“Black people with a lot of piercings always throw me off.”
This statement came from a heavily tattooed, bi-racial, White-acculturated friend of mine whose visual presence meshes easily with an Afropunk aesthetic. In response I mentioned the eponymous festival and my plans to go. He had no clue what it was.
See I’d wanted to go. I’m at a point in my independent work life where I’ve realized I’ve been conditioned to take time for myself when it’s given…summer vacations, Christmas breaks, sick leave, weekends…all use of my own life time that I’ve spent a lifetime learning was something I needed permission to access.
Now that I determine my own schedule, restructuring those thought and behavior processes takes deliberate work, and a trip to Afropunk was supposed to be a part of that.
Punk or not, alternative Black people like Meshell Ndegeocello, Tricky, Slash, and Cindy Blackman drew me in when I was younger…partly because of their music, but mostly because they were Black people who were outside of what defined Blackness for me.
Black people I knew were Southern American, Bahamian, Jamaican, Native, Panamanian, and Guyanese. They came from different places, but they did the things that people from those places did. None were alternative from my child’s perspective and few, I thought, would understand my visceral attraction to Chris Cornell’s voice or Brian May’s vocal fluency on guitar.
Thankfully, I had parents who listened to The Temptations, Credence Clearwater Revival, Gladys Knight, and Simon and Garfunkel with equal respect, so I felt less distance than awkwardness at my growing taste in music. The festival’s called to both my younger self, and to my current self who’s still working her way through Black Messiah.
While I claim to be no expert in punk, I will say there is something decidedly un-punk going on around Afropunk.
The Business Of Afropunk
I’ve spent my morning watching Black people on Twitter hash out points about the Respectable Black Folk™ takeover of Afropunk and their turning it into nothing more than a costume party.
I’ve seen accusations that part of the reason the base Afropunk community takes issue with this is their own Special Snowflake Syndrome and the threat of normalized-Blackness ruining that for them.
I’ve seen report of the rise of mistreatment of Black punk kids, and exclusion via rising prices.
I learned that Pink Floyd is actually named after two, Black blues musicians.
I’ve watched all this and see the same subtle patterns of consumption and production and analysis we’ve learned from so many years here in this world. Once money is involved, Black people will tend to produce and most frighteningly, consume like White people.
Sometimes this is done strategically for survival. Most of the time I fear, it’s done completely subconsciously and with the idea that this is simply how life works…that this is how things are bought, and sold, and used, and digested, and expelled and that there is simply no alternative.
Afropunk is growing quickly, and by many, this is accepted as an inherent good.
When I see attitudes like this, I’m instantly reminded of the importance of diverse business narratives (i.e. beyond Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Mark Cuban). Businesses, projects, organizations, do not have to grow infinitely. They do not have to maximize customer count until the end of time. They do not have to take over the world. A business can serve a community and do so profitably, but that means limits around income and likely means making active choices to control accessibility. That’s being responsible to your base customers. That’s being real.