Sunday, April 29, 2012

I Am Afropolitan.


An old essay has helped me finally feel closer to a "definition" of my cultural identity.  Taiye Tuakli-Wosornu's "What Is Afropolitan?"nailed it. People have always asked me where I'm from and I've learned to know they're really asking me to explain my looks, after all the fastest way to categorize someone is by appearance - and humans do love to categorize. But my ethnic look doesn't necessarily the story of my upbringing so it's not my personal answer to my identity. And the nationality on my passport doesn't cover it all either. 

I've started saying that "I'm from everywhere" or that "I'm just an Earthling" because those answers are shorter than the truth and usually stop the questioning. I look West African (or Haitian...I get that a lot, too) and indeed I am half, Togolese, but I wasn't raised in that culture and don't know that side of my family. The culture that I did grow up in was a mixture of American and European because of where I grew up (Italy, Germany, France). The other half of my family is Black American from the northeast, but because I grew up so far away from them, I'm not incredibly close to them either.  So the "family" I grew up with is a multi-national collection of friends of my mother's and mine from all the places we lived throughout the years.  So while most people can explain their identity through their family, that's complicated for me, too.

What makes the whole thing more ironic is that the culture I look the most like is foreign to me, while the culture I look the least like feels most like home yet it rejects me because I don't look native...  It's weird.  So what am I, culturally? Am I an African? A European? An American? I won't stutter anymore replying to that question because for the first time in my life, there's an answer that hits the mark 100%: AFROPOLITAN. 

"[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."
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