Introduction: What are we researching?
Welkom to our project: Creating spaces of Belonging for the African diaspora.: A case study of Omek - Under the Baobab. For our project we chose to focus on transnational identity and the sense of belonging. We chose to focus on the African Diaspora in The Netherlands and how they experience their bicultural identity.
We made a case study on the company Omek and specifically looked at the event: Under the Baobab, the pursuit of wellbeing. Omek is a company that helps African diaspora connect and feel empower together. “Founded in 2019, Omek was designed to make connection and collaboration simple for the African diaspora professional and their allies. Their vision is to create a strong network of empowered professionals who are meaningful contributors to the economy and culture.”
We chose this subject because cultural heritage is part of everybody’s identity. When a person belongs to two different cultures it might occur that one of those is less expressed than the other. This doesn’t only count for the African diaspora, even though we didn't realize it before we all three have bicultural backgrounds and all have struggled, in one way or another, or thought about the sense of belonging in those different cultures.
We interviewed participants of the event: Under the Baobab, the pursuit of wellbeing and the founder of Omek. We made a short documentary with collected footage. This was a great opportunity to experience to gain experience with working with camera. We decided to add questions of the participants in voice memos on this website.
* Bicultural identity: “The acceptance of both the dominant and home cultures that is within an individual’s identity. The person is able to embrace values from the host and home cultures and engage in positive intercultural exchange.”
Transnational/African belonging in material and digital culture.
We recognize that culture is a major part of one’s identity. As a result, when there is a bi-cultural background, both cultures will be influencing factors on your sense of belonging and identity. In addition, if one of those cultures dominates your daily life, it is easier to identify more with this one and loose contact with the other culture that constitutes your identity. This can diminish your sense of belonging and connection to yourself. This is where the problem lies - we believe that in a bi-cultural identity, having a dominating culture over the other adds to our problem statement because it can represent detachment from oneself and its effects can even lead to psycho-social effects, such as isolation and mental health issues. From this, we will be relating this problem statement to the sense of belonging of the African diaspora in The Netherlands. We will be focusing on how the organization of Omek contributes to creating safe spaces and places where one can reconnect with their African background culture. We believe that having this home event can add to that sense of belonging and that there are positive side effects when a person is reconnected with their culture. Through our interviewing process, we will further (dis)confirm this hypothesis.
Research Question: Why are the spaces created by Omek important to contribute to the African diaspora in finding a sense of belonging within their bicultural identity?
Our main objective: To investigate how the spaces have contributed to the sense of belonging for our interviewees.
*The proposed research question itself invites for the reflection on two additional questions: Why is it important to have a sense of belonging within your bicultural identity? and for whom is this important? To answer these questions, I think it is good to look at what happens when a person does not feel at ease, able to express or whole in one or both of their cultures. This is when people start to feel lost, lonely, and insincere to themselves. It is when people do not feel at peace with this reality, that the not having a sense of belonging in their bicultural identity becomes problematic. It then becomes clear for whom this is important. It is important for people who are struggling being in these two cultures at once, or people who want to know more about themselves trough their culture.
In researching the African diaspora in the Netherlands and the importance of spaces where they can continue identifying with its culture and roots of origins, we have talked about the wide topic of transnational identities within academia.
The idea of transnational identities started to emerge and gain popularity during the early 20th century with the increasing migration flows from Europe to the United States, the ones that were mainly caused by economic and religious reasons, as seeking for new economic opportunities and the persecution of jews. Consequently, we will have the first theories such as the classic assimilation theory with authors as Milton Gordon (1964). Assimilation theory was acquiring a systematic approach, arguing that the process of assimilation was logical, unidirectional, and universal. The theory considered that after a long time period, the immigrant group would finally stop identifying with its country of origin and culture, thus the tribal identity would be erased while the host culture would become the only existent cultural identity. Despite that, this approach was soon challenged with authors such as John Berry’s and his Model of Acculturation (1992), arguing that when a new cultural context appears, this does not necessarily mean that the other cultural identity will be eradicated; the diaspora can still identify itself with both cultures.
In this ongoing academic debate, we have taken Berry’s ideas as the basis for constructing our research. As researchers, we have assumed that the African diaspora living in the Netherlands can still identify with African culture as a cultural identity. This approach brings us to talk about bicultural identity, that according to LaFrambois, Coleman, and Gerton (1993) a bicultural identity emerges when an individual feels that both, his ancestral culture and his host culture are important elements that constitute himself. Along the same lines, the authors mention the importance of being bicultural competent, having knowledge of both cultural beliefs and values, having a positive attitude vis-à-vis both cultures, to regard them both as valuable and enriching, as well as to participate in them and forming part of its respective social network. A competency that is fundamental in order to assure the well-being of the individual, this idea is affirmed by the study undertaken by McCoy and Major in 200). The study gathered a group of individuals that strongly identified themselves with their ancestral cultural identity, furthermore, the study confronted the individuals with negative prejudices vis-à-vis their ancestral culture and analyzed how this impacted them. The outcomes showed that these individuals perceived it as an attack, thus affecting their self-esteem and well-being, as well as increasing the probabilities of suffering from depression.
