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Ani's 1994 work, Yurugu: An Afrikan-Centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior, examined the influence of European culture on the formation of modern institutional frameworks, through colonialism and imperialism, from an African perspective.[6][7][8] Described by the author as an "intentionally aggressive polemic", the book derives its title from a Dogon legend of an incomplete and destructive being rejected by its creator.[9][10]

Examining the causes of global white supremacy, Ani argued that European thought implicitly believes in its own superiority, stating: "European culture is unique in the assertion of political interest".[6]

In Yurugu, Ani proposed a tripartite conceptualization of culture, based on the concepts of

  • Asili, the central seed or "germinating matrix" of a culture,
  • Utamawazo, "culturally structured thought" or worldview, "the way in which the thought of members of a culture must be patterned if the asili is to be fulfilled", and
  • Utamaroho, a culture's "vital force" or "energy source", which "gives it its emotional tone and motivates the collective behavior of its members".[8][9][11]

The terms Ani uses in this framework are based on Swahili. Asili is a common Swahili word meaning "origin" or "essence"; utamawazo and utamaroho are neologisms created by Ani, based on the Swahili words utamaduni ("civilisation"), wazo ("thought") and roho ("spirit life").[9][12][13] The utamawazo and utamaroho are not viewed as separate from the asili, but as its manifestations, which are "born out of the asili and, in turn, affirm it."[11]

Ani characterised the asili of European culture as dominated by the concepts of separation and control, with separation establishing dichotomies like "man" and "nature", "the European" and "the other", "thought" and "emotion" – separations that in effect end up negating the existence of "the other", who or which becomes subservient to the needs of (European) man.[8] Control is disguised in universalism as in reality "the use of abstract 'universal' formulations in the European experience has been to control people, to impress them, and to intimidate them."[14] According to Ani's model, the utamawazo of European culture "is structured by ideology and bio-cultural experience", and its utamaroho or vital force is domination, reflected in all European-based structures and the imposition of Western values and civilisation on peoples around the world, destroying cultures and languages in the name of progress.[8][15]

The book also addresses the use of the term Maafa, based on a Swahili word meaning "great disaster", to describe slavery. African-centered thinkers have subsequently popularized and expanded on Ani's conceptualization.[16] Citing both the centuries-long history of slavery and more recent examples like the Tuskegee study, Ani argued that Europeans and white Americans have an "enormous capacity for the perpetration of physical violence against other cultures" that had resulted in "antihuman, genocidal" treatment of blacks.[16][17]

Quoted from the Wikipedia article Marimba Ani (emphasis added).

She claims European philosophy is dominated by concepts of separation and control compared to holistic/monistic African thought.

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    "What do you think?" questions are off-topic on this site, but you can ask about critical response to Ani by other philosophers.
    – Conifold
    Jan 21, 2021 at 20:55
  • Funny that she published that 1 month before the beginning of the Rwanda genocide.
    – armand
    Jan 21, 2021 at 22:41
  • We must study prehistoric human footprints in more detail. The ones that made the news (one seta prints were found on a beach in the UK) don't seem to suggest anything in particular and that's kinda odd!
    – Hudjefa
    May 20, 2023 at 8:12

3 Answers 3

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Ani says "European culture is unique in the assertion of political interest". You quote her saying Europeans and white Americans have an "enormous capacity for the perpetration of physical violence against other cultures"

What about China, and their long wars against what became Korea? The 'treasure ships' could have easily been the beginning of an earlier colonial era, with a few small shifts in individual leaders. In that light, how 'ingrained'

What about Islam? Were the Ummayyad & Mughal caliphates fundamentally different in their assertion of political interests?

The early stages of the direct-to-Europe spice trade that created the Dutch & British East India company were extremely tenuous, and could easily have failed. The Dutch domination of spices forced the British to try and recoup investments with selling textiles - an accident that funded an empire. The organisational innovations to support this, joint stock companies, more or less single-handedly ended the feudal stranglehold on power through land, and shifted power from Catholic countries to rising protestant powers. I'd describe it as a series of accidents that led to successfully falling forward, rather than a culture with a perpetual essence. Guns germs & steel came together in Europe, as Jared Diamond put it.

Foucault & others would happily agree on universalism being used to further power claims, both intentionally & unconsciously.

I am a big fan of biological metaphors for organisations. The idea of a seed, and it's manifestation in structure, and in energy dynamics, makes sense to me.

