Mirrors, Mics, and Membership

There is much that might be said about why urban Africans in the
Northern Rhodesia of the late 1930s should have been so interested in ball-
room dancing and formal evening wear. But the Rhodes-Livingstone anthro-
pologists were right about at least one thing: when urban Africans seized so
eagerly on European cultural forms, they were neither enacting ancient African
tradition nor engaging in a parody of the whites. Rather — as Wilson recog-
nized — they were asserting rights to the city (cf. Caldeira 2001; Holston 1999)
and pressing, by their conduct. claims to the political and social rights of full
membership in a wider society.

As Wilson noted, the acquisition and display of European clothes and
other goods was the only domain available in colonial society in which Afri-
cans could assert their claims to “a civilized status, comparable to that of the
Europeans.” Urban Africans did not want to be regarded as “decorative bar-
barians” but as “civilized men.” They wanted, that is, to be full and equal citi-
zens of a modern urban society. If they enthusiastically adopted elaborate
forms of European dress and manners, it was to press their claim “to be re-
spected by the Europeans and by one another as civilized, if humble, men,
members of the new world society” (Wilson 1941:19-20, emphasis added).

This crucial claim to membership is denied by interpretations …
which suggest that such urban Africans were performing modernity
only to appropriate its magic for use within an indigenous cultural order. But
the most vital political question raised by practices of colonial emulation did
not concern the incorporation of Western symbolic materials into African local
cultural systems. Rather, it concerned the place Africans were to occupy in a
global sociocultural order — their status in a new “world society” — a point that
both Wilson and his informants seem to have understood very well.

           — James Ferguson, “Of Mimicry and Membership”

do you see why it’s amazing
when someone comes out of such a dire situation
and learns the English language just to share his observation?
probly get a Grammy without a grammar education,
so fuck you school and fuck you immigration,
and all of you who thought i wouldn’t amount to constipation.
and now i’m here without the slightest fear and reservation.
they love me in the slums and the native reservations.
the world is a ghetto administ’ring deprivation.

a lot of mainstream niggaz is yappin about yappin
a lot of underground niggaz is rappin about rappin
i just want to tell you what’s really crackalackin
before the tears came down this is what happened…

           — K’Naan, “Somalia”