Every generation needs an unequivocal source of truth: something that shows the people of its time, leaving little room for doubt, what they look like.
I am obsessed with the creative output of my generation. I’m curious about people “my age” in food, music, design, technology, and everything else. Since The Republic announced print editions, I’ve looked forward to reading what I consider to be an intellectual contribution to the culture.
I use the word “intellectual” to refer to academic, critical thinking, and they agree — on the website, it says:
The Republic, first and foremost, is us: the people of this time. And then, it is a bimonthly magazine of socio-economic and political commentary, criticism and cultural discourse, that explores the world as Nigerian. Behind the magazine is the belief that writing can connect, empower and humanize communities, and a society of people who consider urgent the need for a Nigeria more critical of itself.
This is a review of the first print edition.
As with most magazines, The Republic starts out with the Editor’s Note. Wale Lawal introduces the themes in this edition — race, and identity. It’s clear that the essays will be globally focused as he closes out with a promise to always prioritize the meaningful exchange of information.
The first essay, Nafeesah Allen’s National Belonging and Social Integration, is about identity. It’s a commentary on mixed people in Mozambique, who are as much Africans as any of us dark-skinned people, but often not welcome by either of their nationalities. Because I don’t have a lot of interactions with mixed people or families, I’ve frankly always considered them to be foreigners, never African. This was a necessary mental shift for me.
Aarshin Karande’s I know Why The Mockingbird Sings is about America’s white/black fracture. In the replacement of an Obama presidency with a Trump, the author argues that White America is being reluctant to integrate with Black America, and ponders if such an integration is really feasible? In this conflict of identity, people in-between (like the author, who is South Asian Indian) are often overlooked.
In The Power of Social Media, Cynthia Agodo explains how women in Nigeria have used social media and particularly hashtags to vocalize, educate, and coordinate around feminist issues. The author also touches on intersectionality, in this case pointing out that the struggle is different across socioeconomic classes, and true feminism should cater to these differences. She encourages feminists to go beyond Twitter, as with the Market March movement, and walk the talk.
Speaking of Market March, one interesting thing to me about the movement is the intentional use of graphic design to amplify the message. Political movements have always relied on graphic design and images to speak directly to people, and a good example from the past is illustrated in Emmanuel Onyilofor’s essay Visual Politics in Apartheid South Africa. The author shows how graphic images were instrumental to the emancipation in South Africa during the Apartheid era.
More recently in Nigeria, there’s been a proliferation of Instagram and Twitter accounts that curate Nollywood clips to paint a picture of the modern Nigerian woman: confident, glamorous, and successful. In From Glamour Girls to Nolly babes, Merlin Uwalaka highlights that old Nollywood movies like Glamour Girls created authentic images of the modern Nigerian woman that are being repurposed today to tell a story of female identity in Nigeria.
The other core topic of this journal is racism.
In Uncovering Edinburgh, Henry Dee presents historical accounts of racism at the University of Edinburgh. I guess some people believe that the Scottish institution wasn’t racist, and the author aimed to dispel that. As a first step towards reconciliation, the author implores the school to acknowledge its pioneering black students.
In The Blacker the Berry, Oyinkosola Adepitan uses three books¹ to discuss American racism in some of its post-slavery expressions: sexual violence against black women, the commodification of black women, segregation, the horrors of lynching, and a war on drugs that was really just to re-enslave black people using the prison system. The author highlights that the devaluation of black lives is continual and in dire need of correction.
The focus shifts from the USA to China in The Elephant in the China Shop. Bénédicte Kinkola begins with a timeline of Sino-African relations: first, Zheng He made voyages to East Africa in the 14th century; then, upon the humiliation of China in the Opium wars, Mao Zedong repositioned the country as the “leader of the third world”; now, China has regular brunch with Africa in the form of the forum FOCAC.
Bénédicte argues that in spite of this diplomatic embrace, 1) Chinese people remain racist, 2) if this is truly due to ignorance, Africa needs to build cultural institutions, equivalents of China’s Confucius Language Institutes², to educate the Chinese, 3) African leaders need to put policies in place to make sure the Chinese development of Africa involves Africans, and 4) one way to consummate this China-Africa love is to build multicultural spaces to serve as melding pots. This essay was a personal favorite of mine.
