Too afrocentric for you?

I was recently interviewed for a TV programme, and one of the questions I was asked who MsAfropolitan is about.

I have a love-hate relationship with this question. Reason being that MsAfropolitan is me, but I also think the ethos of MsAfropolitan suits anyone who relates to Afropolitanism and to Africa in one way or another. Say, like Madonna.
And so how can I possibly define not only myself, but all these people, and Madonna, in a few sentences.

The truth is I can’t and I don’t intend to although my bio and about page attempt to. One thing I know this space is about is setting the record straight about African women. We are a much stronger force than we are portrayed as in the media, in the workforce, in politics, in fashion, in patriarchal households, in feminism…

The topics I blog about here, have been inspired by men and women, past and present, who acknowledge the Africa in them. The topics are not always earnest, sometimes they are controversial and sometimes just plain silly. They are topics that could be of interest to anyone, apart from those who are put off by terminology they feel sounds too afrocentric. Well, they are just a click away.

Being too afrocentric is not just a non-black opinion by the way. One of the things I’ve been working on this year is being a co-host on a women’s talk show in Lagos, a project I was pulled into with slight reluctance due to camera shyness. Here’s me doing OK, no actually enjoying, pilot rehearsals. Anyway, some Nigerian friends told me that I should not wear Ankara in every episode, as I plan to do if we go ahead with it, because I would come across as too afrocentric.

To become well rounded individuals, we should try to keep informed about issues that relate not only to our immediate community but the wholeness of humanity. Many African women have always done that. We grew up reading Enid-bloody-Blyton after all (at least in Nigeria).
I read the huffington post as I read the colourful times. I LMFAO (with) at the bloggess as well as with the angry black lady chronicles. Culture cynic has an inspiring style, as do many on the sartorialist. The crunk feminist collective is dope, as is uplift magazine. Baratunde teaches me as much as Chris Brogan.

What do you think about afrocentrism?

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  • Roschelle

    i think people should steer clear of always having the need to label everything that we do. as functional, independent women, we bring so many very unique stories to the table – sharing, enlightening, exploring, learning – about all things and all cultures.

    i consider myself a very intelligent and well rounded black woman. the one thing i’m limited in is my knowledge of africa. in school (for some reason) that is the one part of the world that instructors/school administrations seem to feel isn’t worthy of being included in world studies.

    therefore, it is paramount that i find out all on my own. the systemic stripping away of our african culture (in america) by years of slavery, subjugation and demonizing almost cause a forced repression of our curiosity regarding who we really are and where we REALLY come from.

    people use the generalization of one being “afrocentric” based solely on appearances or at least what they perceive “afrocentric” should look like.

    it’s not about what you look like. it’s about studying what that vast magnificent continent and it’s many cultures are all about; enriching your life with all the mother land has to offer.

    • MsAfropolitan

      You should try to visit mother africa some day (i’m assuming you haven’t only as you say your knowledge of the continent is limited). I think you would love it. I would so love to read your africa blogs 😉

  • fabladyH

    all about mother Africa that strong woman who fought so hard so the world could see the beauty and pride of Africa, who fought so we can have a voice, and that woman is in every one of us.
    Nice post..

  • Kiri

    What I love about Afropolitan is that it evokes Africa, which as you rightly say is within all of us women, but also a cosmopolitan aspect. I think that black women are particularly subject to too many labels. Even the way we wear our hair puts us in one box or another, Nubian Queen, Sistah Dread, Sell-Out….I am not saying that women all over the world don’t face challenges, but as a black woman I’ve noted that what I wear, as you pointed out, how I wear my hair, the friends I keep, the men I date, even the things I read put me in one box or another. And what I love about Afropolitan is that it is at once afrocentric but with that cosmopolitan aspect embraces all the different, sometimes contradictory things I am!

    • MsAfropolitan

      so true! there is indeed a label for every type of black woman out there and it is very tiring.
      when i first heard the word afropolitan, it felt like a relief to finally be able to find a word that really felt true to me (being that we live in this world of cultural labels)

  • Robert Trujilllo

    I just got put on to your site, rather randomly through twitter.And, im glad i did! Nice writing, great topics. Right on right on. And i think Afrocentrism is healthy. Its healthy to talk about things in this viewpoint, because as a culture/people so much of us is invisible. Its healthy for people to get to know more about what it means to be Afrocentric, whether you are discussing how to give thanks at the dinner table, how music was invented, or how a society should or shouldnt be governed…

    • MsAfropolitan

      hey, nice to have you stop by :)
      afrocentrism is not a negative.
      i see myself as an open minded person who will happily learn from anyone that’s got something wise to say regardless of their heritage, so when people who claim to be open minded dismiss anything that sounds too afrocentric that to me is telling.

