Modern – But Not Western = #Baasklap

Article by Amy Amantle I Founder of Back to Black Mag

To know what it means to be Modern but not Western – in the most global perspective – for an African in today’s age. This has become an interest of mine after I read a tweet from a young African male talking about how ‘’traditional culture doesn’t have a place in today’s society.” Culture is about values, norms and belief systems and to be ‘cultured’ in today’s age is seen as ‘revolutionary.’ Africans are, in astounding numbers, giving special preference to Western world representation of tastes, values and manners, and as such the new age notion that Western culture is better is growing. 

The Media and African Culture:

There are two major cultural influences in Africa, African culture and Western culture. African/Pan African/Traditional culture is stereotyped as backward, superstitious, rural and uncultured ‘black’ culture. Western culture is characterized as all powerful, all knowing, future-forward, first-world nations of democratic, peace-loving educators that hail from America/Europe. Whilst this might not be an accurate portrayal of European/American social norms, values, customs and beliefs, this is the image of Western culture that is broadcast on radio and television everyday.

One starts to wonder if there is a ‘media propaganda outlet’ that seeks to devalue being proudly African by cementing notions of white superiority in the world. The media give more attention to content that glorifies the ‘white’ population and European culture without the same airtime being given to the second largest continent [Africa] in its own backyard. This gross mismanagement of the airwaves leads to such ignorant statements becoming prevalent in social media. It is because of this that many of the African youth today in towns and cities would say they “ain’t about the village life.”

However we arrived at this point, you cannot deny that after being bombarded by this effigy of Western dominance one starts wondering how we strayed from our traditional way of life that is authentic to our identity and what our forefathers envisioned for us. We come from a proud African lineage and post our time we must leave behind ‘marks; for the next generation to come. So in light of Western media’s stronghold of the airwaves, it is empirical in my view, to explore what it then means to be Modern but not Western.

Being African and modern:

It is popular today to be ‘on the quest to self’, but to find yourself in ways that are not true to where your origin lies, is to be on a ‘trail of eternal ignorance.’ To know yourself is to know your roots and if the roots of your tree are African, then that’s where your true nature sprouts from. To be Modern, in the light of my own experience, means to be consciously influenced by the global trends but not following them blindly. This means you are aware of yourself in the world and only seeking to be a part of products and services that serve ‘all your interests’ without compromising your being and without the need to fit in to what is deemed right for you by another. You choose to be in sync with waves that serve as vibrations to your Afrocentric individuality. To be Modern but not Western proposes the notion of being ‘fully conscious’ of the cultural influences and trends we are directly or indirectly consuming through different media platforms.

In the words of Steve Biko,

“If by integration you understand a breakthrough into white society by blacks, an assimilation and acceptance of blacks into an already established set of norms and code of behavior set up and maintained by whites, then YES I am against it. I am against the superior-inferior white-stratification that makes the white the perpetual teacher and the black a perpetual pupil.”

To me ‘Culture is dynamic’ does not mean Culture is evolving. Dynamic things acclimatise to change without losing their true form. On the other hand, evolving beings transform and outgrow their state. The last thing we want is to leave footprints that have no traces of African originality and authenticity. So then in light of this, let us not cheat ourselves and cling to our full selves and lets not transform into people we cannot recognize, with no traces of ourselves to sustain our Afrocentric lifestyle. We confuse being Modern with being Western because we adhere to the concept of contemporaneity and inherently become ignorant to the native norms and systems of belief that existed before us and will outlive us because they are who we are – our truth. With the embodiment of our tradition we can then embrace parts of other cultures [Western and otherwise] that radiate and enhance our true ‘being’ rather than diminish our identity. 

Being an African Vision:

This is not about makeup, weaves or how we pronounce our English, it’s about being awakened to the true cause of our existence that stems from the soil we embody and illuminate within the universe inside ourselves. How beautiful it is to be sons of the soil! The soil that sustains all life and gave birth to all that walk upon it. Were Adam and Eve not created from the soil? Has it not given us shelter and fed us?  How then can we not glorify and be honoured by it. As Africans we need to subconsciously and actively celebrate ourselves on a mainstream level because we are worthy. We are shamelessly beautiful and we are not required to be anything but ourselves. Know yourself and radiate your full self so that you may grow well and will not to be shaken by the ‘winds of change’ propagated by globalisation and the media.

Cited Sources:

*nb**The featured images were supplied by writer Amy Amantle: http://backtoblackmag.com/gallery/

The image of Steve Biko was taken from: https://www.sowetanlive.co.za/s-mag/2018-09-12-7-things-you-didnt-know-about-steve-biko/

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