Afrocentricity vs. Ghettocentricity (a.k.a. In Response to ‘Boycott Black People’)

I recently watched a video on Youtube entitled Boycott Black People that had been posted by a young black man deriding other black people. Many of the people I know who watched the video disagreed with this guy, but to be honest, he was spot-on with about 85% of what he had to say. The problem was how he was saying it—his message was not all that well articulated, and he seemed to be struggling with the larger point he was trying to get across. Here is a link to the video, which you should seriously consider watching before reading any further.

Okay, so just in case you didn’t watch the video, basically this guy was complaining about how some black people act, and how black society as a whole is largely judged by a certain type of behavior. He is calling for the boycott of black people—though he himself is black—because as he sees it, this is the best way to end the destructive and oppressive cycle of the black experience in America. I’m pretty sure I get where he is coming from, because as a black man—or more specifically, a biracial man who identifies as being black—I have thought and said much of what this guy is saying. But the problem is that he is not really addressing the real problem, or at least he’s not articulating in a way that is clear.

Ultimately, what this man is talking about is Afrocentricity versus ghettocentricity. Now, before I go any further, let me make sure everyone knows what I mean when I refer to any sort of ethnocentricity. In the Strangers on These Shore, Vincent Parrillo explains ethnocentrism as “people’s tendency to identify with their own ethnic or national group as a means of fulfilling their needs for group belongingness and security.”

Afrocentricity refers to an identity or ideological sense of being and behavior derived from the African-American experience in the United States, which in and of itself is informed in part by the much larger Eurocentric ideologies of America. That is to say that the dominant ethnocentric mindset of America is derived from ideologies that are of white, European origin—which have created a socio-political paradigm that perpetuates the myth of white superiority and black inferiority. In other words, part of how black people define themselves through Afrocentricity has in fact been created as a result of Eurocentric dominance and oppression.

Over the last two decades Afrocentrism has splintered off into what some people refer to as “ghettocentrism,” is a phenomenon in which the more negative and stereotypical aspects of black culture are widely accepted as the norm. In his book Buppies, B-Boys, Baps & Bohos, Nelson George writes that “ghettocentricity means making the values and lifestyles of America’s poverty-stricken urban homelands central to one’s being.”

Ghettocentricity is an evolution of Afrocentricty, which is itself a cultural identifier that developed amongst a group of people who had been stripped of their humanity and their various cultures. The formation of Afrocentricity parallels the black slave experience in America, which is the experience of a people who were regarded as property and not human beings. The pervasive presence of ghettocentricity reflects a long-running tradition of the Eurocentric ideology to control the perception of black people, and measure the worth of blacks in purely capitalistic terms.

Ghettocentricty has become confused with Afrocentricty by many people, both black and white, and as a result it is often used as a means of ethnic identification for black people. The predominant accepted role of black America, outside of entertainment and sports, is a series of stereotypes and statistics that are a showcase of ghettocentrism and a perpetuation of the myth of black inferiority, which only reinforces current majority/minority social constructs.

The most obvious examples of ghettocentrism can be found in hip-hop, which as a leading form of musical expression by black people is also, by default, a primary representation of black ethnicity. Popular rappers of the day become the most identifiable figures in hip-hop then in turn become the most identifiable black men in popular culture. The problem, of course, is that Lil Wayne and 50 Cent are amalgams of negative racial stereotypes and clichés that present black people as barely-literate thugs proud of their tenures within the prison industrial complex. Young people of all races and ethnicities throughout America can recite the lyrics to Lil Wayne songs, yet most do not know who James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry or Langston Hughes are.

The divide between Afrocentrism and ghettocentrism represents an ideological rift between black culture in America, in which the line of demarcation generally starts with socio-economic status. Afrocentrism, which many accuse of being cultural elitism, is found more often in middle class and affluent black families, whereas ghettocentrism is seen as the domain of the poor and uneducated. But as ghettocentricy continues and flourishes within mainstream pop culture, it subverts Afrocentricty by becoming the dominant ethnic identifier. The biggest problem facing black people is the acceptance of ghettocentricity as an ethnic identifier, and the continued use of ghettocentrism as a consumer product.

All of this has been my long-winded way of addressing the concept of boycotting black people. The sad reality is that we have long been boycotting ourselves, as evidenced by the dominance of ghettocentricity. As a culture we gave up on ourselves at our best, and allowed the more negative aspects of our culture to be those that not only most readily defined us, but also became a means by which we could be marketed, further perpetuating our status as a commodity. The true boycott that all people must face—not just black folks—is the rejection of long-established ideologies that continue to feed into the myths of white superiority and black inferiority. These ideologies have created an accepted reality in which the worst aspects of black culture are the defining aspects of black culture. And it is these ideologies and the ethnocentric constructs that inform this diseased way of thinking that must not only be boycotted, but eradicated from the core of our collective being.

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