A Nightout With Afropolitans

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor At Large | @ChiefKMasimba | February 13, 2014

On a recent Friday, I joined a group of so-called Afropolitans in Washington DC, curious to find out who exactly identified as Afropolitan. I also secretly wanted to find out whether I fit the bill. The gathering was at Rosebar, a Bhuddhist-themed nightclub in the heart of DC, a highly cosmopolitan city. I am aware that labels such as Afropolitan evoke images, fantasies and archetypes which can all be either limiting or liberating but that did not deter my curiosity.

Earlier that week I had responded affirmatively to a call that the organizers put up on Meetup.com, an online social networking portal that facilitates offline group meetings in various localities around the world. That in itself is telling: Afropolitans are supposed to be a tech savvy, hyper-connected, internationally mobile lot, at least in my conceptualization.

But the term Afropolitan, which has gained currency in recent years, has been with met with skepticism by some. Famed Kenyan writer, Binyavanga Wainana, dismisses Afropolitanism as a crude cultural commodification—a phenomenon increasingly “product driven,” design focused, and “potentially funded by the West.”

In any case, when I arrived at the cafe it was almost filling up with young people – mostly brown-skinned – dressed to kill, and almost everyone seemed to exude an aura of self-confidence. Music was playing in the background. The DJ mumbled something about Haiti before sampling music from different parts of the world to an appreciative crowd. Because of the loud music, I did not get the opportunity to talk to people which for me was a great undoing. The environment was not exactly conducive for networking.

According to CNN’s Inside Africa Afropolitans are a young, urban and culturally savvy new generation of Africans and people of African descent with a very global outlook. They’re uprooted: open to the world. But being Afropol is more about mindset and worldview rather than geography.

Nigerian-Ghanaian writer Taiye Selasi is credited with popularizing the portmanteau in an essay titled, “Bye-Bye Barbar.” The term is a blend of Africa and the ancient Greek root -polis, which literally means city. Polis can also mean citizenship or body of citizens.

We are Afropolitans: not citizens, but Africans of the world, Selasis quips in the essay,  adding that what distinguishes this lot and its like (in the West and at home) 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 honor what is wonderful, unique. Rather than essentialising the geographical entity, we seek to comprehend the cultural complexity; to honor the intellectual and spiritual legacy; and to sustain our parents’ cultures,” Selasi writes.

As people took to the dance floor, I could not help but bob my head to the music. There was a myriad of accents. And good camaraderie. I left with an impression that maybe it’s not so much about being Afropolitan; of course, the term helps getting a likeminded lot together. People are different, Afropolitans know, but there is a lot that we can learn from each other. Difference need not be barrier to engagement and conversation.

I think, at its core, Afropolitanism is a celebration of human diversity; it’s both an adventure and an ideal. Afropolitanism isn’t hard, repudiating it is.

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One thought on “A Nightout With Afropolitans

  1. White faculty fiercely defended their liberal/progressive credentials with showy claims of multiculti “down-ness.” The college president publicly invoked his appreciation for Martin Luther King and deplored the hate crime as an isolated incident. When I was hired in 2006 to teach Cal Arts’ first Women of Color in the U.S. course, the campus was still festering with resentment and racial unrest. Pushing for campus climate change in a group of faculty and student advocates, I presented at endless meetings in which the administration stonewalled on redressing institutional bias through professional development training. The perpetrators had been given a slap on the wrist and it was business as usual in the “liberal” “inclusive” world of arts education that privileged the canon of the white avant garde.

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