Making sense of the Afropolitan

Christopher Farai Charamba The Reader
The emigration of Africans from the continent has been an ongoing exercise for the past couple of centuries.

At one point this migration was forced through the enslavement of Africans in the Trans-Atlantic Trade of Enslaved Africans. Today, some Africans have been forced by war, terrorism, economic and other social factors to flee their homes in search of better living conditions for themselves and their children.

There are also those who move freely, in search of self-actualisation one might argue. As the world continues to develop and globalise the best opportunities for people may not exist in their country of origin.

Such developments have seen Africans living in all parts of the world involved in various activities. A common joke during the UEFA European Championship held every four years is that France is the only African team participating in the tournament due to the usually high number of players of African origin in the team.

A specific group is young African emigrants, labelled Afropolitans, who were either born abroad or sent there for education. They have become professionals and citizens of the world calling no one place home.

“‘Home’ for this lot (Afropolitans) is many things: where their parents are from; where they go for vacation; where they went to school; where they see old friends; where they live (or live this year). Like so many African young people working and living in cities around the globe, they belong to no single geography, but feel at home in many,” writes Taiye Selasi author of ‘Ghana Must Go’ in an essay titled ‘Bye-Bye Babar’.

Selasi goes on to explain in a little more depth the origins of the Afropolitan and what it means to be one. “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,” she writes.

On the aspect of African culture and an understanding of it Selasi writes: “Then there is that deep abyss of Culture, ill-defined at best. One must decide what comprises ‘African culture’ beyond pepper soup and filial piety. The project can be utterly baffling — whether one lives in an African country or not.

“But the process is enriching, in that it expands one’s basic perspective on nation and selfhood. If nothing else, the Afropolitan knows that nothing is neatly black or white; that to ‘be’ anything is a matter of being sure of who you are uniquely.

“To ‘be’ Nigerian is to belong to a passionate nation; to be Yoruba, to be heir to a spiritual depth; to be American, to ascribe to a cultural breadth; to be British, to pass customs quickly. That is, this is what it means for me — and that is the Afropolitan privilege.

“The acceptance of complexity common to most African cultures is not lost on her prodigals. Without that intrinsically multi-dimensional thinking, we could not make sense of ourselves.”

Of late the Afropolitan has become a frequent feature of contemporary African literature. Selasi writes from such a perspective in ‘Ghana Must Go’, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie does in ‘Americanah’ and NoViolet Bulawayo partially does in the latter part of ‘We Need New Names’.

Such books have done well internationally and while the narrative is relatable to a class of people one questions how the African reader who hasn’t had such international exposure receives and engages with such books that have taken on a representation role on the global stage.

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