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Afropolitan is a term constructed from the name Africa and the ancient Greek root -polis, which literally means city. Polis can also mean citizenship or body of citizens. It is to the latter meaning that the term Afropolitan takes its essence. It is an attempt at redefining African phenomena by placing emphasis on ordinary citizens' experiences in Africa. As J.A. Mbembe & Sarah Nuttall write: "In an attempt to overturn predominant readings of Africa, we need to identify sites within the continent...not usually dwelt upon in research and public discourse, that defamiliarize commonplace readings of Africa." 352. These sites include fields like fashion, visual art, music and spiritual concerns.
The term was popularized in 2005 by a widely disseminated essay, "Bye-Bye, Babar (Or: What is an Afropolitan?)" by the author Taiye Selasi. Originally published in March 2005 in the Africa Issue of the LIP Magazine, the essay defines an Afropolitan identity, sensibility and experience. In 2006 the essay was republished by the Michael Stevenson Gallery in Cape Town and in 2007 by The Nation in Nairobi, whereupon it went viral. Several communities, artists, and publications now use the label, most notably The Afropolitan Network, The Afropolitan Experience, The Afropolitan Legacy Theatre, The Afropolitan Collection, and South Africa's The Afropolitan Magazine. In June 2011 The Victoria and Albert Museum hosted "Friday Late: Afropolitans" in London. In September 2011 the Houston Museum of African American Culture convened the symposium "Africans in America: The New Beat of Afropolitans,” featuring author Teju Cole, musician Derrick Ashong and artist Wangechi Mutu alongside Selasi.