The 21st century has witnessed a remarkable paradigm shift in globalisation, spurred primarily by technological innovations like smartphones, portable broadband internet devices, social media and Artificial Intelligence. These advancements have revolutionised attitudes and norms, paving the way for a new generation of global citizens, evident in the African diaspora.
These global Africans, often dubbed “Afropolitans,” were first brought to light by Taiye Selasi, a renowned writer, in her 2005 essay “What is Afropolitanism/Bye Bye Barber.” Selasi coined the term to describe the newest generation of African emigrants, the progeny of this global village era. This fresh wave of emigrants stands starkly contrasted to their predecessors, daringly embracing their distinctiveness.
The Past Waves of African Migration
Historically, African migration occurred in distinct waves, each reflecting the socio-political context of the era. The initial wave of African migrants was forcibly dislocated from their native lands and transported to Europe, America, and the Caribbean as indentured workers before being subjected to slavery. Shaleen Shingn, a scholar on migration, characterises this first Diaspora as comprising “disprivileged and subaltern classes,” whose forced alienation led to permanent diasporic settlements.
Cultural Retention Amidst Misfortune
Despite the tribulations faced by these first African migrants, they managed to preserve their ancestral heritage through folk songs and chants.
The second wave of migration was influenced, in part, by the colonial infiltration of Africa by Europe. With the diminishing of imperial control in the 20th century, migration became a more voluntary pursuit, primarily driven by economic, political, and educational aspirations. However, this wave, too, was fraught with disillusionment, as Africans faced challenges of racism, lack of opportunities, homesickness and difficulties integrating into new societies. These migrants often indulged in over-romanticising their homeland, a characteristic that defined the African diaspora until the dawn of the 21st century.
The Rise of Afropolitans
The emergence of Afropolitans marks a distinct departure from the conventional notions about Africans in the diaspora. They eschew the victimhood narrative and resist the romanticisation of a singular, distant African home, instead embracing a global identity that allows for multiple dwellings and multilayered affiliations.
Afropolitanism: A Globalised African Identity
Culture critic Paul James sees Afropolitanism as a variant of cosmopolitanism, a culture that celebrates the “sociality of common political engagement among all human beings across the globe.” An Afropolitan, therefore, is a globalised African with a multidimensional worldview. Consequently, home for them is fluid and multifaceted; it could be Africa, Europe, America, Asia, Arabia, or a combination thereof.
The Global Impact of Afropolitanism
The Afropolitan term has evolved beyond the African diaspora and has been adopted by Africans on the continent, reflecting the inevitable development of multiple identities in this era of globalisation. As Selasi puts it, Afropolitans are distinguished by their willingness to complicate Africa, engage with, critique, and celebrate the parts of Africa that matter to them most.
Critics often unfairly portray Afropolitans as a self-assured avant-garde group with little respect for tradition. However, as Simon Gikandi puts it, to be an Afropolitan is to “experience a new phenomenology of Africanness and a way of being African in the world.”
The influence of Afropolitanism extends well beyond the African continent, reshaping perceptions and narratives on a global scale. Afropolitans, with their unique cross-cultural experiences and perspectives, are actively contributing to international discourses on multiculturalism, globalisation, and identity.
Breaking Down Stereotypes and Fostering Understanding
By presenting a nuanced, complex portrayal of African identity, Afropolitans are actively challenging prevailing stereotypes and misconceptions. Their multicultural experiences provide them with a unique understanding of global dynamics, making them valuable contributors to discussions on race, immigration, and cultural integration. Their stories, expressed through literature, art, or other mediums, foster a deeper global understanding of the African diaspora and its role in the worldwide community.
Shaping Global Cultural Expression
Afropolitanism significantly impacts various sectors of cultural expression, including literature, visual arts, fashion, and music. Artists who identify as Afropolitan draw from their diverse cultural experiences to create works rich in cultural amalgamation. This fusion of influences enriches global cultural landscapes and contributes to a more holistic representation of the African diaspora.
Influencing Policy and Global Cooperation
The insights of Afropolitans are influencing policy and promoting cooperation on a global scale. As individuals with direct migration experience, they offer a unique perspective on this pressing global issue. Their contributions help inform migration, multiculturalism, and international citizenship policies, fostering greater understanding and cooperation between nations.
Embracing Technological and Cultural Hybridity
Afropolitans are comfortable within the intersection of their multiple identities, freely traversing geographical and cultural borders. As citizens of this globalised era, they are aptly suited to integrate modern technology with traditional practices, facilitating new ways of communication and connection. They exemplify a dynamic synthesis of old and new, the local and global, forging a unique path in the global narrative.
Afropolitanism and the Arts
The emergence of Afropolitanism has had a significant impact on the arts, contributing to a more nuanced representation of Africa and its diaspora. Afropolitan artists and writers engage with various themes, including identity, migration, and the experiences of living between different cultural worlds. Their work is often characterised by a creative fusion of styles and influences, reflecting the diverse cultural landscapes that they navigate.
Reimagining African Literature
Writers such as Taiye Selasi and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie are leading figures in Afropolitan literature, using their work to explore complex themes of identity, race, and migration. Their narratives challenge stereotypical portrayals of Africa and Africans, weaving intricate stories that delve into the intricacies of the Afropolitan experience.
The Afropolitan Influence on Global Discourse
The Afropolitan perspective profoundly impacts global discourse, particularly around identity, migration, and globalisation issues. Afropolitans provide a fresh viewpoint that expands understanding of the contemporary African experience in the continent and diaspora. Moreover, Afropolitans contribute to a more nuanced and inclusive global dialogue by embracing their complex, hybrid identities.
The Future of Afropolitanism
The rise of the Afropolitan presents new opportunities and challenges as globalisation shapes societies and cultures. Their dynamic approach to identity and culture could provide valuable insights for addressing global issues such as immigration, multiculturalism, and global citizenship.
While the future of Afropolitanism is still unfolding, one thing is clear: Afropolitans are redefining what it means to be African in the 21st century. They are the faces of a new global African diaspora, paving the way for a more interconnected and inclusive world.