For the White Folks in Dashikis at Afropunk
The AFROPUNK Festival in Brooklyn is always a highlight of my summers in New York City. This was my third year attending the festival and I take pride in being a veteran of this alternative Black music festival. I remember a time when it was free to the public. I love the dance circles of Black joy, vogueing, and twerking to music sets played by our favorite DJs. I love standing in the park passing joints and Black hair care knowledge while admiring the melanin beauty honoring this freeing space. I love when I get invited to lay on blankets to discuss police brutality, crystals, and Yoruba Orishas.
But this year, something was different.
There were white folks in dashikis.
I admire the growth in the AFROPUNK culture and brand. Beginning last year, AFROPUNK started hosting festivals in Atlanta, Paris, and London. However, with this growth, AFROPUNK enters the realm of mainstream, where unconventional and underground fashion, art, and music can become popular and trendy. When Black culture becomes mainstream, we know what that means: more white people.
I have no problem with white people enjoying alternative culture and black punk music. I do have an issue with white people that are ignorant of the true meaning of AFROPUNK and enter the space seemingly unaware of how their whiteness and mimicry can make black attendees uncomfortable.
AFROPUNK derives from the 2003 cult classic documentary by Matthew Morgan highlighting the Black Punk scene in America, giving voice to urban kids intertwined in a rock/punk/indie lifestyle. It has grown to be a cultural movement “synonymous with open-minded, non-conforming, and an unconventional community of urban culture inspired by alternative music.” This year, at every AFROPUNK stage the declaration stands tall: “No Sexism, No Racism, No Ableism, No Ageism, No Homophobia, No Fatphobia, No Transphobia, No Hatefulness.”
For two days at AFROPUNK, Black people are the majority — the liberated majority. We are encouraged to come as we are: natural, bold, and beautiful. We vibrate to our highest and most truest selves. The energy is always empowering. It breathes life into me re-charging me as I enter another season of school, work, and fighting white supremacy. For me, AFROPUNK isn’t just any other music festival — it is a spiritual experience.
This year at AFROPUNK, a new brand of white folks entered this space, ones different from the hippy dread heads and punks I’ve seen at past festivals. Fratty white guys in oxfords and polos posted up at the bar. They chose exclusivity to observe the vastness of non-conforming Blackness and individuality. They peaked into our culture from afar like we were animals on display at the zoo. I noticed multiple groups of white men taking in the glory of bodacious African Queens. They pointed at Black women and fetishized the Black female body in an environment where Black beauty is supposed to be celebrated and revered.
AFROPUNK is one of the last major summer turn ups while also being the perfect time for a massive space to heal after a summer of violence, protest and anger. Last year, before Lauryn Hill’s performance, I found myself in a healing circle with Black women processing the death of Sandra Bland.
But, this year at AFROPUNK, I had to witness white girls in kente headwraps.
On Sunday, I saw a group of white friends frolicking through the crowd to see Michigan based producer, Sango. In this group, there was a white couple dressed in ornate Native American headdress. “They paid pretty good money to come to a festival celebrating culture and individuality to look like someone else,” I thought. Behind them was their friend, a white guy wearing a tan and orange patterned Dashiki. My jaw drops.
How do white people have the audacity to come to a Black event wearing African attire?
This is why when white people enter spaces of Blackness I get uncomfortable, irritable, and frustrated. My vibes are thrown off and now I have to spend five minutes of my day calming myself down and breathing deeply instead of blowing kush with my friends. Their cultural insensitivity forces me to think about my Blackness. For two days, from the time I step into Commodore Barry Park for AFROPUNK to the time I leave and make the trek back to the Jay St. Metro, I don’t expect to think about being Black. I can just be Black and I can live outside of my own consciousness for a short moment in time.
AFROPUNK is not the place for cultural appropriation. This behavior should not happen at AFROPUNK or anywhere else. The white people that are fascinated with Black culture are just as dangerous as the white people who hate us.
I don’t come to AFROPUNK for it to be just another music festival but this year, sadly, it felt that way.
I come because of the vibes and melanin. I come for the freedom of Blackness that stretches from the Green Stage to the Red Stage. I come for the sea of Kings and Queens radiating godly goodness and vibrating higher in the freeing space that AFROPUNK provides. I do not come expecting to be disrespected.
In an atmosphere where Black people are proudly wearing our natural hair, traditional clothing, original creations and where Black fashion, art and music are the main event, when white people come in dashikis, headwraps, and cornrows you just look stupid and silly. We are laughing, throwing shade and side eye at you! Outside of AFROPUNK, the edginess of white girls’ “boxer braids” and “mini twisty buns” may be cool, but at AFROPUNK your thin cornrows and bantu knots are just sad — very sad. As Black people are enjoying a space of freedom and joy we are not here for your outdated colonialist complex and theft of our culture to make use of it how you see fit. NOT UP IN HERE!
A friend of mine told me about a moment at AFROPUNK’s Activism Row, a section at the festival filled with community organizations, where two white girls walk past an organization called The Black Women’s Library, a space that allows women to exchange books written by Black women, and one white girl says:
“A Black women’s library? Wow, that’s interesting. I never think about who writes my books. I just read them.”
White people never have to think about their whiteness. You cannot come into this environment and disregard the Black experience while you wear our traditions and style as costumes of consumption.
The contrast of white girls swinging their loose blonde box braids and cornrows next to an African Queen who has been wearing straight backs since elementary school and was probably called ghetto for doing so is cringeworthy.
AFROPUNK is not the place to exercise your white privilege. Everything is not meant for everybody and what better place to acknowledge your understanding of this concept than AFROPUNK.
For the white people that want to attend AFROPUNK, I want you to ask yourself two questions:
Will this outfit offend any person of color? (Hint: Probably yes if you have to ask.)
If. I am going to be a part of this movement, how I can be an ally for justice, unity and peace? Or am I just here to witness Black culture?
Use AFROPUNK as a time to think about your whiteness and the energy you bring when coming to predominately Black spaces. No one walks into a sacred temple with their shoes on. Therefore, do not walk into AFROPUNK, a sacred temple of Blackness, without understanding how your whiteness affects the space.
For the white folks in dashikis at AFROPUNK: this is not the place to show off your misguided ideas of style and trends that you got from the Kardashian Klan or window-shopping at a African cultural store. AFROPUNK is a place for Black people to embrace ourselves and our culture. It is not for you. This is the time for you to be conscious of your whiteness.
AFROPUNK is not the place to ignore Blackness. It is the place to celebrate it.