  • busi

    Thank you for raising this question because its something I’ve asked myself for a while , I hate writing long comments on sites but I’m going to reveal a little bit of my experiences and hopefully you can help me out…

    I’m 25 born and raised in South Africa although not living there now , you could say I had a privilaged life although not because of nepotism thats often associated with “living good” in Africa/ or at least in South Africa( but through the sheer work and belief in upward mobility that is ingrained in my family) Because of my upringing – going to “white” schools and living in a surburb that was mostly “white” at university I tried to overcompensate for being deemed by black peers as not “being black enough” by proudly proclaiming myself as afro-centric , quoting Fanon and Biko , listening to Fela and so on , but after many harsh lesson I realised that wasn’t my authentic self…After taking some years to reflect what I noticed in South Africa with black kids who proclaimed to be “Afro-centric ” was it was mostly kids with “esteem issues” , that is I saw afrocentricity being used as a ideological basis for kids who needed a ideological defense or comfort zone because , even if they may not admit it they felt inferior to white people or anger towards them for having what they didn’t have (I’m basing this on my subjective experiences)So in away I started thinking that afro centricty was hijacked and used as an emotional crutch by kids who have complexes…In time I’ve come to understand that this is not what it was about , so now instead I’ve come to redefine afrocentricty for myself , that is being proudly africa or acknowledging being African , realising your history the best you can and being your unique self even if it goes against the grain of what is acceptably african…

    • MsAfropolitan

      Busi, thank you for reaching out!
      I think you sound well grounded and your experience has taken you full circle where you’ve now reached peace with who you are ie. a black, south african, cosmopolitan woman.
      Us black people don’t need to be a homogenous group where we all think similarly, and we aren’t even if we tried. Being afrocentric means one thing to you and another to someone else…
      thanks for sharing, please visit again

  • chomy

    I want to jump out of this computer and high five you!!

    we get too hung up on the details init? this whole idea of what what it means to be African tires me. Growing up i had girls tell me i wasn’t ‘African’ enough. Even as an adult, people often want to know exactly how ‘African’ i am.

    We are not our hair or our skin tone or even our features…we are all those things and more. I feel like no matter how many times we rattle of this and seem to advocate this idea , in reality you realize that people (Africans included) don’t know how to apply it.

    there is a craze now with natural/bald hair movement. And while i champion what it is doing to empower some of our women and lead them to the path of self acceptance,i am also atuned to the flip side of that.

    Is someone more authentically black only if they have natural hairstyles? is someone less ‘black’ because they have lighter features. i feel like people focus on the wrong details, your features don’t make you afrocentric. your choice of garb doesn’t make you any more authentically “Afro’ than someone who chooses otherwise.

    we all come in different shades and complexions
    we all come in different shapes and sizes
    Curly , straight , kinky or all three
    who cares, none of those things define who you should be.

    i am more interested in how the individual sees themselves.How do you feel when the props are down? how does your soul feel? if beauty is afterall skin deep then the outside shoudln’t necessary define the inner well not in absolute terms your skin shade/clothing choice and hairstyle should not be the ‘acceptable identifier of Blackness’

    we go about asking one another to ‘keep it real’ when we should be saying Be You, whoever that is. Real is Arbitrary. Being your true self doesn’t mean you are sporting a huge afro and pumping your fist to ‘Black Power’ .we make it about the Props, when it should be about the soul. Your ‘real self’ could very well like blond barbie hair (for whatever reason), it could just be that you like it and doesn’t necessary mean that you are not proud of your ‘blackness’ or aren’t afrocentric. now choosing that because you feel anyother thing is ‘ugly’ is another matter all together. frankly i would much rather see a confident woman who can speak their minds than one who lets her hair make her statements. women should not only feel beautiful but should do so on their own terms(whatever works for you).The fact that you want to wear your Ankara on every show should not be anyone’s business to categorize just because they don’t like it.

