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Photo Talking appropriation and radical blackness at Afropunk Atlanta 2019

Oct. 28, 2019
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From #AllLivesMatter to box braid school bans, it’s clear that America is overwhelmed by its fear of black people.

Well, here’s a message from the Afropunkers at Atlanta’s 2019 festival: get over it.

Afropunk, derived from the intersection of black culture and punk politics, is an evolution of revolutionist ideals fed into music, a phenomenon that became a space and a culture. Now, it is the festival for black punks, alt kids, and artists. On the weekend of October 12th, it came to the ATL—the blackest city in the South.

 Set in the dead center of Mechanicsville, the festival grounds rose from rows of dark houses and stoops, brightening the murk of an overcast sky that loomed over the city that day. Inside the gates, I could see the fire painted onto beautiful black bodies, see the dancing flames of rebellion and pain and love and art flutter over dark, gleaming skin, embedded like glistening rhinestones against cheekbones, airy feathers threaded through curls. 

The evening was smoky with fog; it felt as if, colorful specters in beads and silks and velvet, we drifted through the currents of a dream, ethereal ribbons dancing into the mist, swaying to tides of music that crashed and crooned and cried. 

Now, the festival is broadcasting a new message to Afropunkers both new and old: #WESEEYOU. It’s plastered all over promotional materials and social banners, the slogan of this year’s festival. But what does it mean?

Well, Afropunk for many of us is one of the few spaces where the black community can escape the never-ending evils of cultural erasure. We can be black, proud, and flamboyant as fuck about it. But when we start opening those metaphorical gates, what do we risk by letting the mainstream in? And does an admissions ticket mean a seat at the table? 

And let me tell you, it gets exhausting—being black and carefree has been the biggest scam Instagram ever pulled over on me. But maybe Afropunk is the closest we’ve come to achieving it.

We’re here, and we’re not going anywhere. Being seen doesn’t come from a marketing campaign, a t-shirt or a singular event—it comes from a community.

Here’s what that community has to say. 

Melannie Owade is a multidisciplinary artist who specializes in crowns, jewelry, denim art, and accessories. When asked what Afropunk means to her, here’s how she responded:

“It’s a form of self-expression. It’s rebellious to express ourselves in spite of all of the things put against us as black people—slavery, oppression. Here, we express ourselves without being limited.”

Oceana Franklin is an Illinois native living in Atlanta. We asked her whether opening Afropunk to different cultures could take away its power.

“You can’t whitewash Afropunk. Yes, they’re trying to appeal to a wider crowd, but Afropunk’s whole message is bigger than just a race… It’s a way to show them, ‘This is what we do, this is who we are.’”

Sha’tori Larkins is a film photographer. She’s been to Afropunk in both Brooklyn and Atlanta. We asked her what “We See You” means to her.

“It’s about all these different people coming together. We see you in every aspect of your life, your growth. It’s like, you aren’t alone—we’re here, and we’re going to be here no matter where you are.”

Sucoyia Stewart is a fashion blogger, businesswoman, and first-time Afropunker. We asked her what it means to be seen.

“It means to wake up and come out to the world and feel like people accept you, and get you for who you are, not judging. It’s just love. We see you—in all your love, in all your glory, in all your light.”

Maia Lund is a second-time Afropunker and journalism student at Kennesaw State. We asked her why it’s so important to be seen.

“I was a part of the black student union in college and they kind of publicly made these demands from our university for a black space… It was on a micro-scale, but creating that environment for black people will be able to create that kind of changes within society rather than just on a college campus.”

Olivia Bennett, a first-time Afropunker, is a travel agent who’s been awaiting the ATL fest for months. We asked her what makes Afropunk so unique.

“You will be accepted. Black self-expression looks like whatever you want it to look like.”

Christian Washington, another first-time Afropunker, is a cook and service industry professional. We asked him what Afropunk means to him.

“Afropunk, for me, is like a pilgrimage to celebrate my blackness… Being seen in the sense of greater society just calls for us to be unapologetic, and not allow ourselves to not be seen.”

Raven Sprewell, a professional in the culinary and cannabis industry, is a second-time Afropunker. We asked her what the implications of opening Afropunk to other cultures could be.

“I think that many people who aren't black who gravitate to Afropunk may just want to understand us, let loose, have fun, not feeling intimidated by us. They get to see a different side of us as people.”

Najjiya Coussey, a Nike retail recruiter, is new to Atlanta and Afropunk. We asked her how she feels about Afropunk moving away from its radical and DIY roots.

“I think the message Afropunk creates never strays from its true authenticity. But as people keep catching on, it’s obviously going to need to appeal to the masses.”

Rayvon Griffin is a photographer, graphic designer, makeup designer, and second-time Afropunker. We asked him what it means to be seen.

“It means being able to have such a welcoming community that people walk up to you and tell you look good, and you have conversations like you’ve been friends for ten years.”