Racism sucks. Oppression’s exhausting. And navigating the world as a young, black person at times feels like swimming against a never-ending, upstream current—but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things to celebrate.
In a time of political turmoil, amid a fraught racial climate, this year’s Afropunk Festival (which has been thriving in New York for 15 years now, and expanded globally in 2015) was a necessary breath of fresh air. The music and art festival centers on black performers and organizations, and its rules—“No Sexism, No Racism, No Ableism, No Ageism, No Homophobia, No Fatphobia, No Transphobia, and No Hatefulness”—encourage a space that fosters meaningful connections, bolstered by a powerful, profound soundtrack over Brooklyn’s Commodore Barry Park.
We asked eight different young people what spending the past weekend here meant to them, and why they found black-centric spaces to be important. These were their answers.
Tsige Tadesse, BUFU co-founder
“Black-centered spaces, POC centered spaces—to me, [they] spell out joy and resistance-making. They’re essential for us to rejuvenate ourselves and build together. From kicking it hard and having a good time to having really important political discussions to coming together in solidarity with direct actions—any time we’re together, it’s fucking lit.”
“I feel like we live in a society where—even if it isn’t said aloud or upfront—pretty much everything is naturally geared towards white people and white-cis-presenting people, because they’re seen as the default. It’s important to have these spaces because we need them, we need to be pushed to the front to stop having that narrative—that it’s just white people [who] are the most important and allowed to occupy every space. We need to be represented. We’re important too.”
“Black-centric spaces are important for the continued growth of black communities. There are so many different communities that like to take pieces from black culture but don’t like black people, so in order for us to survive, maintain and grow as a whole, we need to come together and do events like this.”
“I don’t always acknowledge how draining it can be to live in this body while moving through predominantly white institution after predominantly white institution. So, a space like this—where I’m surrounded by black people dancing to all of our favorite self-care anthems—is energizing on a level only we can understand. I will never listen to Solange’s ‘F.U.B.U.’ again without thinking of her Afropunk performance and how carefree we all were together that night.”
“I’m trying to congregate our ancestral power in one place and space. It feels so powerful and loving to be surrounded by blackness, especially when you’ve grown up in majority white-centric spaces. It feels very validating and beautiful to be here.”
“I have a lot of friends who came from neighborhoods that are predominately white, I was called an “oreo” in middle school, I was made fun of for listening to Linkin Park and ironically, that was the first time I learned that I was black. Coming from that and coming to this is [like]: Holy shit, I can do whatever I want! There’s no box here. This is exposure to say hey, you can wear whatever the fuck you want, do whatever you want, and you’re still black and beautiful. I think people need that to help with their identity and learn about themselves.”
“When you’re a young black person living in working in predominately white spaces, when you spend time in a space that’s predominately back, your status quo is sort of reset. Your sense of what is beautiful, your sense of what strength looks like, your sense of what joy looks like—it’s refreshed by being in a black space. I think it’s revitalizing. I feel very aligned in a time where I feel lots of disarray.”
“I look back and think about growing up in a house of black girls and women where too much of that time was spent working, struggling, and trying to protect ourselves from trauma. Being in black spaces not even so many years later feel first and foremost celebratory: celebrating that we are still here, that we are collectively strong, and that we are more creative and vibrant each year.”
To see more pictures from the festival and learn about the Afropunk community, visit afropunk.com.