Image courtesy of: Africa Fashion Guide

Image courtesy of: Africa Fashion Guide

[This post was originally written for the ‘Sociology of Citizenship’ series posted on the Oxford Department of International Development blog as well as the Oxford/Cambridge Politics in Spires blog]

Diasporas and other transnational communities have become particularly useful case studies for scholars interested in stretching and challenging mainstream conceptions of citizenship. It is now widely accepted that for many people around the world, physical location and formal legal citizenship may not be the most salient forms of social, political or economic affiliation. As the process of globalization continues to expand, more and more people find themselves in one place, while their lives are structured and oriented by connections to one or several other places. Some of these ‘places’ are other nation states, such as an ancestral country of origin. However, many such ‘places’ exist extraterritorially as abstract yet powerful expressions of identity, community, and belonging.

Enter Afropolitanism.

In 2005, Taiye Selasi authored a short piece for The Lip Magazine titled ‘Bye-Bye Babar (or: What is an Afropolitan?)’. In it, the British-born, American-raised, writer of Nigerian and Ghanaian origin, formulated a definition and vivid depiction of an ‘Afropolitan’, one that has become the reference point for many enthusiasts and critics alike:

They (read: we) are Afropolitans. […] There is at least one place on The African Continent to which we tie our sense of self: be it a nation-state (Ethiopia), a city (Ibadan), or an auntie’s kitchen. Then there’s the G8 city or two (or three) that we know like the backs of our hands, and the various institutions that know us for our famed focus. We are Afropolitans: not citizens, but Africans of the world.

Borrowing from cosmopolitan discourse, Selasi describes a class of people who have deep and meaningful – yet fluid, connections to Africa, while identifying more so as citizens of the world than any particular nation state. Through this compelling portrait, Selasi has become, perhaps unwittingly, a political entrepreneur of sorts. She has helped to establish, albeit flexible, ideological borders around a constellation of ideas, people, and places, which act as a point of reference and engenders a sense of belonging for a large group of people. Many social critics, including Binyavanga WainainaEmma Dabiri, and Brian Bwesigye have taken issue with Selasi and the broader Afropolitan discourse – arguing that it reflects an elitist representation of African diasporas, which depoliticizes social relations and commodifies African cultures. Others, such as blogger Minna Salami (self-branded as ‘MsAfropolitan’), and scholars Achille Mbembe and Chielozona Eze, have engaged with these critiques, yet argue there is still social, political and analytical value in the concept of Afropolitanism. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dawoud Bey, Stuart Hall, 1998

Dawoud Bey, Stuart Hall, 1998

Stuart Hall was my mentor. He just never knew it, because I never had the privilege of meeting him. However, I don’t think its hyperbole to suggest that I am on my particular career path because I encountered his ideas. I remember my first time reading one of Hall’s essays – a wide-eyed undergraduate student frantically highlighting what must have been every other sentence. Hall had a way of plucking all of my strings at once. He was witty, honest, edgy, and compassionate. He was brilliant. Now, my opinion on the matter means very little, countless people far more accomplished and relevant than I have made this same observation. But today, after hearing of Stuart Hall’s passing, I feel compelled to join others in paying tribute to one of the greatest thinkers of our time.

I have tried on several occasions to ‘serendipitously’ be in the same room as Hall. When I was a Master’s student in Toronto, I sent a fruitless email to a professor who knew him, asking if he would introduce me to Hall over email. After moving to the UK for school, I got in the habit of Google-ing his name every few months to see if there was some seminar or event that he was attending where I might casually swing by. I’m not sure what I would have said had I been successful in meeting him. Probably just, ‘thank you’. Hall’s contributions and accomplishments were many (see his obituary here). He essentially founded and incubated the field of Cultural Studies, brilliantly deconstructed British conservative ideology, and pushed the boundaries of contemporary conceptualization of Blackness. I think Professor Jeremy Gilbert put it best in his recent tribute: “Hall seemed to talk literally the least shit of anyone I had ever come across in any medium.”

On a personal level, Hall convinced me that I had ideas worth sharing to the academic community. He taught me that my musings on culture and identity were more than ‘fluff’. He demonstrated how to draw serious social and political conclusions from the experiences of people others couldn’t be bothered to think about, let alone theorize. Read the rest of this entry »

Ode to the immigrant

May 28, 2012

I’m increasingly convinced that immigrants are among the most resilient people on earth. Yesterday, someone shared a story with me about his recent encounter with a young Ethiopian woman in London. Her appearance and condition gave the impression that she was a defeated soul. As she shared her story with him, he learned that she left Ethiopia some years ago travelling through Sudan, the Sahara Desert and Northern Africa. One can only assume that a good portion of this journey was on foot. She found her way to Italy, France, and finally England… likely crossing a number of borders before then. Along the way, this woman was conned, raped several times (including by police), and her best friend who joined her on this journey died along the way. And now in England, she faces new challenges as she navigates through the unforgiving asylum adjudication system. When he met her, she was homeless and alone, hesitant to share her story and suspicious of his intentions. It was only after sharing his own story of migration, survival and settlement that she let her guard down and allowed him the opportunity to offer some support. He was able to lead her to some temporary accommodation and a centre where I pray she is offered the access to resources she deserves. The age of this incredible woman? 22. Read the rest of this entry »

Africa is not an NGO

January 15, 2012

I recently read a piece in the Huffington Post titled Africa Not Fit For Print; The ‘Light’ Side Of The ‘Dark’ Continent. The piece is intended to be a progressive perspective on Africa, arguing that global media need to showcase the “lighter, more promising side of the proverbially mismanaged ‘dark continent.’”

While the overall sentiment of the author was appreciated, I couldn’t help but find myself annoyed. First, that it is 2012 and we are still making reference to 19th century colonial adjectives for Africa. [pssst…we can still see the words even if you put them in quotes!] But more than this, I found myself frustrated by the following quote:

Read the rest of this entry »