Vintage mail

Your supreme illusion is that you think you are an African.

A word of clarification: I am not a cultural Nazi.

The problem is not that you’ve never lived in an African country, that you don’t have a passport from an African country, that you don’t know what it means to travel (like a glorified refugee) with an African passport or go begging for visas from embassy to embassy with an African passport.

The question I’ve been burning to ask you is simply this: “what is Africa to you?”

I came across something you said once. You said: “We are Afropolitans…Africans of the world.” I can’t say there isn’t some “spontaneous overflow of strong feelings” coursing through my veins as I pen down these words of yours, that I’m not a tad miffed at your preciousness, calling yourselves “Africans of the world.”  Isn’t that phrase already taken by people who actually live in a place called Africa and are therefore the Africans of the world?

By the way, feel free to say I’m deliberately miss-representing what you meant by that statement.

Without seeming to cavil about petty points, can I draw your attention to some other thing you said: “There is the G8 city or two (or three)”—New York, London, Paris, Tokyo—“that we know like the backs of our hands,” but  “there is at least one place in 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.”

You are African because you tie your sense of self to an auntie’s kitchen? “Africans of the world” via “an auntie’s kitchen”? Positively postmodern! By the way, I like the expression: “tie your sense of self.” It’s cute and pop-philosophical in a chic sort of way, politely non-committal. It also means that this tie that binds, not yourself, but merely your sense of self to Africa (read: “auntie’s kitchen”) is of a flimsy nature.

Africa is for you a  mask that you put on and take off as you please. Ah Afropolitans! I don’t know if you realize that you are the only ones who have that luxury (or is it delusion) to be African when and where you please.

Africa exists for you in the realm of dream as a ghostly memory you can evoke when the moment calls for it, as a vague but ambivalent force that fuels your artistic inspiration, as a card you carry and whip out when you feel vulnerable, as an outpost of the world, a hazy horizon on the fringes of the Afropolitan map drawn around your favorite “G-8 cities.”

My dear Afropolitan, Africa is, for you, an aesthetic element, a self-stylizing device, an accessory, an add-on, an ornament.

P.S. Let’s make a toast to Africa, Your Imaginary Africa!


Ms. Screwscape Paper