African Identity in a Globalized World

Restless-City-Photo-Jenny-Baptiste-760-x-500Many have various definitions of their idea – stimulated by the imagination – of ‘African’. Time and again we hear the claim, “he/she is not ‘African’ enough”. Often, not thinking how the claim “African enough” is justified. What is an African identity? Is it something that can be defined in a single term, like a single story against its multiple identities? Not African enough seems to point to the existence of a creation that defines what it means to be or not to be African.

How do we begin to qualify the term; what defines ‘African’? Is it based on the shade of our skin, hair texture, body physique, geographical provenance, place of residence, character, religion, garments we wear, intimate relationships we chose to have? Or, is an African identitysomething that is carried in spirit, “an identity akin to an act of faith”? Should African be defined in comparison with others or, should it be based on inherent qualities and our lived experience(s)?

Is the idea based on years of construction, from colonization, and in contemporary times, the creation of mostly western media? An appropriation of an African identity using a western normative approach, fitting for various interests? Or, is it a self-imagined imposition?

So is the question to be ‘African enough’ or not be African at all? In the end, since “the diversity of African identities is something we have to come to terms with”, shouldn’t we comfortably say, “we are Africans because we are”, without any constructed compartmentalization.

In an interview with thisisafrica, Caine Prize-winning author for African Writing, Tope Folarin, discusses identity and his winning story, Miracle– a narrative on “Africans in the diaspora today, and what holds their identity together”. Shortly after his winning, and precisely because of theever-contested topic, the “African Identity”, his identity was a point of discussion in the media. “Some of the coverage that followed wasn’t about the winning story itself but rather about the fact that Tope wasn’t born in Africa and had – at the time of announcement – visited Nigeria only once, as a baby. On the one hand that aspect of the coverage revealed the trouble many have today in accepting the diversity of African identities.”

To read more on this story, visit This is Africa

Photo: Jenny Baptiste from “Restless City”

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