The literature review has left evidence that the well-being of an individual will depend to a great extent on having or not bicultural competency, understood as harmony among two cultural identities, thus not suffering from an identity crisis. Furthermore, it is a fact that the culture of the majority, in this case, the Dutch culture, tends to impose itself over the minority one, in this case, the African culture. Under this premise, it is fundamental that the host country provides the African diaspora with a set of instruments that allow them to continue identifying and finding harmony within their ancestral culture, thus assuring their bicultural competency, and consequently, their well-being.
The literature review has also allowed us to identify a knowledge gap, and therefore, formulate our research objective and hypothesis. First, we noticed that there is little research done about the role of the host country when it comes to offering, to whatever diaspora, instruments that allow them to continue identifying with their culture of origin, as well as the importance that this has for the individuals. Moreover, acquiring a case study as our research design, our aim was to give visibility to the realities of the African diaspora in the Netherlands, thus formulating our research question: Why are the spaces created by Omek important to contribute to the African diaspora in finding a sense of belonging within their bicultural identity? Furthermore, our hypothesis has been formulated: The spaces created by Omek are important for the African diaspora in the Netherlands as they find in them a sense of belonging, they feel that their African cultural identity is valuable, and consequently, the possibilities of suffering from an identity crisis are reduced.
Data was collected through interviewing three participants who had attended the event ‘Under the Baobab: The Pursuit of Well-being’, where a space was created for people with a bicultural identity from the African diaspora. The interviewees were collected through the method of convenience sampling as the participants knew one of the researchers from the event.
We also interviewed the founder of Omek, Kemo, to look at how the organization is there for the African diaspora and to describe the intentions and inspiration behind the organization, what they are trying to accomplish, as well as what their previous accomplishments are.
Two of the interviews took place in-person. These included that of the founder and one of the researcher’s who also attended the event. The interviews with the other two participants of the events took place online due to difficulties with finding a suitable time for all parties.
A short documentary was produced from clips of the interviews which were recorded using video and/or audio footage. The film allowed us to gain experience of using mixed methods during our research, as well as learn more on the impacts of visualization in this digital era. The short documentary is also produced with the intention to act as an instrument for raising awareness on the sense of belonging for those with bicultural identity.
We also changed the name of the two participants whose interviews are shown in the audio files. For this, we used pseudonyms of Adam and Christine. Their identities remained anonymous for confidentiality and protection of the participants.
Audio music by: Sebastian Voorhuis
Audio music by: Sebastian Voorhuis
Looking at the personal experiences discussed by Bianca and Kemo, we find that a group of people with a bicultural identity, from the African diaspora, who live in The Netherlands, can be at risk of feeling lost with their bicultural identity or feeling less attached to their African identity, which was referred to by Adam as an identity crisis. This is in line with our assumptions discussed in the problem statement and is supported by our literature review. From the interviews, participants discussed the sense of not belonging, by questioning it themselves, or by the sense being fostered by society, who often works by categorising others.
However, in line with Berry’s Model of Acculturation (1992), this risk does not necessarily mean that their African identity will be forgotten when they have moved to The Netherlands. People from the African diaspora who are also living in The Netherlands or have a bicultural identity can still identify with both cultures.
For this, we find the creation of these safe spaces that embrace bicultural identity especially significant. The spaces allow for attendees to feel a sense of belonging by meeting with others who are experiencing similar situations. In turn, this gives them time to focus on their African identity, in a time and space that is based in The Netherlands. Both Adam and Christine mentioned that they found that they are most reminded of their bicultural identity, or of a feeling of not belonging, when they are interacting with other people who do not identify with them. This is especially relevant, as Adam adds that he finds The Netherlands is open to other cultures only to a certain extent. This issue can be seen by The Netherlands disallowance of bicultural citizenship. The rhetoric of this hindrance is outlined in the article by Nina Yuval-Davis, Belonging and the politics of belonging, whereby she discusses theories of citizenship, that describe citizenship as being a “full member of the community” and “comprising full and legitimate belonging” (Yuval-Davis, 2006, p. 206). Thus, this bicultural identity for people from the African diaspora that are living in The Netherlands may be facing this aspect as well. In contrast, Christine adds that she does feel like the Dutch culture is open to others, however, that this is more difficult to experience in day-to-day practice.
Therefore, when bicultural people find other groups of people who share the same experiences, they are given the chance of finding the strength of coming together and finding power in having that bicultural identity. In the interview, Kemo described it as being valuable to have that bicultural identity, as it allows you to connect with more than one group of people within sharing their sense of identity. Kemo and Adam describe this by saying “Bicultural (people) have the power”, it is a “superpower”, that makes you “unique”, and one that acts as a “bridge” between the two cultures. Moreover, Christine adds that her bicultural identity has allowed her to be enriched with two different cultures and to view things from different perspectives. However, the results find that the positives for having a sense of belonging often need pushing and reminding, which is where these safe spaces come into play.
