Though there is no justice, and at times, little peace, that has not stripped us of our joy, our laughter." Terri Burns
In this op-ed, Terri Burns reflects on Afropunk's role as a safe space for black people after white supremacist rallies and in the age of Donald Trump.
This weekend, the Tweets, the Instagrams, and the Snaps on all of my feeds were filled with the images and sounds of beautiful black people, adorned in colors, swaying in the sunshine, singing, carefree. I saw snippets of Solange, and the bold colors of her set. I glimpsed at SZA bouncing around the stage, and peeked at Sampha singing his heart out. I saw people sitting in the sunshine, tired and happy. And I flipped through photos, upon photos, upon photos, of outfits, funky street style, costumes, and hairstyles, all striking in their beauty. This is how I experienced Afropunk 2017.
I feel extreme gratitude for being able to experience ephemeral snippets of Afropunk Brooklyn. Afropunk, which also hosts festivals throughout the year in Paris, London, Atlanta and Johannesburg, is a multicultural event where artists and attendees alike come together for a weekend of art and music. Most notably, the weekend is also about declaring, through artistry in the form of clothing, hairstyles, dance moves, and partying, that black is indeed beautiful.
The beauty of Afropunk goes beyond the powerful declaration that black is beautiful: it’s a powerhouse of acceptance for all kinds of people, particularly the marginalized. We are reminded of this through the festival’s slogan, which was plastered next to the stage. It read: "No sexism, no racism, no ableism, no ageism, no homophobia, no fat-phobia, no transphobia, no hatefulness." This is a powerful message for all kinds of people: that no matter what society at large has traditionally demanded, for this weekend at Afropunk, you are welcome and you are celebrated by everyone. As a black woman, to feel celebrated and uplifted by those like, and by those different from me, aided my continual journey of self acceptance. Similarly, to celebrate others, both alike and different from me, acted as a ceaseless promise to always create safe spaces for all types of people.
"No matter what society at large has traditionally demanded, for this weekend at Afropunk, you are welcome and you are celebrated by everyone."
Two weeks ago, I sat in my San Francisco apartment, glued to my phone, watching an entirely different scene unravel. Instead of carefree dancing, art, and camaraderie, I instead saw videos of white supremacist rallies, and the frightening chants of neo-Nazis and KKK members. I saw domestic terrorism, fueled by hatred and intolerance, destroy a life. And I saw the very public endorsement of hatred by the President of the United States. As black people, we have never been safe in America. I’ve been reminded of this periodically throughout my life, and in the past few weeks, I’ve been reminded of it in increasingly intimidating and violent ways. Even from the comforts of my home, I did not feel safe, and lamented in frustration because feeling unsafe is exactly what my oppressors want of me.
In this context, Afropunk became a radical act of self care — a realized demand of safe spaces for people of color. In the wake of Charlottesville, I am left to feel both exhausted and anxious, finding morbid solace in the fact that I am not alone. Between the endorsements of hatred from the President, the lives lost to police brutality, the continuance of a long, tormented history, it feels like each day, new stories unfold that continue to threaten the lives of people of color. This year especially has been particularly difficult: between the blatant cries of hatred from around the country, policies rooted in discrimination like the Muslim ban and transgender military ban, threats to women’s healthcare through the continued support of initiatives to defund places like Planned Parenthood, the sense that safe spaces are dangerously shrinking is real, and it’s scary. Through this reality, it means the world to me to be able to see my people, even for just a weekend, be carefree.
"Though there is no justice, and at times, there is little peace, that has not stripped us our joy, our laughter, our need to dance, and this brings me great pride."
There has always been a need for safe spaces, and there always will be. These last few weeks, if anything, have been a reminder of this fact. Though there is no justice, and at times, there is little peace, that has not stripped us our joy, our laughter, our need to dance, and this brings me great pride. In her song “F.U.B.U.,” which she performed at Afropunk this year, Solange declares “Play this song and sing it on your terms / For us, this shit is for us / Don't try to come for us.” The lyrics align perfectly with the Afropunk setting: playing and singing songs on our terms, reclaiming what is ours, be that our time, our hair, or our bodies, and being able to do so in our own spaces.
Afropunk is both a reality and a dream, telling us that we exist, we are beautiful, we know happiness, we take up space, and that we matter. At a time when the world seems so filled with hate, to see marginalized folks converge to celebrate a firm rejection of these ideals, I am emboldened in my fight for justice, grateful for the company, and overjoyed to, even just for a weekend, be having a damn good time while fighting the good fight.
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