Today’s post comes from LaLa Drew, who is a queer poet and activist located in Portland, Maine. They organize a recurring poetry night for queer and femme POC. You can also find their work online.
“We, the people commit ourselves to uphold and fight for the rights enshrined in our code. Let us honor those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom and hold accountable those who curtail our liberties. Let us walk in the footsteps of the Warriors who came before us and strive to create a society based on fundamental human rights.”
The world is a scary place. It has always been. And if we continue the way we are going, it always will be. To be Black and to have a safe space to gather, particularly en masse, is a contradiction in terms.
As Black people, we are taught that white people have claimed ownership to our bodies and culture since before we were shackled into the bowels of the first slave ships. We are conditioned to believe that our presence in this country is a gift; not that we give to the culture, but that white people have given to us. The true story of our exodus is at best whitewashed, at worst completely rewritten.
Black people are conditioned to believe that we have no place in society; that our voices, our bodies, our lives don’t matter. We are taught we are less than nothing. The language we use to express ourselves is watered down, the grit and soul tortured out of it and cast aside, deemed unimportant. We are taught that our base impulses are unnatural, the way we express ourselves savage, and our beauty barbaric. Then, we are meant to watch, docile, as our language, impulses, our expression and our beauty are watered down and sold back to us in the form of blue eyes and blond hair, at the total cost of which cannot accurately be calculated.
All that is to say: Black people need a reprieve. Black people need a moment to fucking breathe. To be joyous. To love ourselves and what we create. We are not allowed this peace in everyday life. So, we are forced to create it.
Enter: AfroPunk. AfroPunk is more than music, more than a festival. AfroPunk is a movement. It is a glimpse into a land of blackness that we are so often told doesn’t exist.
People like to laugh at us when we say that we are descended from kings and queens, yet one look around an AfroPunk festival and it becomes clear (if there was ever any doubt) that we are denied our legacy out of fear, not for lack of truth.
Everywhere I looked I saw the magic of my people. Every shade of brown represented, from the lightest tan to the deepest black. Melanin poppin’, afros glistening, edges laid, locks wrapped, fades lined, beards trimmed, hair twisted into works of art. And the clothes? Forget about the clothes. We don’t have time for the clothes. Just trust me when I tell you they were fire, you better believe they were fire. AfroPunk is filled with kings and queens and every kind of royalty in between.
AfroPunk Brooklyn had three stages and a lineup which made my dreams come true including SZA, Solange, Sinkane, and Macy Gray, just to name a few. There was tent after tent filled with black excellence. There were people braiding hair for $15, giving extensions for $18, reading tarot, providing healing sessions. I found a rad comic by Ry-El Nagasta and Anthony A. Anglero called Indigo Clan, which is about a girl who lives in Oakland who discovers she has spiritual powers and has to save the world. I scored some sweet shades which actually cover my nerd glasses, some serious blacktivist swag, and a tee shirt that reads: “We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
I love my people. I love the way we walk. I love the way we talk. I love the way we laugh and dance and sing and breathe. Being surrounded by thousands of us? Well, I just about died and went to heaven.
Being in community is crucial to our survival. Being in a space where we can feel safe to be who we are–unapologetically, without reserve, judgment and without being turned into some kind of an exhibit–is damn near unheard of. AfroPunk provides that space. I am honored to have been able to be there, to sit in community with a people who are no strangers to struggle, but who always seem to find a way to vibrate above it.
I wonder, what happens when we truly realize our power? What happens when we wake up, rise up, and truly rebel against the truth of what history has done to us? AfroPunk is a key to the door of this truth. Through it we are shown in a brilliantly concentrated way, the culture, history, ancestry which was beaten, raped, and lynched out of us.
AfroPunk is not just a music festival, or an experience. AfroPunk is what happens when Black people are given spaces just for us where we can love each other, create, and sit in community with one another. AfroPunk is for the people. By the people. And it is growing.
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