Yurugu: An Afrikan-Centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior by Dr. Marimba Ani. A Karl Hezekiah Review
Favorite quote: "Whenever an oppressed black man shouts for equality he is called a racist. This was said of Marcus Garvey in his day. Imagine that! We are so inferior that if we demand equality of opportunity and power that is outrageously racist. Black people who speak up for their rights must beware of this devise of false accusations. It is intended to place you on the defensive and if possible embarrass you into silence. How can we be both oppressed and embarrassed? Is it that our major concern is not to hurt the feelings of the oppressor?" -- Walter Rodney.
In Dr. Marimba Ani’s seminal work Yurugu, she gives a thorough and thought-provoking examination of European culture and thought. Dr. Ani is an anthropologist and African studies scholar. She has taught as a Professor of African Studies in the Department of Black and Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York City. Dr. Ani is also credited with the usage of the Swahili word Maafa (Great Disaster) in terms of history and ongoing effects of atrocities inflicted upon people of African descent, including both the Arab and Trans-Atlantic slave trade. In writing Yurugu, Dr. Ani pulls back the veil on European culture. Dr. Ani poses the question. “What is the relationship between the way in which Europeans conceive the world and the way in which they relate to majority peoples?” This is a difficult question, and this is the type of book that must be given time and study. The effort is well worth it, and Yurugu is a textbook in helping people of African descent see the inner workings of white supremacy.
What is yurugu? Dr. Ani writes that yurugu is “a being in Dogon mythology, which is responsible for disorder in the universe. This is a being conceived in denial of the natural order, which then acts to initiate and promote disharmony. In African Cosmology, such a being is deficient in spiritual sensibility, in perpetually in conflict, is limited cognitively and is threatening to the well-being of humanity” (Ani xxviii) In exposing the European façade, Dr. Ani creates her own terminology derived from African languages. Before going further into the review, a quick overview of some of the terms will be necessary.
Dr. Ani writes “This study was not approached objectively. It is not possible to be objective towards Europe: certainly the victims of its cultural, political and economic imperialism are not objective, if they are sane.” (Ani 23) The first section of Yurugu deals with Thought and Iconography. European thought separates the person into conflicting entities. Reason/emotion, mind/body. Dr. Ani takes the reader back to ancient Greece and the teachings of Plato. “What Plato seems to have done is laid a rigorously constructed foundation for the repudiation of the symbolic sense – the denial of cosmic, intuitive knowledge.” (Ani 30) According to Platonic thought, the thinker must be independent from the subject. This allows for control. “Plato distinguishes the compartments of “reason” and “appetite” or “emotion” They are in opposition to one another and help to constitute, what has become one of the most problematical dichotomies in European thought and behavior. This opposition results in the splitting of the human being. The superiority of the intellect over the emotional self is established as spirit separated from matter” (Ani 32) Once artificially split, the splits become “irreconcilable, antagonistic differences” (Ani 33) Unlike the Zen conception of Yin and Yang, these contrast are not conceived as parts of a whole, but rather opponents and threatening to one another. These splits limit people’s ability to experience the universe as an integrated whole. In contrast, the African world view and mode of thought rest on the assumption of the interrelatedness of the cosmos. The separation of the self and the objectification of matter leads to what Dr. Ani refers to as ‘despiritualization’, “the denial of spiritual reality and the inability to experience spirit.” (Ani xxvii).
The use of religion and ideology in the European culture is used to fulfil the needs of the asili. “No other civilization has been as successfully imperialistic. No other has used institutionalized religion as pragmatically in the support of its imperialistic objectives. The spiritual deficit does not appear to count for much, if one is impressed by world dominance. The asili demands power and itself powerful” (Ani 195) Religion has often been used by to further the imperialistic aims of European culture. Christianity is complicit in this. “From its inception, Christian ideology has traditionally condoned and often mandated violent aggression and brutality on the part of the European.” (Ani 159) This can be seen in the Crusades, the genocide against indigenous inhabitants of the Americas and Australia, as well the brutalities of the slave trade and the colonization of the African continent. In effect, of Christian brotherhood is nothing but the brotherhood of a gang. Within the gang rules are enforced, but outside the gang, anything goes.
