AfroPunk And Its Devotion to Queer Identities

AfroPunk And Its Devotion to Queer Identities

By Joelle Bayaa-Uzuri

afropunk

Woodstock was more than a 3-day music festival held in the Catskill Mountains in mid-August, 1969.  Woodstock, billed as the “3 Days of Peace & Music,” was also a celebration of free love, social liberation, and freedom of expression.  Woodstock marked a pivotal shift in our country and the rise of a new counterculture; one characterized by a Bohemianism, fluid sexuality, and experimentation with alternative lifestyles.  Woodstock would go on to inspire many similar festivals that honored and celebrated many of those same principles.

“Afropunk Festival’s original purpose was to provide black people with the opportunity to build a community within the white punk scene.”

Sadly, black and brown people were largely absent from these social events.  Due to the intersectionality of the overwhelming racism, sexism, and homophobia of the time, people of color were mostly fighting for their basic civil rights and liberties, and not afforded the space to be able to experience and experiment with their sexuality and lifestyles.  This meant that many people of color, especially queer POC, were often left in isolation when it came to experiencing sexuality and love. Alternative lifestyles were often shunned and relegated behind closed doors and proverbial (and a lot of times literal) closets.

After decades of being suppressed, something happened.  In 2003 James Spooner created the documentary Afro-punk, which spotlighted the sub-culture of black punks within the predominantly white punk scene.  The documentary led to a series of live shows called “The Liberation Sessions”, which would soon result in the birth of the Afropunk Festival a few years later in 2005.

afropunk

Initially, the Afropunk Festival’s original purpose was to provide black people with the opportunity to build a community within the white punk scene; giving artists that weren’t mainstream an opportunity and platform to showcase their art.  Starting out as primarily film festival (with a picnic on its last day) the festival soon grew, deviating from its original model to include more hip-hop, neo-soul, and alternative R&B artists and a wider audience base.

“As the festival continues to grow, it continues to reevaluate its own identity.”

The face of the festival changed as well; changing from black punk to a black queer and gender-variant identity.  Afropunk’s idea of creating a community and a safe space struck to the heart and core of the black queer community, who were often excluded within their own larger community bases (both the LGBTQ and the black communities alike.)  Even as the festival expanded and went more mainstream, the black queer community continued their increased presence within the festival. Like Woodstock, Afropunk offered a safe space for the black queer community to be able to freely express the intersectionality of their identity.  People were free to dress however they wanted and be who they naturally were without inhibition. The festival’s own doctrine also transformed into one that was more encompassing of free gender-identity expression and liberation and pushed for intersectional inclusion, equity, and equality.  Their website became an epicenter of all things intersectional; providing a voice for the black queer community that spoke to their intersectional identity and social issues that concerned them.

“Although Afropunk is far from perfect, it still continues to be a safe space for a subsect of the marginalized black community.”

As progressive as Afropunk has become, it has not been without fault.  Afropunk has long been accused of selling out to cis-white consumerism; charging an escalating fee to attendees who originally had free admission, as they were black youth with very little to no disposable income.  While championing the black queer community, it has also booked musical artists who have had a history of homophobia and misogynoir (i.e. Ice Cube and Tyler the Creator.), even letting a music group cover the wildly homophobic Buju Banton dancehall song ‘Boom Bye Bye.’

As the festival continues to grow, it continues to reevaluate its own identity, as well as its place as a black queer mecca.  Since some of its earlier booking choices, the festival has adopted the slogan “No Sexism, No Racism. No Ableism. No Ageism. No Homophobia. No Fatphobia. No Transphobia. No Hatefulness” and made it a point to openly stand against intersectional oppression.  Afropunk has also used its media platform to showcase more of the black queer community; from photos to highlighting more underground queer artists. Although Afropunk is far from perfect, it still continues to be a safe space for a subsect of the marginalized black community, which at its core has always been its goal.  

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