Image courtesy of Jason Lee Wong.
Lyneka Little founded Après Josephine, which literally translates to After Josephine, as a platform to tell the much-needed stories of expats of color in France. Lyneka delves into the vision behind the project, how she came up with the name and what she defines as utopia.
Thank you for your time, Lyneka. Tell us a bit about yourself and your background: Where are you from? Were you exposed to international travel growing up?
I am a writer and social media strategist. I claim three places: York, Pennsylvania, the Maryland/DC area and New York City. Of the three regions, I spent the most time in New York City, which is where I lived after graduating from Howard University.
As a child, I did not travel internationally. I have a fear of flying. At some point, in my youth or early adulthood, my mother traveled to Amsterdam after winning an international jazz competition. I refused to fly, which would have been the perfect opportunity to travel for free.
How long have you been in Paris? What originally took you there?
I have now reached my third year in Paris. Following the death of my maternal grandmother, I decided to confront my fear of flying and I visited Paris for the first time in 2012. But it wasn’t until 2016 that I decided to come to Paris to study. I have been here struggling to learn French ever since.
Describe Après Josephine for us. Where did you get the idea for the publication?
Our about page says it best: Après Josephine is a platform for expats and natives interested in exploring our existence ninety-three years after the birth of the world’s first Black superstar: Josephine Baker. We are storytellers invested in truth and interested in the diversity of thought through words, images, art and film. Through this platform we seek to build, create and connect people from across the diaspora.
The idea for Après Josephine came because of what I found to be missing when it comes to expat websites: people of color. In addition, I don’t often read about life for people of color, in English, in France. There are certainly French bloggers that are out there covering this area, and I feel they are often overlooked by larger, wider, broader media. This is an attempt to work with that community and also to remain connected to home.
The name of your site, Après Josephine, references to popular jazz entertainer Josephine Baker, who left the racial segregation and turmoil in the US to pursue a career in Europe (among her many accomplishments). What about her inspired you to name your site after her?
The name is taken from Josephine Baker, who was the first Black superstar, thanks to France. She was buried with the highest military honors. If I was going to do a website, who better [to name it after] than the most recognizable Black expat?
How do you believe the stories of Josephine Baker and other Black Americans who moved to Paris around the time of the Harlem Renaissance relate to today’s Black expats in the region? Who are some of your other inspirations from that era?
This is a difficult question to answer because I can’t answer for Black expats. What I can say is that the experience of other Black expats during that era have led many, if not most, of us to France. Now the intention is to discover if the concept of race and identity and freedom during that era was more about American privilege than the acceptance of noir.
Many Black people view Paris as a utopia for Black folks. How much truth is there to this long-held belief? What has been your experience, or the experiences of other Blacks you know in Paris?
We all know there is no such place as a utopia for Black people in Europe. How is that possible? If you embrace your American privilege, then sure we can pretend Paris is such. I love Paris for the many amazing people I have encountered. It has its fair share of race issues, which I am often exempt from because I am Black American. But, how does one know I am Black American? Due to my accent. Sure, there is an assumption that I am not 100 percent African based on other physical attributes, but receiving privileges based on an accent or real or imagined attributes, is that a Black utopia?
My idea of utopia is a place where people of all skin colors are free to be. That doesn’t even exist in the US – an alleged melting pot. By the way, never trust a country (USA), that touts ‘melting your identity into sameness’ as a political and social win. I say all this to say, am I more imaginatively free in France? Yes. I am an expat abroad so I have no political power – understandably so – but that’s not perfection for me. It depends on what your aim is.
What message do you hope to relay with Après Josephine?
I hope to build an inclusive community with Après Josephine, which focuses on the Black diaspora. I want to build and create through community and shift the lens towards marginalized people in France. The way to be a good guest in someone else’s country is to try to reduce centering yourself. Black Paris is more than the Black American experience.