    All this projection is why we are not recognizing and realizing our own potential collectively. we are two busy trying to quantify our ‘blackness’ that it just gets in the way of accepting anything for that matter. Think about this for a sec, isn’t it weird that most hair shops are owned/ or run by other races. As it pertains to the sudden acceptance of African style in Mainstream Fashion, isn’t it weird that alot of black designers didn’t even think to use it in their collections until everyone else made it acceptable? the identity crisis is something obvious, but it will only be overcome

    As human beings we need labels and stereotypes to classify ourselves , alot of people feel they have to be absolutely one way to represent an entire people. The ignorance is both inside and on the outside. Alot of us hate who we see in the mirror so we try to kill those very same things in others. Some of us love we see in the mirror and hope that everyone feels the same too. Some of it could be underlying Self Hatred over projected /some of it could be just simply wanting to see yourself in others.we can’t all spot an afro and do acceptably ‘Afrocentric’ things, but what has that got to do with the soul? Even as it pertains to Music, the debate is often that only ‘black’ people can be authentically ‘Soul’? then what if you are nonblack and that is who you are , what then? if i don’t sound ‘black’, does that mean i am not keeping it real?
    whose reality is it anyway.

    i have always said this, the road to self acceptance is a personal journey. it is about how the individual sees themselves not in relation to the world or every other person but inspite of it. We are not our Afros, we oughta try to see beyond it. we are not just our lips and our behinds. There is no ‘REAL’ Black, or one true black. We are everything and more and i really hope we start believing and not just chanting ‘Black and Proud’

    As black women we have really helped to push this ‘classification’ thing among ourselves. As black people we also contribute to classifying our own kind and pigeonholing ourselves but somehow we always manage to shift the blame outworld. we turn our noses up to our own kind for being ‘different’, we call out our own people for ‘acting proper’ for not acting like an idiot.

    Sure the world sees us as one thing? Sure the world hasn’t quite gotten past our afros and big butts (plus all other negro features) But how do we see ourselves? if we only see ourselves as only authentic when we are placeable doesn’t that also make us guilty for the same thing we accuse others on imposing on us.

    There is no true African, there is all of us and much more.

    i really hope that your programme jumps off (how dare you be shy, you are gorgoeus and brilliant lol ) but i am sure you will do more than great. best of luck dear and keep inspring. i will be sure you to look you up when i am in Lagos Town.

    • MsAfropolitan


      I want to copy and paste this as a new blog post, i worry about this too. why do we feel this need to group ourselves and act like copies of each other. in naij, i’ve had people tell me i’m not nigerian because i have not learnt to kneel a certain way or some other cultural nonsense, you know what i mean.
      you don’t need to be able to speak a certain way, or dress a certain way etc etc to be black, you just are. be an individual. be you.

      Thank you so much sis for sharing your thoughts. It means much to me, and to others to read this.

      • stopthemadness aka Angry Black Lady

        I copied this post on to my blog because it says exactly what I was trying to say in a much more clear and compelling way. Very well-said, indeed.

  • stopthemadness aka Angry Black Lady

    Hey Ms. Afropolitan-

    Was just doing a little self-googling, landed here, and promptly bookmarked you.

    Interesting topic, especially to me, as an adoptee with a white jewish mom and a black catholic dad who has absolutely no idea where she came from. people tell me i look somalian or ethiopian. ::shrug::

    i have struggled a lot with my “blackness” in the past. i felt a lot of pressure to act a certain way or talk a certain way. i felt pressure to “disavow” the white jewish side of my family (i have always been closer to my mother’s side than my father’s side just because my mom was closer to her parents than my father was to his) by the black student association in college. (i quit almost as soon as i joined. i wasn’t about to disavow my mother.)

    i don’t know what “keeping it real” means. does anyone know what keeping it real means? can we redefine it to mean “being who you are” instead of who the black community or white community or whatever community expects us to be?

    do i self-identify as black? yep. do i acknowledge that there is cultural whiteness (whatever the hell that means) in me? yes. have i been to africa? yep. my name is swahili for faith. that’s a lot of black points!

    people often joke “you’re the whitest black girl i know.” should i be offended by that? it sort of offends me. i know the particular people who say it to me jokingly don’t mean to offend me. but, it means that i’m not being black enough, by whatever societal standard. hell, eminem is probably “blacker” than me.

