The African American Studies Department planning committee at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in 1973 (Wikimedia Commons/William Boyd)

The recent increased attention given to understanding racism, critical white studies, and anti-racist politics must also include an investigation and critique of European thoughts and behavior as it relates to theories and approaches in academia in general and critical thinking more specifically. African Deep Thought, an African-centered approach to critical thinking, is an alternative to European and Euro-American theories and approaches to critical thinking. Consider Marimba Ani’s Yurugu: An African Centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior and Gerald Horn’s The Dawning of the Apocalypse: The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy, Settler Colonialism, and Capitalism in the Long Sixteenth Century as examples of texts that examine pan-European ideas about knowledge and power, which become foundational in understanding European-derived conceptualizations of civility and formal education. Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America reveals the pervasiveness of race and anti-Black ideas in all aspects of American life including academia. As a result, well-meaning scholars may unintentionally reproduce Pan-European ideas on knowledge, power, and race because European and Euro-American cultural thought, consciously or unconsciously, has become the foundation of academic critical thought. As Ama Mazama asserts, there has been “an on-going enterprise of conceptual distortion and invasion, leading to widespread confusion, and ultimately, ‘mental incarceration’.” Revisiting Africana scholars who critiqued and broke with Pan-European notions of knowledge in academia, Josh Myers examines the works of Black Studies luminaries such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Sylvia Wynter, Jacob Carruthers, and Cedric Robinson as well as June Jordan and Toni Cade Bambara, revealing a history of Africana scholars seeking intellectual freedom. These works on African Deep Thought reveal an alternative approach to critical thinking.

In 2020, M. Keith Claybrook, Jr.’s Putting Some Soul into Critical Thinking: Toward an African-Centered Approach to Critical Thinking in Africana Studies asserts that critical thinking is a cultural process. For Claybrook, “the phrase putting some soul into critical thinking” refers to conceptualizing critical thinking in the context of African and African Diasporic cultures. Exploring the relationship between critical thinking and culture, Claybrook draws upon Parham, White, and Ajamu’s definition of culture in The Psychology of Blacks: An African Centered Perspective, as “a complex constellation of mores, values, customs, tradition, and practices that guide and influence a people’s cognitive, affective, and behavioral response to life circumstances . . . culture provides a general design for living and a pattern for interpreting reality.” In other words, culture must be understood comprehensively because it guides a people’s thoughts and actions, including critical thinking. “Interpreting reality”—understanding, deducing, and inferring—is done in a cultural context. Cultural values inform ideas, reasoning, analysis, and critical thinking. As Molefi Asante asserts, “We invent out of the substance of our culture and from nothing else.” To think- up and create is a cultural process reflective of creative agency. The theories and approaches developed and used by scholars in academia to analyze content, issues, and phenomena are also developed within a cultural context. Cheryl Grills concludes in “African-Centered Psychology: Basic Principles,” that “[t]heory tends to reflect the most deeply held values of the theorist and theorizing community.” African Deep Thought, then, offers an African-centered approach to critical thinking which is grounded in the ethics and cultural values of African people and their descendants.

African Deep Thought builds upon the works of Jacob H. Carruthers and Asa G. Hilliard, III. For Carruthers “The most serious threat to African dignity is in the domain of intellectual ability,” and this reference to “African dignity” extends to the African World Community. It is inclusive of all Africans on the continent of Africa and people of African descent around the world. Carruthers sees African Deep Thought as an important step towards re-conceptualizing knowledge, reality, and existence from an African-centered perspective. Linking critical thinking, culture, and politics, Claybrook asserts,

To think critically from an African-centered perspective is political in that it directs the focus of the quest toward the quality of life, the human respect, and the dignity of Africana people. Critical thinking in Africana Studies, then, is a political act toward individual and collective freedom that subverts European and European American cultural values and worldviews.

African Deep Thought, then, is consistent with the sentiment captured in the Akan concept of Sankofa, which means to return to the source for lessons, motivation, and inspiration to move forward. Hilliard adds, “The healing process for people of African descent can only be initiated as a consequence of our engagement in deep thought.” Here, African Deep Thought is psychologically and intellectually therapeutic since African Deep Thought centers African and African Diasporic cultures, politics, and interests in the process of thinking critically.

Claybrook’s conceptualization of African Deep Thought is informed by Africana Studies, African-Centered Psychology, and African Philosophy. Maulana Karenga defines Africana Studies as “the critical and systematic study of the thought and practice of African people in their current and historical unfolding.” Karenga’s emphasis on “thought and practice” is consistent with Parham, White, and Ajamu’s definition of culture in that it is concerned with reasoning as well as emotional, and social concerns. The phrase “current and historical unfolding” articulates that Africana Studies is concerned with examining the past and present while working towards a better and more just future for all. Africana Studies is comprehensive in the examination of the Africana experience including areas such as history, spirituality/ religion, philosophy, sociology, psychology, literature, politics, economics, fine and creative arts, science, and technology. This interdisciplinary approach provides a broad and nuanced understanding of the experiences of African people and their descendants. Africana Studies’s domain of inquiry does not fragment the Africana experience. It views the past, present, and future holistically from an African worldview.

