The Afrocentricity and Olmec Predicament

Last Updated June 30, 2016

african afrocentric olmec mexica nativeIt’s often  my experience that when positively exchanging with Black relatives about social justice and like cultural & community empowering topics, eventually comes the “The Olmecs were from Africa” or other similar incorrect Afrocentric claim on Indigenous/ Turtle Island history and identity.  For those unaware the Olmecs are considered by many academics to be the “mother culture” of Mexico and Central America. A quick note that I am a Chicano-P’urhepecha in full Ndgns identification mode, knowing my history and culture very well (but not saying I know everything)  I would attempt to correct their misinformation  in a good way but usually to no avail, resulting in a disgruntled vibe and a once promising connection being broken.

That bother’s my heart.

The issue with their misinformation is not that there can be a tangible connection between Africa and Mexico, because I do consider it a possibility because many don’t give the Ancients enough credit. Nor is the issue with the many Black Africans that have integrated into Indigenous societies of this hemisphere over the past 500+ and contributed to the collective culture. Rather, the issue lies more with bold and supremacist like claims about them being the true “Native Americans” of this hemisphere, referring to the true Indigenous Americans pejoratively, and also claiming they built all our temples and civilizations.

This misinformation must still be dealt with and the supremacy ego that drives it needs healing in good way. If it were just a few thinking and acting like this I wouldn’t be writing this. However that is not the case because there many of who espouse these false notions, in fact I’m sure even some Black relatives that you might be allied with. But before I present the axes to destabilize the popular Afrocentric claims on Indigenous history and identity I will touch on something more important to me than being correct about historical data– the Indigenous/Brown relationship with our Black African relatives. I will also present some key reflections that come to mind regarding this dilemma of Afrocentric claims on Indigenous identity.

Our Relationship with Black Relatives

There is much emotional fire for Black and Ndgns people when debating this topic. Our history, restored identity, and traditions are the doorway to restoring the spiritual, psychological, and emotional  damage wreaked on our nations by European/Christian colonization.  In the midst of this passion we must ensure our debates remain more of a heart-to-heart, relative to relative type conversation rather than the “I’m right/You’re wrong” fire breathing dis fest that normally takes place.

Black and Ndgns communities already have a fragile relationship; it doesn’t need to be setback any further. It is critical for all to be mindful of our emotions and really think about the bigger picture. The bigger picture being to build stronger relationships and stronger communities to unify our efforts for our collective social justice and nation building goals.  It is important to stay grounded in our Ndgns cultural and spiritual worldview of treating others as relatives even in moments of disagreement.

Divide & Conquer – Internet Provocateurs

It is my experience based both on internet and human interaction that, while there are many real people who espouse Afrocentric-Olmec misinformation, there are also many provocateurs set up to exploit the beef.  We would be naïve to think our adversaries weren’t keeping tabs on us, and finding ways to subvert our movements.  When I chime in to correct false information on videos or articles that I know are bullshit I often run into people with questionable profiles. You know, the ones with an exaggerated African or Native name with a bunch of culture related images yet no pic of themselves. If there is a profile picture the image looks very questionable. Sure there are Black & Natives that dislike each other but we can’t give fuel to that divisive energy nor let adversaries exploit the differences that do exist. Be very mindful of online personas inciting hateful comments and energy into these debates.

Defining Afrocentric / Afrocentrism

‘Afro’ is reference to Africa and ‘centrism’ which is basically to say that one is centered in things African. Given the literal root words nothing is wrong with being centered in the African way. However, ‘Afrocentric’ takes on a negative form by those groups that rob true indigenous peoples of their history, identity, and culture. What they all have in common are bold sentiments of self-exalting hierarchy over Indigenous histories and identity. This is the contingent of Afro-centrists we are referring to in this piece.

They will assert claims of (Black) Africans being the creators of all Mesoamerican Civilizations, temples, and sciences. Many of them also claim they originated all Indigenous “American “civilizations of this hemisphere. The book they mostreference is Ivan Van Sertima’s “They Came Before Columbus.  Also referenced are bogus authors such as Clyde Winters and David Imhotep. There are many more claims that they espouse and which we won’t compile now but a quick Google search will provide much insight. Yes, we know these claims on Indigenous history and identity are ridiculous but these folks are really out there and they are not a minority. I don’t think many Indigenous history defenders are far off when they label it a form of Black Supremacy.

olmec mexica africa

Afrocentric Olmec Claims are Disrespectful

Not only are these theories disrespectful but they hold no merit within any Native-Indigenous histories or traditions. These Afrocentric theories have no correlation with, and zero input from, true Native peoples.  This Afrocentric paternalism is identical to that of white “experts” who negate input from the very people who’s culture they are studying. All this condescending behavior results in defensive reactions from real Indigenous folks, and rightfully so.