In addition, we interpreted as part of the results the importance of not feeling alone and building that sense of community and belonging. What Christine identified as a sense of belonging related to having a platform that you can identify yourself with, which is a platform that Omek creates. She also emphasizes the importance of having a space such as Omek that relates to the bringing together of people from different backgrounds who can share their experiences, in turn adding to the sense of belonging. The importance of this is highlighted by Kemo who mentions how it is not relevant how successful you are, if you are having an identity crisis then this lack of belonging will always be having an impact on you. Going through an identity crisis as such entails going through emotions that are difficult to go through with oneself. Adding to this, the results find that multiple people may often think that these experiences are solely and uniquely a case of their own. All participants of this research described this feeling. However, our findings suggest that going through these thoughts and emotions is the case for many people that have a bicultural identity. Our findings also suggest that this feeling extends beyond those from the African diaspora, but to others with a bicultural identity. However, it is especially within the African diaspora, that this struggle can be compound. Event attendee Adam, raises the instance of battling a multilayered struggle within the African diaspora, whereby the struggle of an identity crisis can also be battled along with events of racism. Adam’s further struggles are expressed by how he feels that Dutch culture in particular can be less accepting of other cultures, also giving the example of Zwarte Piet. Adam’s journey with his bicultural identity goes back to what he described as a “sense of paralysis”, to what is now it being his “uniqueness”, something that has come from his own efforts in embracing his identity as a daily practice.
Overall, our findings depict why it is important for safe spaces to be created such as those created by Omek. The importance is found in the risk of having an identity crisis. Omek contributes to mitigating this risk by allowing attendees to be with other people who have their own background and knowledge, but still are able to share the commonality of having a bicultural identity. It works as a platform where you can identify yourself, and create a sense of belonging, with people who understand you and create representation. Omek works to normalize the concepts of connection and collaboration amongst their audience. It is by putting the two together that there is the creation of strength and resilience built among members, as well as having them act as an agent of change towards others.
In conclusion we found that a big part of having a sense of belonging in both cultures boils down to mindset and community. It is important to have safe spaces and embracing both cultures is indeed possible.
As we talked to the founder of Omek we realized through his story that all these feelings of not belonging or insecurities don’t have to be present when looked at differently. When people are struggling with feeling connected and accepted, they usually feel like they’re going through this alone. Talking about these feelings and embracing both cultures could be very beneficial. When the added value of this is found it can be seen as having a superpower. It is when people do not feel at peace within having a bicultural background, that the not having a sense of belonging becomes a problem.
We conclude with the answer our research question: “Why are the spaces created by Omek important to contribute to the African diaspora in finding a sense of belonging within their bicultural identity?". We found that the spaces created by Omek are indeed safe spaces that allow for community building and sense of togetherness. Omek adds to the sense of belonging and the feeling of individuals not going through these experiences alone. Omek helps with connecting with others and celebrating the different African cultures as well. These are very important factors in finding a sense of belonging within one's bicultural identity, especially within the African diaspora.
Through this research we were aware that the sample of participants that we it took for this assignment all attended the event, and where thereby already inclined to see the benefits of selfcare and of attending where. For these attendees it was important to embrace their bicultural heritage. They already actively sought out a community and believed in the positive influence that being at this event would have.
· Further improvements that can be made to this research project could be adding a voice of a person that had not attended the event but also related to having a bicultural identity. This would have given more nuanced results. For further different points of view we could in the future add a voice that does not agree with the statement that embracing bicultural heritage as an obstacle rather than a benefit to have.
· Interviewing more attendees for having a brother range of experiences and also finding somebody with a different opinion not in Oh my group that
Biases to take into consideration:
· Participant bias may have occurred but also was necessary to narrow down our research question. This bias occurred first of all because we chose to interview persons that already considered attending an event that was about wellbeing and saw the benefit of embracing both cultures that they had. Secondly, the participants that we were able to interview were the people that I (Bianca) managed to speak to at the event and exchange contact information with. Lastly this also occurred because not everybody responded or wanted to partake in answering the questions we proposed.
· Publication bias may also have occurred due to the vast amount of material that we have gathered we had to make decisions to showcase some answers and to disregard others, these choices were made due to time constraints not by favorability of those answers.
· As discussed in my personal reflections essay for me (Bianca) to have been a researcher and a participant could have biased my statements when responding to the questions and required more reflecting of myself.
· Being a participant myself of the event and knowing the Omek brand can have influenced my responses on having a bicultural background more positively.
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Parry, Omatuku & Arenós. (2021, December 10). Why are the spaces created by Omek important for the African diaspora? YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UncY7QN9L3c
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Yuval-Davis, N. (2006). Belonging and the politics of belonging. Patterns of Prejudice, 40:3, 197-214, DOI: 10.1080/00313220600769331