Acknowledging the Native Americans who were here when European colonists arrived in this area of America, Molefi Kete Asante explained the consequences when they projected their language, culture and systems of knowledge as superior and universal – all of which still shape American society today.
Asante, professor and chair of the Department of Africology and African American Studies at Temple University, sees this influence in several spaces, from cities and streets named for prominent white Europeans to K-12 education emphasizing European historical figures and myths.
He also sees the detrimental impact that Eurocentric ideologies regarding race have had in Western culture, and how those perspectives differ from African ideologies.
“Africans saw that human beings were different, but difference wasn’t a problem. We’re all human beings and this is the African way. If you go back and read African history, you’ll see it,” Asante said during the 32nd Annual Benjamin E. Mays Lecture on Feb. 25. “Africans did not set up a racial ladder based on difference; Europeans did that. And it’s a danger when people see different groups of people by the European categories.”
Asante’s decades of scholarship have shaped the discipline of Africology, or the study of African phenomena from an Afrocentric perspective. His Mays Lecture presentation highlighted how the prevailing European systems of knowledge have devalued other cultures and as a result, American students are left without a well-rounded, global and historically accurate knowledge base.
Students can often describe ancient Greek and Roman history and myths – the story of Achilles’ heel, for example – but don’t recognize African historical figures that preceded the Greeks and Romans, such as Imhotep, the Egyptian architect who created the Step Pyramid.
Asante charged educators to take a closer look at their curriculum and the ways teachers and school leaders can better support all students through affirming their humanity, history and culture.
“When I was working with school districts, we didn’t just look at the things on the surface – you have to have some understanding of what’s invisible to you. You have to have cultural justice,” he said.
Benjamin E. Mays was a minister, educator, sociologist, social activist and president of Morehouse College in Atlanta from 1940 to 1967. He also was president of the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education and supervised the desegregation of Atlanta’s public schools. The annual Mays Lecture, hosted by the College of Education & Human Development’s Alonzo A. Crim Center for Urban Educational Excellence, encourages the discussion of issues facing urban educational leaders, honors the memory of Mays and promotes his philosophy of excellence in the education of those typically least well served by the larger society. For more information, visit https://crim.education.gsu.edu.