Another problem is how viral this misinformation spreads on the internet, much of it even propagated by our own Brown/Native peoples. I can only assume the reason they promote the misinformation is because they are not well versed in their own history and wish for shortcuts for bridging Black  and  Brown relations?

Hierarchical Linear Mentality

The Afrocentric claims on Indigenous legacy are symptomatic of a Linear/Hierarchal Mentality. A linear mentality creates an environment of unhealthy competition where one views themselves, or aims to be, superior to the next person. This can take blatant or subtle forms. They say that “Hurt people hurt people” and that seems to be the case here. Afrocentrics in their work to restore themselves and their nation have taken on the colonizers trait of Linear thinking by trying to place themselves superior to other people.

Black & Brown Unity, Yes- but not at the Expense of Equality

On the angle of linear mentality, it is also to our experience that many strong Black social justice organizations subscribe to this hierarchical mentality. In the mid-2000s I would frequent Nation of Islam (NOI) mosques with a Native organization I was with at the time. They are very strong, beautiful, and admirable people. The had a lot of beautiful words and sentiments of peace & unity toward the Brown/Red nation. However, my observation was that that peace & unity was dependent on the notion of  Black-Africans being our superiors and the creators of our Native-Indigenous civilizations. They didn’t state this outright during the events I partook but the inferences are not hard to catch.

Unfortunately, allies who espouse these false notions are commonplace with a lot of Black organizations trying to build unity with Brown/Red people. They want to build and unite but this Black hierarchy mindset, whether blatant or subtle, is the basis for this proposed “unity” even tho I’m sure they would deny it. Surely there is a more righteous and truthful basis for us coming together.

General Afrocentric and Olmec Debunking Points

There are numerous Afrocentric claims one Indigenous heritage, way too many to list and academically address for this internet expression. There’s an inundation of online and print literature promoting Afrocentric misinformation as fact so this list is just to destabilize the most common Afrocentric misinformation I’ve come across.

  • Temple/Pyramids: If (Black) Africans built all the pyramid/temples and cities in the Americas why did they not build them in Africa? Egyptian pyramids and Ziggurats are distinctly different in style and function, not to mention that there are very few pyramids in Africa compared to Central and South America.
  • Olmec Heads: in popular Afrocentric propaganda they love to cite the same 3 or 4 Olmec heads as proof of (West) African presence. Mind you there are a total of 17 known heads and hundreds of other Olmec effigies and artwork yet they are never cited.
  • “Corn row” Braids on an Olmec head: First off the braids are not Corn rows. Frank Yurco, an Egyptologist, pointed out that the braids one the one Olmec head (of 17 heads) do not look like either Egyptian or Nubian. Also, braids are not exclusive to Black African culture. People from all over the world have been braiding their hair for thousands of years. There is also a working theory that the alleged braids are not even braids but plumes (feathers.)
  • No Correlation to Ndgns Traditions or Creation Stories: Surely you would think at least one out of the hundreds of extraordinary Afrocentric claims to Indigenous culture can be correlated by tribal elders or tribal historians in the western hemisphere? Nope.
  • The facial characteristics of the Olmec heads are still preserved in some contemporary Natives: In some degree we’ve all been influenced by Hollywood’s depiction of Native people. The image of a Plains Indian with a war bonnet feather headdress is commonplace. It’s been embedded into the psyche of the masses as a depiction of what a “real Indian looks like” even tho Indigenous people of the western hemisphere have been shown to have a great range of genetic diversity.
  • Mummies: the oldest pyramids and mummies are not in Africa, they are in the Americas. The pyramids of Caral, Peru are much older than Egypt’s. The often mentioned Mayan sarcophagus contained a skeleton not a mummy plus, the oldest mummy is from Chile.
  • “Black Gods”: Indigenous languages are poetic and symbolically rich. Afrocentrism tends to interpret our symbolic art colors and sacred body painting as being literal descriptions of deities or rulers. Makes one wonder what their interpretations are for the red and blue colored oriented symbols and deities. They even go as far as to manipulate images of people or ancient mural drawings to make their features appear more like stereotypical Black Africans.
  • More detailed academic arguments can be read here


Some say they don’t take these Afrocentric claims and activities serious, that they are akin to “Ancient Alien” fanatics. However, unlike Ancient Alien type fanatics, the Afrocentrics who hold these supremacist beliefs work with us in our social justice movements and education circles. Even our own Brown / so-called “Latinx” and Native people propagate this misinformation or are reluctant to confront it at the risk being called racist.  Many influential “conscious” music artists also espouse these false notions in their music.

If our Native youth were not  struggling with their history and identity then perhaps it would not merit much concern, however, that is not the position we find ourselves in.  The social struggles of Black & Brown/Native people overlap in almost all areas. To ignore this abuse of our ancestors’ legacy and not give it the proper attendance it deserves is to gamble with our Indigenous culture reclamation, community justice, and unity goals. I don’t have all the answers but I do know it can and needs to be resolved in a firm but loving way.