    so what am i, in the end? a black woman who “talks white” or is “so articulate,” but who can speak blackese (as my dad calls it). a black woman who listens to stevie wonder, ray charles, wu tang, dilated peoples, jay z, but who also listens to arcade fire, the shins, and death cab for cutie. i guess the white music counteracts the black music.

    i wear my hair natural. does that give me extra black points? these are the questions that used to plague me before i realized, i don’t give a crap.

    all i can be is me. and all i can do is respect other people who are being themselves. if people find my writing funny or compelling, then that’s great. i don’t care what color they are. i’m just trying to express myself.

    and that’s why some of my writing explores these stereotypes through humor… because it took a long time for me to be comfortable just being me.

    i sometimes award “black points” to my friends on facebook. it just highlights how silly these racial divides can be, especially in a world where there are increasing numbers of mixed race couples and multiracial kids. community lines continue to divide us and they cause internal identity crises for multiracial kids, or adopted kids who live in multiracial homes.

    i just won a black weblog award, and the entire month i was campaigning, i honestly was wondering “is my blog even black enough? maybe i could win a bougie black weblog award.”

    anyway. i like your writing, thanks for the shout out, and sorry for the nonsense rambling. :)

    • MsAfropolitan

      hey lady, so lovely to hear from you. love your blog, you deserve that award!

      is it ok to be an individual, and to still be part of a black community? it certainly should be hey.
      it’s frustrating when people tell you that you are too white to be black, what does that mean indeed!
      last i checked being black has to do with skin colour and heritage and not behaviour.
      then, on the other hand you have white people dismissing you because you mentioned the word afro in a sentence. how many movies, mags, artists would i have left alone if i shunned based on something being too ‘white’.

  • bhargav

    Africa….a very spiritual and magical place.
    Though am not African but as have stayed in one of the most beautiful African city I really feel a lot about it.
    I left Africa some 5 years back still very much leaving Africa in my day to day life, speaking the language as and when…
    Its real magic, the people, the traditions, the culture, sweet fragrance of sand , blowing breeze bringing happiness alongside….wow, I mean its really hard to stay away even when physically away from that beautiful land.
    Me am not African yet am so near and close to the continent.
    My heart cries with every wrong thing happening in the continent.
    A lot can be done , written…. NICE BLOG MINA

    • MsAfropolitan

      Oh you have made me homesick with your words… I wanted to say with this post that Africa is in us all no matter where we have come from…
      thanks for sharing

  • bhargav

    If i be specific with my own views on AFRICA then i can say that if one feels that he/she is human then AFRICA is a place which helps you prove that in very many desciplines. The fact and the occurances, the happenings around you in AFRICA helps you to be more human and helps you to be very near to the mother nature.if time permits do read my blog, my own cry …
    ANyway, thanks MINA for reply

  • MBA

    I am so glad I found you in the blogosphere we are such kindred spirits! I am facing the too african comments with hair and not african enough with my love of leggings which are not modest enough!

    Right now I am back home on a quest to redefine what african means from a singular definitions back to its original plurality. Our continent has always boasted a myriad of languages, cultures, traditions, customs and races that are distinct and have also influenced eachother and amalgamated. We need to start acknowledging that and celebrating that in local media so we can start to influence the media at large.

    Keep up the great posts that really get to the heart of the issues we afropolitans, afrocentrics and Africans are dealing with :)

  • African Mami

    Oh how wonderful it is to have stumbled upon your blog!The question, too afrocentric had my blood start to get warm. I rep the motherland 24/7, 365. From my head to the tips of my toes, to the blood that flows in my veins I am one hell of an Afropolitan mami.

    Currently studying for my MBA and I always note with sadness that the case studies we examine and discuss, none are from the motherland. We are not on the same level playing field as other continents and so because of this pecularity, I have made it my life mission to miseducate others about the stereotypes and skewed Western media images they have others believe!

    Women in Africa are not just poor, uneducated, submissive housewives. We have the educated amongst us in technical, political, business fields etc making major strides in improving the continents condition and thus affecting change for generations to come.

    With that said, I am happily one afropolitan mami. Take it or leave it. I don’t make apologies, and so should it be.

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