Land of Afros: An Afropunk Experience

Over the weekend, I made my pilgrimage to the mecca of melanin, Afropunk in Brooklyn, NY. Despite the atrocious handling from the inaugural attempt of Afropunk Atlanta last year, I decided togive the real thing a fair chance to make an impression on me. I've seen promotions and photos for the festival for years. The rawness captured in the images, the fashion, the musical acts, it dripped with unapologetically blackness. My rebellious, 'off-the-beaten-path' soul craved to be with like minds, and this looked like the place to find them; at the black hipster haven.

I arrived at the Land of Afros with my best friend around 1pm. The bass from various DJ sets murmured with glee. As we walked through the gates, we were greeted with a walking collage of blackness. Everywhere we turned were colorful arrays of hairs, body paint, and patterned textiles. The coils were popping, the kinks were thick, the locs were adorned with jewels. There were families in matching kente cloth outfits, groups of friends laughing and posing for selfies. And of course, the ever fashionable all black ensemble was alive and well.

We set up shop by the Gold stage with our Thai food-truck meal under a shady tree. Minutes later, we were joined by a few of our friends, buzzing with excitement for the day. Everything was formulated to be a lovely day in the park. That is until the Social Zombies & the Culture Vultures showed up.

At typical black events, there are two distinct waves of attendees: There are the early goers, the people who understand being prompt. And then there are those who abide by CP {color people} time, casually strutting in hours after an event has started with no shame. My friends and I were a part of the early goers. By 5pm, we were outnumbered by CP timers and the mood drastically changed.What started as a day of fun in the sun, became a large scale photoshoot, caravans of people posing for various cameras, outfits becoming more elaborate and "out there" for shock factor, rather than for artistic expression. As we explored the festival grounds, I began to see more and more people glued to their phones, hunched over in a slumped manner, than actually engaging with others. The bumps and grooves from the music grew faint as the sunbegan to rest. Even as musical acts performed, the festival goers seemed unbothered and uninterested, snaking around, crowding and bunching together, only to take a few pictures, and proceed to move around once more. No one was dancing, people were barely singing along, mumbling halfway through to the lead single. The crowd just stood, and talked, and bumped into one another.

By far the most baffling thing was the lack of care and respect I experienced. There is an unspoken rule about open park events where those who wish to camp out, come early and claim their spot. It can be a simple set up with a blanket, or it can be a whole spread with tent coverings, chairs, grill and food (the works). Because AfroPunk does not allow for the latter, we had the simple blanket set up. And everyone(with enough sense) knows:


That's like trying to get to the back side of the street by cutting through someone's house. (-_-) You just don't do that. You move through the crowd standing up or along the path, but you don't try to lunge over people's laps to get through the space. But apparently this crowd has never heard of such an unspoken rule.

So there we were, fuming on our blanket set up, with hundreds of footprints stomped into them. Some asked was it okay to cross over, to which we said, "No." Some said out loud, "Oh I don't wanna step on the blanket. Sorryyy." Proceeds to step anyway. Some were ill-mannered, ranting "Why do they got these carpets out here!" Carpets. Really? One chick even fell onto my friend's lap because she tried to practice doing lunges over our blankets. Smh. And it continued into the night, through the final musical acts.

So all and all this was my take away from Afro Land: There was a strong sense of narcissism lingering in the air. It felt like many of the people who came out, weren't there for the hings AfroPunk stands for (being counter culture for black millennials, elevating our fun with a sense of social purpose and duty). Instead, they were there to be seen, to take their pictures, get a few snaps, and be on their merry way. And while the original festival might have stayed true to the vision that is conveyed in the photos on the website and social media posts, what I experienced Sunday felt like a soulless shell of what was once a beautiful experience.