Negotiating Hybrid Identities in African Diasporic Literature

Workshop with Master Students of the English Seminar on Saturday 16.2., 9-11h

“Why do people have the dream of going to Europe and America?” asked a participant. “Because they don’t have access to their own resources, and there is still a considerable gap between the Global North and the Global South,” he answered.
The workshop “Breaking the Silence,” organized by a number of graduate students of the English Seminar, University of Freiburg, started with essential questions as such. Discussing the role of silence in the construction of hybrid identities in the novels Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi, and Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was the central objective of the workshop. However, “Breaking the Silence” provided an opportunity for discussing not only the subject of hybrid identity in these novels, but also a variety of other topics close to the participants’ hearts. Walking through the workshop room, one could read the passages and quotes on the boards that the organizers had prepared. The interactive setting of the workshop sparked off a lively debate on participants’ own personal encounters with hardships as well as liberties they have experienced, whether as immigrants or as people with multiple backgrounds.

  • The term ‘hybridity’, a word borrowed from biology, has been used since the 1990s onwards in postcolonial studies. Hybridity, coined by Homi Bhabha in reference to colonial contexts, commonly refers to the creation of new transcultural forms within the contact zone produced by colonization. Hybridization can take many forms, such as linguistic, cultural, political, and racial. The concept of hybridity has been subject to many criticisms, such as presuming the essentialist premises it seeks to overthrow. The workshop, however, rather than focusing on critiques of hybridity, discussed how the concept has, still, a liberating or emancipatory potential, for instance, as it appears in the two novels discussed in the meeting. As these novels suggest, the emancipatory potential of hybridity can be realized if we, individuals with mixed backgrounds, “break the silence” and start to acknowledge and talk about our hybrid origins. Through the recognition acquired by dialogue, one can come to terms and embrace one’s hybridity. The two semi-autobiographical novels discussed in the workshop offer such emancipatory narratives.
  • While exploring the emancipatory potentials in (semi-)autobiographical narratives of hybrid identities in African diaspora literature, the participants also discussed the generic limitations of the semi-autobiographical or autobiographically inspired narratives, which are the more commonly used and popular genres, in addressing the subject of hybridity. The participants discussed a variety of other literary genres and movements, such as Afrofuturism, which could potentially address hybridity and, hence, improve our understanding of it.

At the end, the main takeaway of “Breaking the Silence,” rather than an ultimate answer, was an invitation to think further: With its concern being primarily that of power dynamics, to what extent does the term ‘hybridity’ do justice to complexities of the phenomenon it seeks to describe? Could we find a better alternative? And last but not least: Aren’t we all, living in an age of globalism, in one way or another, hybrid beings?

You can find some of the discussed literature here at the Jos Fritz book store.

Tara Akbari