Stephanie Afrifa: “I feel very proud when I consider that I give young black women a voice!”

Interview by Ralph Edelstein

Stephanie Afrifa is an art curator and presenter. She is a creative entrepreneur and is becoming more and more vocal around themes such as equality, diversity and sexism.

 

What taboos are you trying to break?
The last few years, I have found out, through my appearance on a Dutch television show, that I’m good at public speaking and sharing my opinion and vision. And that’s why I keep doing it. I do it through Instagram, but also through events that I organize. I talk about my experiences as a black woman. These experiences are sometimes about family matters – my mother left 15 years ago – but also about racism, sexism and tits. It can really be about anything. I have no fixed topic. So I am not consciously breaking taboos, which is more a consequence of the fact that I talk openly and fairly shamelessly about my life and things that I experience.


You have sort of become the representative of women’s issues?
Haha, actually yes! This is how I have been labelled by the outside world and not really how I have deliberately positioned myself. I am just very open about what I think.


Would you say that you are fighting for something?
Well, I often feel resistance when I communicate with people. Especially with men. That’s when I’ll fight. But if I am sharing my own experiences then I am not fighting: I’m just being me.


There are a few topics that you often discuss. For example, stereotyping and lack of diversity in art.
Well, to be honest this is more the result of being questioned about it, then that I want to talk about it. When I started studying art and cultural history at the university, I noticed that all lectures were from a Western perspective. Western artists, Western canon, Western history: everything was white. Then I started my own blog in which I shared my own vision on art. That vision was white and black. Slowly the outside world became aware of this, and as a result I was gradually invited to speak as “the art expert with the different opinion and with a specific vision on black art”. And so, I got this label as an activist for equality or activist against lack of diversity.


People began to see you as an equality activist?
Exactly! The first time at the Dutch television show, called ‘DWDD’, I discussed an album by Solange. Purely focused on content, not at all personal. But then I suddenly got phone calls: “You have to say something about racism!” Well, no. I don’t do that. I’m specialized in art and culture. There are experts that have much more informative things to say about racism. So, I have drawn clear boundaries. As an expert I really stick to my own domain.

Anyway, by now I have a large reach on my Instagram and I use this platform to talk about things that personally concern me. I am freer in the subjects that I touch upon. Sometimes I talk about black feminism, or the role of men in it. When the news about R. Kelly broke, I discussed that too. I’ve also talked about stereotyping. I had a stalker, a black man, but I didn’t want to report this to the police. One of the reasons for this was because I didn’t want to contribute to the negative image of black men. This resulted in a real mind fuck. These are the type of topics that I discuss.


Let’s talk about your expertise then: art. How is the representation of black people in art?
That’s getting better and better, but I’m still a little worried that it is merely on the surface level. You saw it recently at the Oscars. Many prizes went to black actors and black filmmakers, but I sometimes wonder if that wasn’t just to prove that they also let black actors win, without necessarily finding their performance so great. I think we can only draw meaningful conclusions about this in a while, when we see or do not see a change in art.


How does that work in Dutch art and culture? For example, the DWDD television show seems to be actively working on diversity.
Correct. I think that DWDD is one of the best scoring shows in the area of diversity. But I’m not sure. I don’t have a television, so I never really see it. I do know that the people around me are missing a show that serves their target group. But anyway, DWDD is an important podium and that is why it is a good indicator of Dutch society.


And? How are we doing?
From a certain part of the Netherlands, I’ll call it Twitter for convenience, I always receive a lot of negativity after I have been on the show. Even if I only talk about running – so to speak- or if I’m only laughing on the show, even then I get negative reactions. I’m seen as an angry black woman, a leftist bitch that wants slander the Netherlands. It honestly doesn’t matter what I say, either way I’m seen as an angry black woman. Fortunately, the amount of positive reactions tops the negative ones. Especially from young black woman. They are glad to see themselves represented in media and find it courageous that I’m addressing certain subjects. I don’t see it as courage, but that’s a different story.


Why do you think that so many young black women react so positive to what you do?
Because it is necessary. On the one hand I feel a certain pressure, but on the other hand it makes me proud that I can do this. I feel very proud when I consider that I give young black women a voice!

 

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