This is part 2 of my review of the Afropunk Festival 2016. For part 1, click this link: In the End, There Was the Beginning: Afropunk Festival 2016 A Review (Part 1) – Living Colour, Fishbone, and Bad Brains Share Stage.
As I walked among the mass of people attending Afropunk Festival 2016–sometimes pressed so close to them I could feel parts of clothing as well as parts of bodies I would never have encountered outside of the most intimate of circumstances, I thought a lot about the kind of culture we were producing together over the course of the two days. Like everything else, the Afropunk Festival is a product of its social and cultural moment. To better understand it, I’m gonna take the time to place it in its moment.
2016 United States Presidential Politics
The first time, among numerous times, I heard the elections referenced from the stage it was from spoken word artist and actor Saul Williams. At least, I think it was him. But it could have been the hip hop, punk group Ho99o9 (pronounced Horror), who performed before Saul. Their set was fucking amazing. Rage, abandon, adrenalin, and raw passion. Combining the best of the counter-mainstream sensibilities of old skool hip hop and punk, Ho99o9 did the damn thing on stage and, in my mind, could very easily have said the same thing Saul said, in essence, “Fuck Trump and Clinton. They are two heads of the same monster and neither has the best interests of Black people in their minds.” That’s not a direct quote, but I did capture the sentiment. The more I think about it I think that one of the members of Ho99o9 and Saul said it. I remember thinking at the time, “I’m home.”
In the article, Chickens, Please Come Home to Roost: The Clintons and Black People, I provided my critique of the relationship Hillary and Bill Clinton have had with Black people . And Trump? The basis of my disdain for him started with the full-page ad he placed in the New York Times to call for the reinstatement of the death penalty so that five Black and Latino boys who were the victims of police intimidation and eventual, wrongful conviction of the rape and brutal assault of a white woman could be put to death. In the ad, Trump called for an end to protests against police brutality so that cops could be unleashed to do what was necessary–to make the young men feel his anger. Ironically, it was the systematic corruption, anti-Blackness, ageism, and white supremacy of the New York City Police Department that made it possible for the five innocent boys to be the targets of Trump’s anger.
More recently, I learned about Trump’s history of housing discrimination against Black people. Although I appreciate the light it shines on those actions, I didn’t need that history to give me a reason to dislike Trump. I lived in New York City during the time of the ad–a Black boy around the same age of the boys who were brutalized by the government and Trump. I remember what it was like at that time living with a target on our backs because the white political and media elites had labelled us animals and racialized Black youth culture as “wilding in packs.” So I have no love lost for either Clinton or Trump.
in 2016 presidential election, the choice is clear: which wealthy white family do you want occupying the White House? Choice is not freedom.
It is powerful to think that although they are from two different generations of Black artists both Saul Williams and the member of Ho99o9 were in agreement about Clinton and Trump. It’s what I expected to hear at a punk festival, particularly at an Afropunk festival–critique of the State, mainstream, corporatism, neoliberalism, imperialism, fascism, white supremacy, and their agents. So imagine my surprise when I heard other artists at the festival shouting the obligatory, “Fuck Trump,” without any complementary “and Clinton too.” Petty partisan, shortsighted politics at a punk festival? Well, yeah at Afropunk Festival 2016. I thought, “Am I home?”
Home is a very complicated place, especially for a descendent of people who Europeans kidnapped from their homes, communities, and lands in Africa to work in chattel slavery here in the United States. For us, home is where you make it, even when you’re making it in some shit. I ended the night and my Afropunk Festival 2016 experience walking toward an exit in the nearly pitch-black darkness among throngs of bodies. In the background, I could hear Leticia James, Public Advocate for the City of New York, and New York City Councilmember Jumaane Williams. The two Democrats took to the stage after the powerjam performance while the crew set up for the Ice Cube set. Behind me, James and Williams emphatically and unconvincingly extolled the virtues of defeating Trump in the upcoming election. It was good that they were behind me. The metaphor of the kind of Black politics that makes Black politicians beholden to white political elites in their parties regardless of their record being performed behind my back and me putting that kind of politics in my rearview lit my path the hell outta there.
Read part 3 of this review, Fashion and Beautiful Young Bodies, A No Movement Make: Afropunk Festival 2016 A Review (Part 3) – Is this It?