|Molefi Kete Asante|
August 14, 1942 |
Molefi Kete Asante (born Arthur Lee Smith Jr. on August 14, 1942) is an African-American scholar, historian, and philosopher. He is a leading figure in the fields of African American studies, African Studies and Communication Studies. He is currently Professor in the Department of African American Studies at Temple University, where he founded the first PhD program in African American Studies, and President of the Molefi Kete Asante Institute for Afrocentric Studies. Asante is widely known for his writings on Afrocentricity, a school of thought that has influenced the fields of sociology, intercultural communication, critical theory, political science, African history, and social work. He is the father of author and filmmaker M. K. Asante.  He is the author of more than 66 books and the founding editor of the Journal of Black Studies.
Asante (born Arthur Lee Smith Jr.) was born in Valdosta, Georgia, the fourth of sixteen children. His father, Arthur Lee Smith, worked in a peanut warehouse and then on the Georgia Southern Railroad; his mother worked as a domestic. During the summers Asante would return to Georgia to work in the tobacco and cotton fields in order to earn tuition for school. He was influenced to pursue his education by an aunt, Georgia Smith, who gave him his first book: a collection of short stories by Charles Dickens.
As an adolescent, Smith attended Nashville Christian Institute, a Church of Christ-founded boarding school for black students, in Nashville, Tennessee, from which he earned his high school diploma in 1960. While still in his high school years, he became involved with the civil rights movement, joining the Fisk University student march there in Nashville. After graduation, he initially enrolled in Southwestern Christian College of Terrell, Texas, another historically black institution with Church of Christ roots, where he met a Nigerian named Essien Essien, whose character and intelligence inspired Smith to learn more about Africa.
The first member of his family to graduate from college, Smith received his B.A. from Oklahoma Christian College (now University) in 1964, going on to earn his M.A. from Pepperdine University in 1965 with a thesis on black Church of Christ preacher Marshall Keeble. Smith earned his Ph.D. from UCLA in 1968 in communication studies. He was appointed a full professor and head of the Department of Communication at the age of 30 at SUNY Buffalo.
Shortly before assuming his new position in 1976, Asante chose to make a legal name change because he considered "Arthur Lee Smith" a slave name.
At SUNY Buffalo, Asante advanced the ideas of international and intercultural communication publishing, with colleagues, the first book in the field, Handbook of Intercultural Communication. Asante was elected president of the Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research in 1976. His work in intercultural communication made him a leading trainer of doctoral students in the field. Asante has directed more than one hundred Ph.D. dissertations.
Asante wrote his first study of the black movement, Rhetoric of Black Revolution, in 1969. Subsequently, he wrote Transracial Communication, to explain how race complicates human interaction in American society. Soon Asante changed his focus to African-American and African culture in communication with attention to the nature of African-American oratorical style.
Asante wrote Afrocentricity: The Theory of Social Change (1980) to announce a break with the past where African Americans saw themselves on the margins of Europe without a concept of historical centrality. He then wrote on the conflict between white hegemonic culture and the oppressed African culture and on the lack of victorious consciousness among Africans, a theme found in his principal philosophical work, The Afrocentric Idea (1987). Additional works on Afrocentric theory included Kemet, Afrocentricity and Knowledge (1990), and An Afrocentric Manifesto (2007).
The Utne Reader identified him as one of the 100 leading thinkers in America, writing:
“Asante is a genial, determined, and energetic cultural liberationist whose many books, including Afrocentricity and The Afrocentric Idea, articulate a powerful African-oriented pathway of thought, action, and cultural self-confidence for black Americans.”
Asante proposed the first doctoral program in African American Studies to the administration at Temple University in 1986. This program was approved, and the first class entered the doctorate in 1988. More than five hundred applicants had sought admission to the graduate program. Temple became known as the leader among the African American Studies departments and held its leadership for ten years before a doctoral program was introduced at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1997. Students from the Temple program are found in every continent, many nations, and many direct African American Studies programs at major universities.
Asante published the book Afrocentricity: The Theory of Social Change in 1980. This book initiated a discourse around the issue of African agency and subject place in historical and cultural phenomena. Asante maintained in the book that Africans had been moved off-center in terms on most questions of identity, culture, and history. Afrocentricity sought to place Africans in the center of their own narratives and to reclaim the teaching of African-American history from the margins of Europe.
The combination of the European centuries gives us about four to five hundred years of solid European domination of intellectual concepts and philosophical ideas. Africa and Asia were subsumed under various headings of the European hierarchy. If a war between the European powers occurred it was called a World War and the Asians and Africans found their way on the side of one European power or the other.There was this sense of assertiveness about European culture that advanced with Europe’s trade, religious, and military forces.
Asante’s book The Afrocentric Idea was a more intellectual book about Afrocentricity than the earlier popular book. After the second edition of The Afrocentric Idea was released in 1998, Asante appeared on a number of television programs such as The Today Show, 60 Minutes, and the MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour to discuss the idea.
According to Asante's Afrocentric Manifesto, an Afrocentric project requires a minimum of five characteristics: (1) an interest in a psychological location, (2) a commitment to finding the African subject place, (3) the defense of African cultural elements, (4) a commitment to lexical refinement, and (5) a commitment to correct the dislocations in the history of Africa.
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