Minna Salami is an interdisciplinary thinker, writer and speaker of Nigerian, Finnish and Swedish origin. She is considered one of the most prominent feminist voices of our time, listed by Elle Magazine alongside icons such as Michelle Obama and Angelina Jolie as one of 12 women changing the world. Salami holds a MA (distinction) in gender studies from SOAS University of London and a BA in Political Science from the University of Lund. (https://www.msafropolitan.com/bio).
A popular blogger since 2007, three years later she created the website MsAfropolitan, thus becoming a proponent of the concept Afropolitanism, which is giving origin to innovative epistemological paradigms and perspectives on philosophical aspects of African culture. The term appeared in different academic circles in the early 2000’s (Balakrishnan, 2017), but gained popularity in 2005, when writer Taiye Selasi published the fundamental article, “Bye-Bye, Barbar” (or “What is an Afropolitan)”, inspiring Salami to name her blog thereafter. With Selasie and Salami, Afropolitanism became a popular concept for new paradigms of African and African heritage identities. Object of an interdisciplinary debate, with contributions from scholars like Achille Mbembe (read his 2007 essay in Portuguese here), above cited scholar Sarah Balakrishnan and researcher Emma Dabiri, Afropolitanism has in the last years had great influence in the fields of arts, design and innovative entrepreneurship models.
Salami defines Afropolitanism as “a glocal (both global and local), analytical interaction of cross-cultural, philosophical, psycho-social and spiritual textures informed by past, present and future Africa.” She also sustains that Afropolitanism, pan-Africanism and diaspora are synergetic concepts (https://www.msafropolitan.com/my-views-on-afropolitanism). Asked to distinguish Afropolitanism from pan-Africanism, she states that they can be compared to two chapters of the same book. But unlike pan-Africanism, Afropolitanism is per definition a space strongly informed by black feminist and queer thought.
I met Minna Salami at Oslo World 2017 – a music and culture festival that happens every year in the end of October in the Norwegian capital, where I was participating as a delegate this year. A sought speaker, lecturer and panellist, Salami had been invited to hold the keynote speech at the festival opening, and she generously agreed to give an interview to Golden Mirrors Arts and Casa da Mae Joanna.
D. How did the concept of Afropolitanism come to you?
M. I had actually started to blog in 2007, I was one of the early bloggers. My blog started to become increasingly popular and I noticed people engaged specially when I spoke about Africa and diaspora as well as feminist issues, so I decided I was going to consolidate it, because the blog I had before was about everything. I would sometimes write something about my day or things that I had encountered in London, but as I said, it was the posts about African feminism people used to engage with, so I decided to consolidate and create a blog focused particularly on those two aspects of my writing. To be honest with you, I didn’t put very much thought into it before the term Afropolitan just came to me. Or, actually, not even the term Afropolitan, because it didn’t come to me as a standalone but Ms. Afropolitan, specifically, and Ms. because it’s a feminist way of not revealing your marital status, which you shouldn’t have to do in an introduction.
Then Afropolitan. I had not too long before read Taiye Selasi’s article “Bye-Bye Barbar”. I remember when I read it for the first time I didn’t feel so much like, “oh this is me, I identify”, but what I felt was “I’ve never read anything like this.” I felt it was very exciting, conceptually challenging, forward thinking, and as an idea’s person, that for me was very exciting. So, I guess the term just stuck with me and it came back when I was trying to rename my blog.
D. And then it unravelled a whole new conceptual world to you.
M. Yes, completely. Of course, without knowing what the future would bring, when I chose that term I had no idea of it becoming a term that would be used in academic spaces, in cultural spaces, and so on and so forth, but I think that it was almost like a destiny of sorts, because the conversations, both critical and the positive ones surrounding the term Afropolitan have been shaping my own ideas, my own thinking around identity and philosophy and the relation diaspora-continent. I think if those conversations hadn’t happened, I might not have gone as deeply into that.
D. In your Ted Talk (watch here) you speak about three stereotypes of the African woman explored by the mainstream media: the struggler, the survivor and the stereotypical empowered African woman. Do you think these representations also apply for the young generations of the diaspora, young women who do not identify with suffering as an inherent part of the black female experience?
M. I don’t think they apply directly, necessarily, although maybe you could say that African heritage women in the diaspora are very often part of the stereotypical narrative about African women in a global perspective. Yes, I would agree that they may not directly apply, but I do think that it’s important to understand that the image, the representations of African women, of women in the continent, affect all of us as African heritage women, because that’s where we come from originally, no matter where we find ourselves in the world. So as long as those women are not seen as fully human, neither will we, we can become like puppets of a global order, it’s like a pseudo empowerment. But if you are a black woman in the US, in Brazil, in London, wherever, and you are doing fantastic things, but there’s still this idea of the original black women in Africa feeding this kind of stereotypical narrative. You see what I mean, it’s like a discord, your emancipation becomes a parody of the Western ideal, in a sense, you are never fully human.
To change the world, change your illusions | Minna Salami | TEDxBrixton
D. Then the way we see ourselves is always coloured by the double consciousness that W. E. B. Dubois wrote about.
M. Exactly. We are not self-defined. So, my dream is that the next generations will be so self-defined that wherever an African heritage girl looks for representations of women like herself, they will be human, that’s all it needs to be, it will not be some weird, awkward kind of stereotype, a caricature of what it means to be a black woman. Whether it’s the caricature of the “Beyoncé-empowered” type or the struggling poor woman, it’s always a caricature.
D. I do recognise the three stereotypes you mention, and, as you said in your talk, it’s a constructed dramaturgy as to define the identity of the black woman. How, according to your thought, can we free ourselves from these stereotypical representations, how do we change that narrative?
M. I think first and foremost through healing. A healing that is connected to a project of self-knowledge. Becoming our own guide, our own teacher. I think this is the most important thing, but it’s also the most difficult and complex one, there’s no formula for how you do this. But when we really begin to know ourselves, to question all of these paradigms, both the good and the bad, right. We, ourselves, basically need to see us as human beings. And I get really emotional, actually, when I think about how seldom we do. In our own personal, private space, these really patriarchal, imperialist narratives come and interrupt how we think about ourselves. We won’t move beyond that until I can look in the mirror, you can look in the mirror, our daughters and their daughters and just see a human being.
This interview was originally publicised in Portuguese in November 2017 on the Brazilian website Casa da Mae Joanna (casadamaejoanna.com)
Photo: Minna Salami/MsAfropolitan