One of the implicit points that emerges from Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers’ work The Irritated Genie regarding the Haitian Revolution and the resistance which preceded it, is that Africans were not sitting on their hands waiting for the light of Marxism to show them the way to freedom. They were seizing their freedom and in the process developing modalities of resistance and formulating conceptual frameworks to explain the predation of their adversary. It is a sad commentary on our present state of consciousness that lately arrived critical theories are more resonant with many a Black intellectual, while those forged in the fires of an audacious and truly African liberation struggle lie neglected.
When Marx declared that class struggle was the central element in all of human history, he made an ontological claim. This claim has been repeated in other discourses, some substituting gender for class. However, such claims are vulnerable due to their reliance on Eurocentric assumptions about the nature of reality.
When we examine, for instance, the social organization of many traditional societies, say the Igbo or the Ewe, we find that class and class antagonisms were absent. This is not to say that status differences did not exist. They did. But there was no such thing as a “proletariat” or “bourgeoisie” as self-interested classes.
Also, when we study the oral tradition of the Yorùbá or the Akan, we find conceptions of gender that reflect what some African-centered scholars have called complementarity. This is especially evident in the cosmology of the Yorùbá wherein women are a noted as a necessary and fundamental element to the creation of good in the world–not women apart from men, but the work and lives of men and women in concert.
Thus, it behooves African intellectuals to engage in a deep study of African traditions, rather than relying on Eurocentric paradigms which are ill-fitting to both describe African history or to provide frameworks for future possibility. All ideas are, inevitably, weighted by the ontological assumptions of the cultures that fostered them. As our ancestor Jacob H. Carruthers has taught us, “We cannot move our people by borrowing our foundations from other people.”