body politics: the power of the black audience
By Awa Gueye
August 15, 2019
Plato’s “Allegory of The Cave” explores human perception. In this theory, he imagines three prisoners whose lives are spent shackled facing a wall. Behind the prisoners is a raised walkway and behind it a fire providing the prisoners with shadows of movement from the walkway in front of them. Eventually one of three prisoners becomes free and leaves the cave to discover his previous reality of shadows was not real, that there was more to the world. This sends him on an intellectual journey where he discovers beauty and meaning. The prisoner returns to the cave to tell the other prisoners about his findings. They are not ready to be set free and find him a threat.
Like most people who go to concerts of prominent Black artists, I spent the majority of my life watching these performers amongst a majority white audience. Though these artists’ lyrics and lives often depict our unique experience, it is rare that those who need to see themselves on stage are afforded the experience. Similarly, the artists often miss the honor of getting to perform amongst those who look like them. Experiencing my favorite artists with white people was usually pleasant enough until I was finally taken out of the cave and into the sun. Now I find it hard to go back.
I was 15 or 16 when I first left the cave and entered my first AFROPUNK. What I thought was a day of free music ended up being a door to a new reality. It absolutely ruined my relationship to concerts from then on out. It sounds obvious, but I had never imagined a world where a prominent Black artist could perform for a room full of Black people without the white gaze involved. This is where I first felt the feeling but I didn’t have the words for it until Tyler, The Creator.
Tyler’s first time playing AFROPUNK was my first year working behind the scenes as an intern. I made sure to sneak away for his performance as I’d always felt intimidated to go to one of his shows. They always sold-out instantly and seemed to be dominated by white kids. These kids loved him as I did but their ownership of him made me feel like there was no room for me at his shows. I feel a bit ashamed to admit that this intimidation stopped me from experiencing an artist who’s live shows changed my life. I am grateful I had the chance to catch him at the festival. He spoke to the crowd with his heart, explaining how all he ever wanted was to play music that meant the world to him to other Black people who didn’t quite fit the limits of our stereotype. Like me, he wasn’t always aware this was possible.
Since then, I have seen artist after artist proclaim their absolute joy of playing for our people. From new on the rise bands to mega stars like Solange or Lizzo, those who take the AFROPUNK stage and the Black faces that fill up the crowd create an overwhelming magic. I can’t wait until AFROPUNK Brooklyn next weekend, another opportunity to dance and sing with my people to my people. This joyous act of resistance is one of the great highlights of my year.
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