Providing a dominant metanarrative, and steamrollering the culture & traditions of others isn't distinctively European. Look at the Pantheon of Ancient Rome. It's a hallmark of monotheism, specifically the Hebrew kind, when Judaism met Hellenic universalism, and later when it fused with Arabic culture.

On the origins of racism, how does she account for the intense racism of Hindu India? The Marathas likely lost their chance to beat the Mughal Empire because they had alienated many fellow Hindus that the British were able to recruit.

The Dutch magnification of Hutu & Tutsi distinctions to further a divide-and-rule strategy shows the 'infectiousness' of racism based on superficial difference. Like the 'blue eyes, briwn eyes' experiment. And skin-colour racism & the creation of 'whiteness' can be directly linked to globalisation, and the dissolving of early concepts of race, as ethno-cultural group tied to a place.

How does she account for the solidarity of the Lancashire Cotton Famine, when mill workers refused to weave Southern cotton during the US Civil War?

Tuskegee shows the problems of poor oversight & weak institutions, that allowed racism to be acted on. Like the unethical early contraceptive pill trials in Puerto Rico.

It sounds like she is essentialising, to me, and that is exactly the problem. Each generation writes it's own histories, and the lessons are never done. She has written as a corrective, to an era, to an audience. But it seems like a flat picture to divide the world between preconceptions of European & African cultures.

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A friend who loves Ghana recommended the book to me. But I can't understand his enthusiasm. The scholarly method she uses to analyze European culture is inspired by a deep racist hatred of white people, which is actually self-hatred, for Ani is not the African she would like to be. This deep-seated inferiority feeling of the "badly off" (Nietzsche) and traumatized by the racial segregation in the USA, she develops a resentment towards Europe and the whites, which applies to herself: She is the Yurugu, which she analyzes with razor sharpness. She has neither an understanding of European art nor of the beliefs of Christianity. She also has no experience with the traditional religion in Africa, of which she has only clichéd ideas. Before writing the book, did she visit a juju priest in Ghana? An African woman would never have written such a book. We are too proud and too humble for that. As an African, I am ashamed of Marimba Ani. God have mercy on her! Ester Awonoor, Ghana

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I think the utility of this conceptualization of culture is remarkable. Between the emotional will, and will to form and maintain institutions to enact that will, any reader willing to engage with the critique can quickly and easily arrive at many contemporary examples of such european domination.

The slave trade, the holocaust, and NATO and its enforcement of u.s. and european (decadent) economic domination of the global south (majority) can all be easily understood apart from the material analysis, as cultural productions of only one people, with a common asili.

The asili is present in these comments--in the reduction of all cultures to that of a common universal culture which engages in domination like that of some of europe's cultures...

The disingenuous remarks in other comments discussing islam and china are outrageously distorting the world shaping scope of these cultures and their activities.

It is clear that there is an unwillingness to engage the facets of the analysis, instead maintaining that if there is european domination it is a natural (and thus inevitable) feature common to all cultures.

Luckily some of us understand the text and the history of the world which gives it clear context and meaning.

Perhaps, in some distant fantasy future which these sinophobic commentators no doubt salvate at the opportunity to take flight in, china will play a more significant role in the infrastructural projects of other nations than any other nation in history. That would characterize a different cultural affect, no? Is there even room for a different sensibility, as you indicate, somehow ...everything must be childishly reduced to terms that fit within and support european logic, values and thus european interests

Anything to downplay the european interests which is actively engendering a pro-genocidal pro-fascist culture in the u.s. and across the world

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  • Is European culture unique in assertion of political interest, in your view?
    – CriglCragl
    May 20, 2023 at 7:40
  • Yes, european culture is unique in assertion of political interest. No method is more clear than the scope and scale of its wars, but we need to challenge ourselves to also see the unique methods of controlling global markets and economies while also evading the accusations of, and reparations for colonial extraction of wealth that furnishes european (and u.s.) financial domination in the form of predatory lending to impoverished nations. This practice cannot be divorced from the culture. May 22, 2023 at 14:35
  • If death-toll is your arbiter, I think you might be surprised en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_by_death_toll The difference between earlier imperialisms & European ones, seems to have been only a matter of industrialisation.
    – CriglCragl
    May 22, 2023 at 18:37
  • Again we can see an assumption in so far as post industrialization = domination. This, again, acts to naturalize domination and obscure is central role in european culture. But there are countless cultures who have advanced up to industrialization and not enslaved people or sanctioned nations or commute genocide. This remark works against the myth of noneuropean global domination May 23, 2023 at 19:30

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