restricted access Conclusion: The Benediction: Ashe Ashe Ashe O
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>> 169 Conclusion The Benediction Ashe Ashe Ashe O A community is a group of people with common values who perceive themselves in some respect as distinct and who have a sense of social cohesion. At First Afrikan Presbyterian Church, community is based on the congregation’s shared Christianity, Afrocentrism, middle class status, and blackness. The ideological tenets of their Afrocentric Christianity provide answers to the ontological questions, What are my origins? Who are my people? and What should be the values and practices that shape my life? Significantly, the intersection of race with class as well as varied interpretations of Afrocentrism provides multiple answers to each of these questions. At the same time, the church is able to sustain communitas , or its profound sensibility of solidarity, because of the belief that, despite the diversity among them, they are fundamentally and essentially unified through their common blackness and Africanness. In order to best understand this black, middle class, and Afrocentric church community , one must consider how they negotiate the tensions between heterogeneous and essentialist constructions of identity. First Afrikan is a community in the process of creating an identity and nurturing a culture that privileges African ways of knowing and 170 > 171 Afrocentrism should look like, and the majority of the community is apparently of the opinion that how one constructs an Afrocentric identity is a matter of personal choice. For some members of the community , Afrocentrism is a consciousness, an awareness of the self as an African person, while for others, consciousness is only one facet of Afrocentric identity in that individuals are expected to behave in particularly African ways. A fully realized African consciousness is one that knows African history and culture and has internalized an African worldview, whereas Afrocentric behavior includes, but is not limited to, wearing African or African-inspired hairstyles and clothing, adopting African names, and speaking an African language. For some, Africa is a metaphysical space that serves as the seat of culture and history binding together those of African descent dispersed throughout the Diaspora, while for others, reference to Africa means the actual continent, the geographical space where one should be physically located in order to truly realize the self. Critics have argued that Africa is appropriated by Afrocentric people without sufficient attention to the continent’s social and cultural diversity both historically and contemporarily, and critics have taken issue with how Afrocentric communities arbitrarily decide what are and are not considered relevant African cultural mores, social customs, or even history. At First Afrikan Church, the crux of members’ Afrocentrism is the creative remembering and rearranging of history and culture in order to create a coherent identity in which as many members as possible can share. This does not mean that the congregation fabricates history or does not make reasonable effort to appreciate the cultural complexity of the continent. Rather, as the task of incorporating all that is African is a monumental, if not impossible, task and as members are coming from widely varied backgrounds with just as varied motivations , the church has been deliberate in choosing those aspects of African culture and history that best speak to their current circumstances and that are flexible enough to be interpreted by a diverse group of individuals. While the church is upfront about certain aspects of African history and culture being privileged over others for particular ends, nevertheless , some would be troubled by key moments when cultural complexity and diversity are erased within a discourse of universality. In ways 172 > 173 values based on shared notions of blackness and Africanness rather than whiteness and Europeanness. To some extent, the Afrocentrism of middle class peoples is not a rejection of Eurocentrism but rather a reaction to Eurocentrism’s rejection or, more accurately, marginalization of them. The intense feeling of social equality and solidarity flourishes within First Afrikan because it provides a space in which their particularly classed, gendered, and raced ways of being are privileged and celebrated. The Afrocentrism practiced at First Afrikan employs essentialist constructions of blackness and Africanness in order to meet the needs of a community whose knowledge of its African origins has been fractured , whose sense of connection to Christianity has been undermined by Eurocentric biblical interpretations, and whose feelings of assimilation into the larger American culture are not fully realized despite their middle class status. This is a community struggling with feelings of disconnection from their ancestral, spiritual, and national moorings. Afrocentrism supplies not only explanations for this disconnect with arguments of...


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