Karanja Keita Carroll argued in 2010 that Africana Studies greatly benefited from African-Centered Psychology’s development of the African worldview framework. That is, an African understanding of ontology, cosmology, axiology, epistemology, and logic. African-Centered Psychology then, examines and explores past, present, and future realities in the context of an African worldview. Grills posits, “African-centered psychology is concerned with defining African psychological experiences from an African perspective, a perspective that reflects an African orientation to the meaning of life, the world, and relationships with others and one’s self.” This African perspective is concerned with “understanding the systems of meaning of human beingness, the features of human functioning and the restoration of normal/natural order to human development.” Addressing matters of self-definition, spirit, nature, metaphysical interconnectedness, as well as communal order and self-knowledge, African-Centered Psychology contains and employs “African values and ways of accessing knowledge, defining reality, governing and interpreting behavior and social relations, and designing environments to sustain health, adaptive development and functioning.” Individual and collective self-knowledge and consciousness, in the metaphysical sense, is at the foundation of African-Centered Psychology which is intimately related to African Philosophy.

John S. Mbiti defines African Philosophy as “the understanding, attitude of mind, logic and perception behind the manner in which African peoples think, act or speak in different situations of life.” The emphasis on understanding, the mind, logic, and perception locates African Philosophy in conversations surrounding critical thinking. Consider N. K. Dzobo when he says, “Indigenous African societies consider knowledge and truth as the key factors in living a meaningful and satisfying life.” For example, the Maatian “Seven Cardinal Virtues of truth, justice, propriety, harmony, balance, reciprocity, and order” as well as African cultural values such as sacredness/ spirituality, humanity and peoplehood, communal and individualist values, moral values, family values, economic values, leadership and political values, aesthetic values, knowledge and wisdom, human rights, as well as ancestor veneration and tradition contribute to a “meaningful and satisfying life” within an African worldview. Thinking about the relationship between culture and philosophy, then, Kwame Gyekye notes that “philosophy is the product of a culture.” Since culture includes a whole way of life, including thinking, then culture must be understood as the foundation of the critical thinking process. Here, contemporary realities necessitate updating African ethics and cultural values, while maintaining the essence of ethical positions and cultural values. From this updated position, African Deep Thought informs analysis and understanding of any text, topic, issue, or phenomenon under investigation.

Ultimately African Deep Thought is an African-Centered approach to critical thinking that avoids anti-African and anti-Black racist ideas.  African ethics and cultural values guide and inform analysis. Claybrook tells of how his own Africana Studies students studied African proverbs, riddles, and narratives, then read Sylvia Wynter’s “No Humans Involved,” and examined current events in the Congo, and a high school “Cops and Robbers” float that resulted in mandatory trainings for teachers. Students then assessed these works and critical issues in the context of African Deep Thought, which revealed ethical and moral problems and solutions in their investigation.

The synergy of Africana Studies, African-Centered Psychology, and African Philosophy provide the foundation for conceptualizing African Deep Thought as an African-Centered approach to critical thinking. The result is a paradigm shift encouraging deep thinking grounded in an African worldview that is guided by African ethics and cultural values.

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M. Keith Claybrook, Jr.

M. Keith Claybrook, Jr. is an Associate Professor of Africana Studies at CSU, Long Beach, where he teaches classes on history and the social sciences. Claybrook serves on CSU, Long Beach’s Presidents Commission on Equity and Change Commission, and served two terms as VP of the Black Faculty and Staff Association. His research interests include the history of Black Los Angeles, the Black Freedom Movement, the Black Student Movement, 21st Century Black student activism, 21st Century Pan Africanism, Reparations, and Hip Hop. He is the author of Building the Basics: A Handbook for Pursuing Academic Excellence in Africana Studies. He is currently working on a book manuscript entitled Beyond the Spectacle: The Intellectual Work of the Black Power Era in Los Angeles, 1965-1975.

Comments on “African Deep Thought

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    African Thought actually is SUPPORTIVE rather than subvertive of the European variety because did not Plato and other European thinkers learn how to think in Africa a long time ago? Before the “White” Man learned how to think in Kemet (Africa) it was Satan who was telling them what and how to think. Read 2nd Chapter Genesis: The Fall of Adam and Eve from Paradise. In addition and in fact it was Satan who told The Gentiles that they were “white” after the Reconquest of Muslim Iberia in 1492. Did Plato ever say he was White? Socrates? Pythagoras? Sappho? Aristotle?


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