op-ed: “why i am thankful for afropunk”

January 17, 2014

The first time I posted something, it was a reasoning as to why I signed onto the website in the first place. I saw many people complain that the site wasn’t quite living up to its “punk” namesake. In other words, they want more Fishbone and Cerebral Ballzy and less Erykah Badu. After someone on Afropunk wrote their take on the site, I was moved to write my own.
What Afropunk did for me was show me that there, indeed, is more to being black than the stereotypes we were sold from the Zip Coon stereotype on TV down to the fire-breathing Sapphire type. It showed me that I can be “weird” all I want, I can be proper, I can be geeky, I can be me, and that shouldn’t be a bad thing in the black community. After all, if there is anything that black people love to do is talk about ways we can improve the matters in our own community. Someone in the movie of the site’s namesake had pointed out that “we can’t talk about other people, till we fix our own shit.”

By Lightning Pill, AFROPUNK Contributor
Banner photo: Afropunk Festival goers by Greg Cristman/Stereogum.

Do you remember the time when you were told that rock music was white music and hip-hop was black music? Time after time, we proved that wasn’t true, due to the aid of Eminem (and various other white rappers), your good amount of Latin rappers (Big Pun and Fat Joe), and even rappers from Israel to China to Sweden to Wales. R&B isn’t just a black thing anymore, since we all recently embraced Bruno Mars (?), Lorde and Robin Thicke. Meanwhile, people like to say playing anything close to rock isn’t a black thing, like Chuck Berry, B.B. King and Lenny Kravitz were merely unicorns that popped out of a magical fairyland where black people weren’t rapping about money for money. It hasn’t been a new day for us. People just like to play like they know what makes us black, when they hadn’t the faintest idea. It doesn’t help that we have been conditioned to believe that a majority of the time, people who don’t make anything that strays from the common agenda will not make it in the world.

Before Afropunk, I won’t say I was completely disconnected from black people as a whole, but I was turned off by the constant reminder that I fit nowhere in your average sector of black people. From the ghetto kids to the uppity black people to the racially confused to the back-to-Africa types, I spent all my life looking for my place in the world as an “alternative” black person. Thus, the ‘Afro-Punk’ documentary was what I’d consider required watching. I was iffy on the idea of it being about “punk” musically, but I knew it was about the issues all of us go through in our own life. From the need to sit at the white kids’ table (metaphorically speaking) to the kind of shame our own people impose on us, what I got from the movie was that I wasn’t alone, and that if I wanted people like me to get some recognition, then it helps that I support people that were just like me.

I signed onto with a bit of nervousness, due to how many people took the title seriously. I’ll come out and admit that while I like punk rock and have learned a lot from the lifestyle, I was never that guy willing to sport a mohawk and listen to Minor Threat. That was the initial idea I got, too. Once I ignored that assumption, I gave all of my information and met some really cool people from across the nation. It didn’t matter whether the musicians were mainstream or punk or not. I cared more about the fact that we were a community. We rode skateboards, we read comics, we weren’t all Christians, we weren’t all buying into the Jay-Z kind of lifestyle, we were the kind of black people that other blacks made comments about. In a way, we didn’t have to start a loud revolution. We WERE the revolution.

What I learned from Afropunk is that if there is anything we need to do is start backing up our complaints as people with actions. Stop yapping about wising up and just do it. Meaning that if there is anything I want to do, I can without my skin being a big problem. We all have each other to fall back on.

So, regardless of what Afropunk turns into (from a grassroots community to that heralded by either Lil’ Wayne or Ciara in the future), I want to thank the site for existing and all of you for proving that people like us exist, deserve respect and shall own the earth one day.

Photo by Tim O’Brien