“What distinguishes [Afropolitans] is a willingness to complicate Africa – namely, to engage with, critique, and celebrate the parts of Africa that mean most to them. Perhaps what most typifies the Afropolitan consciousness is the refusal to oversimplify; the effort to understand what is ailing in Africa alongside the desire to honour what is wonderful, unique. Rather than essentialising the geographical entity, we seek to comprehend the cultural complexity; to honour the intellectual and spiritual legacy; and to sustain our parents’ cultures.”
~ Taiye Selasie, who culled the word Afropolitan
So I just returned from a truly enlightening discussion with the Yale African Students’ Association on the word “Afropolitan”. Although I did post up this quote earlier on, I do feel the need to expatiate on a lot of thoughts and views that were aired at the meeting.
First off, there was the issue of whether the term “Afropolitan” was just a jazzed up version of Africans in the diaspora? I watched this video, and it truly got me thinking about the necessity or irrelevance of forming a totally new category for people to ascribe to? What is it that “Afropolitanism” offers that being simply “African” does not do? Is it an escape from stereotypes? And if so what then are the stereotypes? Should we not be tackling the real issue here of combatting stereotypes at their roots rather than running away from them by assigning ourselves another “identity” or “category”?
Secondly, does the term “Afropolitan” elevate Africans who have had Western experiences, influences to a higher pedestal than people who were born, bred and raised in Africa, and are still very much in tune and in touch with their globalized world and its concepts? Why does this CNN article need to describe them as the “urban, culturally savvy” people? Does this idolize the concept and immediately isolate indigenous Africans from resonating with it? Are we seeing the reformation of an “African elite” or generation that resembles the revolutionaries who started Africa’s nationalist movements in the 60s and 70s? Mind you, the men who started revolutions in those times were Western-educated (the Nkrumah’s, the Nyerere’s, the Kenyatta’s, etc.)
Is Afropolitanism, enhancing or degrading culture? Is it merely a ploy to facilitate the influx of Western culture?
In fact, Brenda Nyakudya continues to describe Afropolitan as “someone who has roots in Africa, raised by the world, but still has an interest in the continent and is making an impact, is feeding back into the continent and trying to better it.We like to think that it doesn’t matter where you were born, if you find yourself on the continent and you love the continent, that makes you an Afropolitan“. Does this explanation of the term therefore, lend itself to open definitions? Because in effect, she is incorporating all interested person’s in Africa, even if you are not of African descent.
I am not in any objection to the claims made by all who identify with the word “Afropolitan”. Of course, I have never had to share in their narrative of perhaps being brought up in other parts of the world, and not fully identify with Africa or any other country they grew with. I however believe that this is a continuous tension, a dyad of sorts that cannot be minimized to a ‘term/category’. We need to rethink our yearn to self-identify in this manner and question whether the term is more exclusive and isolatory, rather than unifying!
I end here with a quote from this CNN article, and it says:
“It’s one of those words that people invest with their own meanings, people interpret it as they want … Some people dismiss the concept entirely, saying there’s nothing that people who are called Afropolitans share in common — what they have in common is superficial. It’s a movement that is politically aware and has an obligation to correct decades of Africa being misrepresented as a “dark, failing continent. Afropolitans are a group of people who are either of African origin or influenced by African culture, who are emerging internationally using African cultures in creative ways to change perceptions about Africa”