Looking inwards, Moses Ochonu’s essay Racism or Classism is a reminder that classism and colonial mentality can be illustrations of racism. The African elite has maintained the spatial superiority that colonizers built, and today many white-only areas from the colonial era are still the best places to live in. Also, many people in Africa today respect white and foreign-educated people way more than fellow black people. Isn’t black subservience just a mirror image of white supremacy?
When I saw the title “White Extinction, Who Gives a Damn?”, I thought I was going to be reading a really shocking theory of how white people will go extinct. Fortunately, the title is clickbait, and the essay is an attempt to criticize racial relations from a balanced perspective.
In White Extinction, Who Gives a Damn? Jeff Pearce criticizes the weaponization of “privilege” to shut down other — often white — opinions. He argues against viewing all white people as a privileged group and uses himself as an example. The author also tackles white nationalists, criticizing their beliefs that western (white) culture is being diluted. The essay peters out with a kumbaya suggestion that we adopt the African approach of restitution, social harmony, and empathy, rather than rage, to deal with racism.
Eniola Anuoluwapo Soyemi’s Is There No Humanity in Africa? is a collection of stories, each one a situation where the author had to ponder that question. The author is concerned that the Western world is so ignorant about Africa, and the ubiquitous small-mindedness of looking at the entire continent from one flat perspective hurts on a personal level.
I think Africa’s devaluation continues from the devaluation of black people — it’s a “black continent” after all. When I think about it, I think we have this problem internally as well. In my conversations, I’ve come to believe many Nigerians have a really shitty and small-minded perspective of the rest of the continent.
And now to the culture!
Yaa Addae’s short article is a review of Odunsi the Engine’s most recent album, rare. Yaa is convincing: the album is well-done Afro-fusion, a refreshing result of the musical influence of the internet. A lot of pioneering African music, including Fela’s Afrobeat, were created similarly. Experimentation is very necessary for evolution.
The final essay is Adekeye Adebajo’s Black Orpheus and the Organic Intellectual, a tribute to two really cool people I’m hearing about for the first time. Abiola Irele and Raufu Mustapha were Nigerian scholars (and polyglots) who made important contributions to the intellectual discourse about the country and continent. My favorite part of this essay was learning about Negritude, a Pan-African idea of “Black consciousness” theorized by Francophone scholars in the 1930s.
Of course, I can’t review the magazine without talking about the design of it.
The first thing to probably mention is the quality of the print itself, which is quite well done. I showed the magazine to a friend OD, who’s a paper/print enthusiast, and her reply was “It’s good, but I wish it was matte”. Me too. The Republic reads as very academic, but it doesn’t feel like it because of the glossy print.
The Republic also has very minimal graphic design, possibly because, you know, academic. Page headings are set in ITC Anna (a font designed by Daniel Pelavin for his wedding), essays are set in Adobe Caslon, and Proxima Nova is occasionally used for smaller titles. Bebas Neue is a big part of their online branding, but interestingly it only shows up on the spine in print.
The writing and editing in this edition are great and I wish similar attention to detail was spared for visual flourish. The graphic design is generally mediocre, and you can find proof of this in the boring typographic compositions, poorly cropped images, odd callouts with an oversized logo, and occasionally inconsistent kerning and spacing.
To be clear, the design is okay. I just wish it was better. Over and over again, I’ve seen examples of primarily typographic publications done elegantly, and I really wish this was one of them. Two highlights though, graphically, were the feature illustrations and the map of Lagos on the back.
All things considered, I had a good time reading this. I picked up more than a few new ideas and learned about really important people. I have the second edition in print as well, so I’m looking forward to it being even better than this one.
¹ At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance by Danielle McGuire; Democracy Abroad, Lynching at Home: Racial Violence in Florida by Tameka Bradley Hobbs; and From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America by Elizabeth Hinton.
² There’s a Confucius Institute at the Nnamdi Azikwe University, and according to their website, about 2,500 students have been trained there since 2009.