Afro-Eccentricity: Beyond the Standard Narrative of Black by William David Hart (auth.)

By William David Hart (auth.)

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They chose to order their lives this way, but we are forced do so. The unintended consequence of their ascetic choices is our lack of choice. They volunteered. We are conscripted. Their loosely fitting cloak constrains us like an iron cage. 20 One hears a note of melancholy in the following observation: To-day the spirit of religious asceticism . . has escaped from the cage. But victorious capitalism since it rests on mechanical foundations needs its support no longer. The laughing blush of its rosy heir, the Enlightenment, seems also to be irretrievably fading, and the idea of duty in one’s calling prowls about in our lives like the ghost of dead religious beliefs.

A respectable professional man, he trims his life as carefully as he trims his once-bushy mustache. A stern resolve squeezes the lightheartedness from his life. His appearance becomes somber. Joking and casual conversation become rare. The spontaneity and sensuality that long characterized his life with Avey disappear. They no longer dance in gay abandon across the living-room floor. Traditional sources of spiritual renewal die from disuse: sacrificed to money-making, to controlling the ghetto chaos, a frightening glimpse of which Jay had caught on a winter evening in 1947.

In this version, which I shall outline in broad strokes, the notion of culture that Asante relies on is as big a villain as the notion of race that he claims to reject. One is no less Eurocentric than the other. Culture is not the bounded, internally homogeneous, genetically encoded, and timeless phenomenon that Asante’s argument requires it to be. Culture is fluid; borrowing is the norm. This fact is just as deadly for the Afrocentric idea as it is for any notion of Eurocentrism. Europe and Africa are mutually constitutive.

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