According to the Afropunk Atlanta website, the two-day music festival is “defining culture by the collective creative actions of the individual and the group. It is a safe place, a blank space to freak out in, to construct a new reality, to live as you see fit, while making sense of the world around you.”
Afropunk is situated in the neighborhood of Mechanicsville, a neighborhood eight minutes away from the school I attend, Maynard Jackson High. I even saw a few familiar faces. I am fairly familiar with this part of town, it’s dilapidation heavily contrasts with the spirit of the people who are apart of it. A popular playground singing with black kids two blocks away from the concert is a testament to this.
Safety In Blackness
My experience of Afropunk was what I imagine an HBCU to be like everyday — safety in blackness. I love my people and I am proud of us. After talking to people, getting to know them and their stories, I found myself noticing how many black hairstylists, clothing designers, jewelry makers, writers, and other artists were all together in one place. This is what Afropunk is all about — “the [black] individual and the group.”
So imagine my surprise, at my first Afropunk, seeing Target, AT&T, Budweiser and other juggernaut white-owned corporations setting up shop, plastering their signs across the concert.
I won’t pretend that concerts don’t need sponsorships, and in this case, on the surface it is a good thing — supporting black people. But I also won’t pretend that giant corporations haven’t exploited black people under the guise of “supporting” for decades. To some this sounds like an overreaction, a complaint on what businesses do. They make money and find the opportunity to do so in our market structure. But using black people should not be normalized.
Target Wants Our Money
My friend Tajah who was with me at the festival (who is also incredibly educated on social and political issues affecting the black community) says this: “Target is doing what a lot of big companies and corporations do in minority settings: they capitalize and pander towards us. Because we all know that Target doesn’t actually give two f**ks about black people. They want our money and they just know how to get it.”
A lot of us are used to our faces being used to promote white-owned businesses or slang and terminology we’ve created being used in advertising campaigns. We’re used to seeing the fashion trends and hairstyles we create getting called ghetto on us, but designer and trendy on them. It starts small at a music concert, but it should not be normalized.
Afropunk is not just any concert. Afropunk is a festival celebrating black people, our accomplishments and what we can make– it’s not just music. When you have black vendors selling their products outside of Afropunk, right outside their homes, when you have black business owners traveling across the city to sell their products at the Afropunk entrance, they are just as much, if not even more a part of the celebration of black people, then those who paid their ticket.
A Betrayal of Black Artists
So when I see the Target sign plastered high and mighty at the entrance, I see a complete dishonoring of what Afropunk represents. I see a spitting in the face of independent artists who struggle to push their products over those sold at giant corporations like Target. I see a betrayal of black artists who come (some from hundreds of miles away) to Afropunk because it is one of the few spaces made specifically for us.
So Target, if you actually want to support black people, you’d highlight our business owners by silently sponsoring Afropunk, instead of setting up a booth with your obnoxiously giant logo, looming over the heads of the same people you say you’re supporting. You will not use us for an advertising campaign. You will not claim to support black women while selling white-owned natural hair products like “Mane N’ Tail” or “As I am.” We are not props for your capitalist gain.
I Will Not Let This Be Normalized
Do not tell me to use your hashtag, do not claim to support us because you don’t. You saw thousands of black bodies coming to enjoy a celebration of us and you saw the influence of the black dollar, not Afropunk. And while these seem like obvious statements — “they’re a business, they need to make money” — it’s this same capitalist agenda that crushes the black community and I will not let it be normalized.
We should not be comfortable with them infiltrating our spaces. It should not be normalized to have them use our faces and crush our communities. Afropunk Atlanta, you have set up shop in a relatively poor black neighborhood, right by my school, a largely dilapidated neighborhood, blasting music in the houses of those same people who, tomorrow, have to get up to work for similar capitalist institutions because they have no other option but to do so.
The ones that are often paid incredulously little by the corporations that have the ability to pay them more. But instead, they capitalize off their labor, creating billion-dollar companies that give absolutely nothing back to the communities they silence and step on.
Afropunk, If you can not acknowledge the hypocrisy of advertising the same corporations that are part of the problem, then I will not be attending next year.
Tyler Bey, 17, attends Maynard Jackson High and is a theatre lover.