McPhail, “…A (Re)quest for an African Worldview”

McPhail, Mark Lawrence. “The Politics of (In)visiblity in African American Rhetorical Scholarship: A (Re)quest for an African Worldview” Understanding African American Rhetoric: Classical Origins to Contemporary Innovations. Ed. Ronald         L. Jackson II and Elaine B. Richardson. New York: Peter Lang Publishers, 224-237. (14 pages)

McPhail (as he puts it) (re)quests a move away from Afrocentric perspectives on African American Rhetorical Scholarship, and a move toward an African American worldview. Afrocentricity, championed by Asante, places African-ness at the center of post-modern history. An African World View, particularly in communication theory, is one that sees an African-inspired communication theory—enshrined in African traditions, folklore, and mythology—is not the sole banner of those of African descent. This latter conception is championed by Chief Fela Sowande.

The Afrocentric perspective offers a way to juxtapose Western rhetorical thought: “a foundationism that placed emphasis on ration, ‘objective,’ and abstract communicative principles and practices” (101). Rather, the African-central rhetorical theory would emphasize “the expressive and embodied dimensions of language largely neglected or subordinated by traditional Western rhetorical theory and criticism…discursive practices were deeply embedded in both cultural consciousness and historical action” (101). Asante notes that while we cannot make generalizations about a single “African Mind”, we may still make generalizations about language and communicational traditions. McPhail goes on to outline some of the features of an Afrocentric rhetorical perspective. For example, “Afrocentric theory stresses the generative possibilities of language and its potential to shape and transform reality” (103); in this way, rhetoric is not reducible to persuasion, rather, it “offers an understanding of discourse as generative, as constitutive of reality” (103).

In outlining these features that emerged from Afrocentricity, McPhail also notes the differences when we begin to consider an African World View. But for one, both perspectives see traditional African cultures as fostering “the possibility of an identity and consciousness grounded in coherence—in Asante’s words, the ‘compatibility of persons, things, and modalities” (104). However, where Afrocentrictiy saw culture as the primary determinant of consciousness, the African World View, “believed that both culture and consciousness were subordinate to a more fundamental unity, one that transcended all forms of difference and identity” in other words, this is the foundational view of what an African World View would entail (105). In this way, an African World View would not attempt to establish a distinct culture or identity attached to a worldview because it can transcend cultures and individuals. As such, a worldview does not presume to suggest that African Americans, by virtue of race or culture, are “more capable of rendering authentic analyses of Black communication” (107).

In sum, an African worldview “offers the possibility of moving beyond the complicity of negative difference and division, and toward a more coherent and cooperative approach to social and symbolic interaction” (109).


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