The next section of the book deals with Image and National Consciousness. “The Europeans view of himself reveals the nature of the European utamaroho (culturally structured thought) and is dialectically related to his view of others.” (Ani 237) Europeans like to see themselves as rational and scientific. At the same time, the European also embraces the image of the conqueror. “The exercise of this power, which Europeans attribute to themselves, and which they continuously seek, is manifested in the ability – no, the mandate – to conquer everything that they find. A leading member of the Alt-Right movement, Richard Spencer, has said that “to white is to be a striver, a crusader, an explorer and conqueror” This need to dominate is “sanctioned by the European utamaroho that provides a moral justification for it.” (Ani 249) Part of the image of conqueror is also the image of world savior. Rudyard Kipling’s poem The White Man’s Burden is the expression of that ideal in European culture. “This aspect of the European utamaroho implies the idea of European superiority; it does not mean altruism, as it has been misunderstood to do. Europeans are themselves the ‘Christ’, who would save the world and whose qualities are superior enough to enable them to stand as model for all of us to emulate. The arrogance and presumption in the European self-image in relation to the rest of the world are evidenced in the expansionist expeditions they have undertaken, whether in the early or contemporary stages of their developing empire, Europeans, at best, have related with paternalism to the rest of the world.” (Ani 252) In taking an African centered approach to European culture, the asili concept shows how the myth of racial superiority is deeply interwoven in the ideology. The image of others is the complement of self-image. Dr. Ani states that “The utamaroho is such that they could not survive (as European) without this image of an opposite upon which they can act out all of those things that help maintain their positive self-image (Ani 280) If the European (and European American’s) image of themselves is the crusader, the striver, etc. then the non-European is the savage, the untamed. In contrast, non-Europeans “all too often make the mistake of attempting to treat this European, who comes to take the land and who looks so different from us as a brother or a sister! In other words, the purely rhetorical precepts of behavior propagandized as the “Christian virtues” are actually the models of behavior natural to other cultures and older traditions than that of the European” (Ani 304) For example, when Christopher Columbus first met the Taino, the indigenous peoples of the Bahamas, he remarked “They traded with us and gave us everything they had, with good will ... they took great delight in pleasing us ... They are very gentle and without knowledge of what is evil; nor do they murder or steal...Your highness may believe that in all the world there can be no better people ... They love their neighbors as themselves, and they have the sweetest talk in the world, and are gentle and always laughing.” Yet Columbus made plans to enslave these kind people. “"I could conquer the whole of them with 50 men, and govern them as I pleased." The abuse and extermination of the Taino, was repeated throughout the world and upon various non-European peoples from the Artic to Australia.
Dr. Ani also writes that in European/Euro-American culture, hypocrisy and deception are a way of life. This is known as the rhetorical ethic. “Within the nature of European culture there exists a statement of value that has no meaning for the members of that culture.” (Ani 312) The rhetorical ethics is not meant to for the members of the culture that produced it, but in fact serves to disarm the victims of the Europeans. Some examples of the rhetorical ethic are action is the Declaration of Independence of the United States declaring that all men created equal, yet keeping millions of African people in chattel slavery. The writer of the document, Thomas Jefferson, was in fact a slaveholder, and had several children with his slave mistress. Dr. Ani explains the characteristics of the rhetorical ethic:
Dr. Ani write that “Those few who have come to understand the principles of the European’s attitudes and behavior towards the cultural other (everyone who is not European) are considered to be paranoid, hateful, extreme, and violent by the rest who still relate to the European façade. (rhetorical ethic)” (Ani 415) This ethic is seen in the behavior that Europeans exhibit toward those that are considered to be the cultural other. The culture “requires an ‘other’ to absorb aggression and to allow a bond of identification to form between members of the culture” (Ani 482) Without the cultural other to direct the aggression endemic in European culture, they would in fact destroy themselves. The cultural other acts as a sort of safety valve, so that more violent tendencies of the culture can be directed outwardly.
The idea of progress is touched upon in the final section. “It is progress that explains to Europeans it is their duty to exploit, conquer and control Africans and others who are different than them. The point is the rationale for an oppressive technical order, the rational ordering of the universe and the endeavor to dominate, oppress and destroy majority peoples, unite in a single ideological concept, the European ideology of progress” (Ani 507) Since the cultural other is not as “advanced”, the European feels justified in depriving them, with the intention on elevating them to a more “civilized” state. “While Europeans civilize us, they also bring ‘god’ to us. For us to want to be ‘civilized’, to want to find ‘god’ is to want to ‘progress’ toward being white. We accept the ideology that supports our exploitation. We participate in our own oppression.” (Ani 508) Since European ‘progress’ brings profit and political/cultural power, Dr. Ani questions why should Africans and other non-European peoples embrace it? This ties also to the theme of universalism. “As Europeans present their culture to the world, they do so consistently in universalistic terms.” (Ani 511) By disguising European interests as universal goal shared by all of humanity, Europeans pacify the victims of their aggression. It is of utmost importance to question all universalistic concepts and reject them when they are found to represent European values only.
In conclusion, Yurugu is a book with a deep and extensive subject matter. However, the information within serves as a way to break away from European ideology, and return to a state focused on our Africanity. “Now that we have broken the power of their ideology, we must leave them and direct our energies toward the recreation of cultural alternatives informed by the ancestral visions of a future that celebrates our Africanness and encourages the best of the human spirit” (Ani 570) This book serves as a guide in which the threats to the psyche of majority peoples can be recognized and counteracted. Yurugu is highly recommended. Thank you for reading, and the next book will be Cultural Genocide in the Black and African Studies Curriculum by Dr. Yosef ben-Jochannan.