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: Chinyere Okafor <CHIOK@uniswac1.uniswa.sz> Date: Fri, 22 May 1998, 1:56 p.m. Re: Ken Harrow's review of _Writing African Women_. Chinyere Grace Okafor's review of Harrow's Review of _Writing African Women_ (WAW), ed. Stephanie Newell. This is a call/plea to resuscitate the discussion of African feminist discourse that went into comatose when the issue of the silencing of African scholars took center stage. It might well be that the issue of silencing is a sine qua non for a meaningful discussion of African feminist discourse to take off, that is, if potential contributors are not effectively silenced. I hope not, so that attention could be refocussed on the main issue. The editors' attempt to silence my contribution and Ken Harrow's defence have been interesting and instructive. Harrow's entry in Afrlitcine on Friday, 20 Feb., 1998, for instance, demonstrates how impatient and defensive reviewers can be of those who present views contrary to theirs. My comments on his review of WAW made him so angry that not only did he respond immediately and subsequently tackled other entries on the same issue but he threatened to bow out of the arena. Bowing out would defeat the whole purpose of academic sharing or discussion, and for this reason, I hope he does not carry out the threat. And even if he does, I feel convinced that he has others to follow in his footsteps. The gusto with which the editors of Afrlitcine, Robert Cancel and Eugene Baer, ran to his defense was surprising, to say the least. Without offering any evidence of a prior examination of the original text under review against the comparative background of Harrow's observations and my critique of them, one of the editors, Eugene Baer, concluded that Harrow's assessment was objective and balanced while my response fell below what the same editor called "an appropriately scholarly level" because, according to the editor, I had addressed Harrow's motives rather than the issues he raised. My response to Harrow was rather extensive because I had carefully matched each of his negative remarks with evidence from the book he reviewed in order to show the incorrectness of those remarks. This scholarly procedure notwithstanding, my participation in the discussion was almost effectively silenced but for the timely intervention of Margaret Hanzimanolis and other readers such as Clarisse Zimra, Lisa McNee and Laura Box who weighed in in favor of unhindered debate and against editorial censorship. Harrow, to his credit, rightly said in his entry of March 5, 1998, that he was in favor of unbridled exchange and did "not favor censorship of ideas." Despite the positive resolution of this negative attempt at censorship, the lesson of the episode must not be lost on us. Ken Harrow and his defenders were quick in assuring readers that he is a well known and reputable Africanist scholar who could not possibly harbor any negative intentions, writing about African literature and African critics. Harrow emphasized this point while defending himself in his response to my criticism. I have no reason to doubt that all this is true, but at the same time, what Harrow wrote in his review was seriously flawed in the specific aspects that I have already pointed out with corroborative evidence in my critique of his review. Thus, it would seem that Harrow's good intentions notwithstanding, his review essay nonetheless reveals a subconscious bias and motivation. (And whose book dictates that one should not question motives!). I also have no doubt that the editors who attempted to muzzle my voice also meant well, but evidently they too were subconsciously functioning under the deep-seated, unrecognized bias that generally guides the thinking of certain Western oriented scholars in matters concerning Africa. No doubt, it would still take more time for centuries of anti-African bias to disappear completely. Meanwhile, it is the responsibility of those of us who are trying to liberate ourselves or succeeding in liberating ourselves from this bias, that was also imbibed by Africans through Western acculturation, to relentlessly expose it however innocently it hides inside the cloak of objectivity. To fail to combat this bias because it might be expressed subconsciously is to abet continued marginalization of the African cultural discourse. Let me restate that the point of my entry was to open space for a balanced discussion of African feminist discourse and not to engage in personal dialogue with anybody. I still stand firmly by the views I expressed in my remarks on Ken Harrow's review because they were based on textual facts, not personal impressions. My challenge to readers who wish to contest my opinion is this: begin by reading WAW, then proceed with a perusal of Harrow's review, followed by a careful analysis of my response to Harrow. This procedure should enhance objectivity and scholarship. Chinyere Grace Okafor