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Breaking The Chains Of Psychological Slavery: Toward An Afrocentric Critical Theory

Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery: Toward an Afrocentric Critical Theory




  1 of 11Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery: Toward an Afrocentric Critical TheoryWritten by: Christopher Carter Claremont School of Theologyn a co!ntry as diverse as America there are only a handf!l of topics that  can safely say  permeate the social fabric of o!r co!ntry " perhaps political liberalism# religion $a partic!lar Christian !nderstanding of religion%# and capitalism are primary among o!r co!ntries !n&!estioned social practices' B!t for the black American# the legacy and impact of slavery will forever loom large' ndeed#  arg!e that the history of American slavery is mentioned or referenced in the homes# religio!s instit!tions# and comm!nity activities of every black Americanseveral times a year' The reason this is done is not so m!ch to place blame on (!ro)Americans for the problems within the black comm!nity' *ather slavery is mentioned beca!se it has had far reaching conse&!ences for the black comm!nity in this co!ntry " conse&!ences that wo!ld have  been impossible to calc!late even if anyone had attempted s!ch a thing'n this sense# a conse&!ence of being a member of an enslaved or coloni+ed people is thatthe individ!als who s!ffer this plight recogni+e that even after breaking the chains of physical enslavement# the chain of psychological enslavement seems an even greater challenge' While  do not believe it was the intention of any Western coloni+ing gro!p $at least conscio!sly%# this model of breaking away from physical and psychological enslavement parallels the typical Western description of social progress' Social progress can be !nderstood a comm!nities p!rs!it to gain control over their own lives in order to ens!re a certain degree of well)being' The medi!ms of control that h!man beings have p!rs!ed have been the control over the individ!al nat!re $i'e' h!man nat!re% and nat!re as s!ch' Philosophers ,a- .orkheimer and Theodor Adorno arg!e that religion was the mechanism by which h!man beings so!ght to control themselves $i'e' their passions% and to  control nat!re' n the 1/ th  and 10 th  cent!ries religion began to be replaced by science and the scientific method as the logical2 means of control' This period of (nlightenment arg!ed that religion gave the ill!sion of control whereas science possessed the capacity to prod!ce technology that co!ld be !sed to make nat!re work2 for h!man beings $i'e' ind!strial agric!lt!re%# therefore giving h!manity control over nat!re' The desire to control certain passionswaned# given they were no longer associated with any religio!s moral claims' 3inally#2 some arg!ed# h!manity is free to move toward constant progression'2 B!t# was society tr!ly  progressing# or merely changing4 Was h!manity really progressing toward f!ll liberation4 These were among the &!estions that .orkheimer and Adorno were attempting to address in their writing'n the p!rs!it of an answer to these &!estions they came to a startling " b!t not s!rprising  " concl!sion' .!man beings seemed to be following the e-act same path toward progress they had always followed' ndeed# the mechanisms that were !sed to p!sh society forward were different# b!t they followed the same logic as they had been following since their dependence !pon religio!s myth'  believe that the e-perience of .orkheimer and Adorno having been forcedto leave the nstit!te for Social *esearch in 5ermany beca!se of their 6ewish heritage# despite the fact that they kept their 6ewish)ness2 in the private sphere and co!ld be described as non)6ewish 6ews# revealed to them a dialectic tension within the (nlightenment pro7ect' 8o matter how far 5erman society progressed their 6ewish identity mattered# and it was always going to matter' The idea that we can escape these social classifications for the betterment of civili+ation was a myth beca!se civili+ation as s!ch had to maintain their designation to maintain its own identity'  (nlightenment society had not solved anything9 rather it reified the notion of the sneaky and !ntr!stworthy 6ew2 and with it came the rise of fascism' n their e-perience rather than h!manity entering a tr!ly h!man state2 and progressing in the way the positivist philosophers arg!ed that it wo!ld# the enlightenment pro7ect was allowing the world to sink into anew kind of  barbarism'2 1  Th!s# a dialectic within the enlightenment theory of progress was made evident' They arg!e that the dialectic of enlightenment can be s!mmed !p in two theses: ,yth is alreadyenlightenment# and enlightenment reverts to mythology'2   n other words the (nlightenment  pro7ect did not move h!mankind away from mythology# instead it became a new mythology# a reprod!ction of a myth that has lasted over the co!rse of h!man history';et !s now recall the statement made earlier within the essay9 removing the chains of  physical enslavement seems to be a m!ch easier task than removing the chains of psychological enslavement' .orkheimer and Adorno believed that critical theory possessed the power to break the psychological chains of (nlightenment tho!ght' .owever# /< years have passed since they defined critical theory# and while progress has been made for a few# the vast ma7ority of the world is still oppressed by hegemonic power str!ct!res that were prod!cts of the enlightenment' n this sense# critical theory itself needs to contin!e to be criti&!ed so that it can become the tool that the srcinal theorists envisioned it wo!ld be' As .orkheimer and Adorno poignantly state# only tho!ght that does violence to itself is hard eno!gh to shatter myths#2 =  and it is in this spirit that  will offer two criti&!es to traditional critical theory' The first is an epistemological criti&!e#and the second b!ilds off the first# and  arg!e that an Afrocentric critical theory fills in the 1 ,a- .orkheimer and Theodor Adorno#  Dialectic of Enlightenment  # ed' 5!n+elin 8oerr# trans' (dm!nd 6ephcott $Stanford# CA: Stanford >niversity Press# <<% -iv ,a- .orkheimer and Theodor Adorno# -viii'= ,a- .orkheimer and Theodor Adorno#   intellect!al gaps that are necessary for critical theorists to offer a more complete criti&!e of the enlightenment pro7ect'Pl!rali+ing (pistemology Critical theory?s analysis of the (nlightenment pro7ect p!shes !s past the traditional ,ar-ist materialist criti&!e' 3or ,ar-# a materialist interpretation of history e-plained the creation and maintenance of a bo!rgeois class# the division of labor# and the development of landownership that created a semi)permanent !nderclass " the proletariat' 3or ,ar-# it was inevitable $and desirable% that the proletariat wo!ld overthrow the r!ling class and become the new r!ling class# and in doing so they wo!ld !sher in an era of socialist peace' Critical theory  p!shes traditional ,ar-ist tho!ght by posing an important &!estion: What knowledge base are yo! going to !se in the creation of the socialist !topia42 n this way the critical theorist begins their interpretation of history from an epistemological# rather than a materialist perspective'The move to an epistemological analysis allows critical theorists to e-amine the nat!re and development of ideas $and ideals% in order to !nderstand the logic behind them' .owever# the strength of this move is limited within the work of traditional critical theory' 5iven this# the first criti&!e involves .orkheimer and Adorno?s epistemological gro!nding' The philosophy of history as they have constr!cted has repeated a fatal flaw that seems common to (!ropean intellect!als# that is# the absence of the African# or even the black# contrib!tion to history' Perhaps they fell victim to .egel?s notion that Africa is no part of history'2 f this is the case# Walter Ben7amin?s seventh thesis on the philosophy of history reveals the weakness in this approach:There is no doc!ment of civili+ation which is not at the same time a doc!ment of barbarism' And 7!st as s!ch a doc!ment is not free from barbarism# barbarism taints also the manner in which it was transmitted from one owner to another' A historical materialist therefore