It’s hard not to feel something for Afropunk, even if your punk days were long behind you (if they ever existed at all.)
For me, a DC girl raised on hip-hop with a twist of go-go (but with enough friends drawing Xs on their hands to dabble a bit into other people’s rebellions), Afropunk is like gazing into the looking glass. I’ve never been, though I love that it exists. For me, Afropunk came a little too late – my black friends who were into skating and punk rock were memories long before James Spooner pulled the original film out of his mind and on to celluloid. I would have loved Afropunk when I was young, but grew up fine without it. At some point, we sort out who we are supposed to be – Afropunk wasn’t an identity then the way it is now. And after my friend Tiff sent three essays around the Afropunk festival, which happened last weekend in Brooklyn, NYC, I’m not sure what the Afropunk identity means anymore – and I’m honestly wondering if it was supposed to be an identity at all.
Over at Pitchfork, Hanif Abdurraqib bared his soul in a beautiful, moving essay on being black in punk space. You don’t need to identify with the music to feel what he’s saying. It opens with the kind of moment most of us have experienced:
I don’t remember the first time I heard a racist joke at a punk rock show. Rather, I don’t remember the first time I was grabbed into a sweaty half-hug by one of the laughing white members of my Midwest punk scene and told don’t worry about it. We don’t think of you that way. I don’t remember the first time I saw a teenage girl shoved out of the way so that a teenage boy her size, or greater, could have a better view of a stage. I don’t remember the first time that I made an excuse for being a silent witness.
And passages like this one hit home, cutting almost to the bone:
It is a luxury to romanticize blood, especially your own. It is a luxury to be able to fetishize violence, especially the violence that you inflict upon others. To use it as a bond, or to call it church, or to build an identity around it while knowing that everyone you can send home bloody will not come back for revenge. To walk home bloody. To walk home at night. At the time of writing this, a video is circulating of a black man being killed by police, on camera. Before this, there was another black man. And a black boy. And black women vanishing in jail. And black trans women vanishing into the night. I do not blame punk rock for this. I instead ask to consider the impact of continuing to glorify a very specific type of white violence and invisibility of all others in an era where there is a very real and very violent erasure of the bodies most frequently excluded from the language, culture, and visuals of punk rock. I ask myself who it serves when I see countless images showing examples of why “punk rock is a family”, images with only white men. It does no good to point at a neighborhood of burning houses while also standing in a house on fire. It is true, in 2015, the flames in the house of punk may climb up the walls more slowly than, say, the flames in the Fox News building. But the house is still on fire. Too often, the choice in punk rock and D.I.Y. spaces for non-white men is a choice between being tokenized, or being invisible.