Afropolitan projects : creating community, identity, and belonging
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Despite a dramatic growth in the numbers of African immigrants to the United States, until recently, this population has been marginal in studies about voluntary migration and race. Likewise, in mainstream scholarship about black identities, Africa appears as a site of imagination and struggle whilst contemporary Africans are frozen in an unchanging, parochial age. My dissertation addresses the marginalization of Africa and Africans in both race and migration studies through an ethnographic case study of a community of Ghanaians in Houston, Texas. The research considers how questions of religion, race, class, and sexual politics shape the community’s boundaries of belonging. I explore how answers to these questions inform members’ relationship with Ghana, Africa, Houston, and the United States more generally. The ways in which the community addresses these issues are part of what I call its Afropolitan projects, which advance a modern non-victimized narrative about Ghana and Africa more generally, and sustain the community’s identity as progressive, modern Ghanaians. By outlining the contours of one community’s Afropolitan projects, my research offers an urgent contribution to understanding contemporary African and black identities. The dissertation argues that within the intentionally curated community of Ghanaians in Houston, members engage Christianity, sexual and racial politics, and class respectability to claim their place in the United States and to a culturally complex and cosmopolitan Ghanaian/African identity. These practices of belonging are produced through community members’ experiences as Christians, postcolonial Africans, and American residents and citizens. My analysis reveals how this particular Afropolitan project complicates possibilities for the community to find solidarity with working class and queer black/African people and instead aligns itself with heterosexual respectability and middle-class progress. By examining this black/African community formation through a theoretical lens that complicates flattened conceptualizations of community, this project proposes new ways of building solidarities across difference within the black diaspora.