Announcing The AfroPolitan Project: Conversations Across the Black Atlantic
Who is an Afropolitan?
As defined by Taiye Tuakli-Wosornu:
They (read: we) are Afropolitans – the newest generation of African emigrants, coming soon or collected already at a law firm/chem lab/jazz lounge near you. You’ll know us by our funny blend of London fashion, New York jargon, African ethics, and academic successes. Some of us are ethnic mixes, e.g. Ghanaian and Canadian, Nigerian and Swiss; others merely cultural mutts: American accent, European affect, African ethos. Most of us are multilingual: in addition to English and a Romantic or two, we understand some indigenous tongue and speak a few urban vernaculars. 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. [...] 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.
The cover beckoned to me.
At a book reading for a book about gender in the 2008 election, I kept being distracted by a copy of Afro-Modern: Journeys Through the Black Atlantic. Unable to resist the abstract, vaguely floral rending on the front cover, I purchased the book and devoured it in one night. More tantalizing than even the cover was the concept discovered within its pages: the black Atlantic.
Finally, I thought to myself, a way to articulate trans-national solidarity without resorting to cliches and stereotypes formed back when Afrocentrism was in and black Americans reached toward any bit of culture to claim as their own. As communication has evolved, the digital world shrinking the space between geographic divides, I had come to learn that everyone has their own voice – it was just our existing social frameworks of racism and colonialism that kept us from truly communicating.
At first, this was just the seed of an idea. I ran around international newsstands up and down the Eastern seaboard, collecting copies of Arise and Pride, hoping that the glossy pages would contain the conversations I longed for. I kept an eye out for music and art from Britain, hoping to understood what it meant to be black in a place that was not America. And while I learned much, much more than I could have imagined, this kind of connection remained elusive.
Over time, I learned that Americans had developed a reputation for dominating global conversations about blackness and black identity – that while we had pioneered many black intellectuals, core concepts, and blueprints for movements, we still were divided by our many varied perspectives.
Around this same time, the Racialicious community decided to get global on me. Mixed-race readers in Germany sent in reports on Germany’s Next Top Model, needing an outlet to discuss the racism exhibited to the African-German winner. The model, while beautiful, presented a challenge to Germany’s blue eyed, blond haired ideals. Racialicious correspondent Wendi Muse hopped on a plane to Sao Paulo, Brazil – and came back with “The Brazil Files,” notes on race and class in a country prided on its mixed racial identity. UK readers proliferated, becoming the third largest readership after the US and Canada. And Claire of the Fashion Bomb moved to France and began sending us little notes from her travels.
Clearly, the world is changing. But have our concepts (or our concepts of each other) kept pace with the times? It is with these questions in mind that I approached this project.
Rough Plans for Coverage
Each initial segment will be framed around one of the eight core interview questions. After asking each subject the basic openers (name, location, what do you love about your city, who is your style idol, where is your favorite place to shop, where do you get news, what magazines/sites/authors do you read, where do you hang out, who are your favorite artists) we get into the larger questions that will frame each episode. The episodes are as follows.
1. What does it mean to be black?
2. What does it mean to be Afropolitian?
3. What characterizes the global black experience?
4. What is your relationship with your home nation, and how is that complicated by your race/ethnicity?
5. How do people in the african disapora advance in the 21st century?
6. What do you know about (people in other nations)?
7. How do you feel the effects of racism/colonialism in your country? How do you think it is compared to other nations?
8. What is happening politically in your country, and how do you think it will affect your life?
Each person (or group) will be filmed, and their answers will be edited together into one series of narratives for the videos. Then, after filming is complete, the team will sit down and analyze what illustrative media should go with each video arc – for example, an audio postcard from Paris or an photo gallery from Senegal. After that, the historical framework will be polished and developed alongside the core content, and each piece will be translated into 140 character and SMS sized chunks for distribution and translation. Each region will receive a playlist, and a request for video uploads where users can create their own videos about their experiences and submit them to the site.
If we can successfully build the infrastructure for this project, and create a workable model around it for transnational storytelling in semi-real time, we’d then apply this framework and set up to other diaspora projects. Specifically, we’d like to move to cover other racial/ethnic groupings – Asian, Latino, Indigenous. We’d also like to eventually do a project on “buffer” or “sandwich” classes – people who are between ruling classes and lower classes.
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