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Afro(Americo)centricity in Liverpool, England

Daniel McNeil

Molefi Asante – the man who coined the phrase Afrocentricity – has derided Paul Gilroy’s notion of a Black Atlantic as “mulatto consciousness”. Moreover, when asked to address an Africa 2000 conference at the University of Liverpool, Asante insisted that Gilroy’s work ran “counter to the wisdom of experience in the African American community.” In order to document the power and peril of Afro(Americo)centricity outside of the United States, my paper draws on oral history records to show how Blacks of mixed racial origins in Liverpool have increasingly defined their community against tragic, and infantilised, images of American “mulattoes” and British “half-cases”.

What is called Afri-centrism today ... is probably only the nationalism of black Americans – a discourse of racial particularity that does not translate very easily to other circumstances and which in my view expresses a distinctively American understanding of ethnicity, kinship and cultural difference rather than a nationalistic or exilic relationship to Africa itself. Afri-centrism is therefore more properly identified as Americo-centrism.

Paul Gilroy, “Between Afri-centrism and Euro-centrism: youth culture and the problem of hybridity” (1993)

To be more precise, I contend that a Liverpool-born Black identity has been used to shield children from white racism, and develop heroes able to confront a nation that seems to favour African or African Caribbean immigrants over indigenous Blacks. As a result, working-class Blacks in Liverpool can imagine a healthier outlook for multicultural Britain´ and a Black Atlantic currently tied to chic, cosmopolitan centres. Moreover, they can view the city’s successful bid to become Europe’s capital of culture in 2008 with a special clarity of vision or a dreadful objectivity. Nonetheless, I also note how an assertive Black identity in Liverpool can continue to rely on mythic forms of masculine heroes, and provoke dreams of an exotic foreign identity in a New World.

My paper is part of a project to chart “the ghosts of a mulatto past and multicultural future.” In my work, I argue that creative artists in the US, UK and Canada have sought to establish a strong nation, and come to accept a Black culture within it, by promoting mixed-race commodities as representatives of a hyper-national “new people”. I also contend that mixed-race individuals have promoted their own connections to Africa, or at least New World blackness, as well as their ability to protect children of African descent from a mulatto past or an exotic future, in order to secure a position in an American, British or Canadian middle-class.

Asante, Molefi K. The Afrocentric idea. Rev. and expanded ed. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1998.
———. "Afrocentricity: Toward a New Understanding of African Thought in this Millennium." University of Liverpool, August 19 2000.
Gilroy, Paul. "Ali G and the Oscars."Open Democracy, April 4 2002.
McNeil, D. "Why we need to think about role modelling." The Multiracial Activist 17 (2003).

Questions for the panel, "Representing Black European history"

  • Why ‘representing’ and not ‘analysing’?

  • To whom are we representing Black European history?

  • Might it be helpful to highlight sub- and supra- national histories as well as
    national histories?

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