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It’s no surprise that America relishes in black culture but still continues to admonish black bodies. Cultural appropriation—despite its deep rooted historical context—is still a concept that many don’t quite fully grasp and that continues to plague this country on a regular basis. Magazines that pander to white readers insist that blackness is not what you are but something that you can instantaneously become. Yes, white person, you too can have an afro, make dashikis cool, or even just be black if you feel like it. Of course, when you have the luxury of treating blackness as a fad you can omit any further religious, social, cultural, or economic repercussions that are innately attached to being a person of color.
Things such as racism, police brutality, colorism, and the daily nullification of basic human rights aren’t really occurrences that white people have to worry about. This is why Afropunk, founded in 2002, is bigger and more brilliant than ever. It isn’t just a music festival; it is a movement that unapologetically pushes black culture to its forefront while supporting and uplifting the black community. And quite frankly, no other live music entity comes close to celebrating the complexity of the black experience the way that Afropunk does.
In a country where people of color have to navigate white spaces and modify their behaviors and appearances accordingly, the mere existence of Afropunk is staggering. In this sacred space, black folk aren’t bound by societal conventions that dictate our every move in order for us to merely survive. Instead, we relish our bodies, our hair textures, our music, and our culture. Beauty products, clothing, art and even body adornments that were for sale all specifically tailored to people of color with most of the vendors being owned and operated by black people.▼ Article continues below ▼
When festival goers weren’t checking out the businesses on display, they were being blown away by all of the talent that graced the stage throughout the weekend. Grace Jones dominated the masses with her signature herculean tenor that splayed over her timeless grandiose catalogue; Lenny Kravitz sealed his iconic status with a performance that perforated onlookers with its ragged edges and raw nerves. Lauryn Hill’s melodic charm was raw, minimal and emotionally fierce. Kelela’s subtle intensity suited the ache in her voice and Gary Clark Jr.’s tasteful guitar fire mesmerized an impatient crowd. The wide-ranging abilities of the artists that performed at Afropunk are a reminder of how complex—and beautiful–blackness can be. Hopefully, more festivals will learn to follow suit.