the ADPs of India, Rajshekar (1992, 127-128) concurs as overall "The Black untouchables of today's India try to hide their [historic] identities. They are ashamed of themselves [as ADPs]. They hate themselves [individually and as a people]. This self-hatred can vanish when we reveal to our people ... our own independent and distinct cultural past" (also Rajshekar, 1987; Rashidi, 1992, 91-95). In the U.S., Asa Hilliard (1988) espoused the "Return to the African Source" theme for psycho-cultural revitalization efforts for ADPs, as did Haitian revolutionist Dutty Boukman/Bookman (Carruthers, 1985).

It seems the precedents of ADPs relying on indigenous, ancestral African frames of reference for orienteering is well-founded internationally and across epochs. Counter and Evans (1981) provided a striking example. Therefore, rather than out-of-hand dismissal of psychological conceptualizations that might derive from centered African folk/cultural psychology/Volkerpsychologie frameworks, the prescience of Caucasian psychologists Sampson (1993) who entreated psychologists to celebrate the non-Caucasian other by tapping into insights that might derive from their traditions and Holdstock (2000) who provided an excellent example of building psychological inquiry around African insights might be heeded. Hence, the African personality construct is one of maybe many potential insights.

The African Personality: A Racial Construct

The position espoused is that a crucial necessity in the social engineering of the new African man, woman, and child to take place worldwide is a policy mandate that would emphasize placing the psychical variations and developments of the individual ADP wherever s/he is located globally in the context of the overarching, corporate, racial African personality construct as it is derived from African-centered insights. This means that all idiosyncratically organized as well as collective culture-based behaving of an ADP is to be interpreted in accordance with the African personality construct which contains an inherent, explicit specification of a dichotomous normalcy-abnormality or appropriate-inappropriate dimension for behavior (Azibo, 2014).

The racial aspect of the construct is underscored as the term "African personality" only references indigenous continental Africans and their descended populations throughout the Diaspora. Eurasian interlopers, settler colonialists, slavers, and their descendants in Africa today are not covered by the African personality construct as these groups were not in Africa...

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