The Afropunk Festival rose to notoriety for its inclusivity of non-conforming black folks, a concept that some festival goers have begun to question.
One couple attending the late August festivities in Brooklyn accused Afropunk of exchanging inclusivity for intolerance. Erika Hart and her partner, Ebony Donnely, claimed via social media posts that they were thrown out of the VIP section for wearing a handmade shirt which read "Afropunk sold out for white consumption."
*Thread* My partner and I were just escorted out of backstage by two large security guards because his shirt reads “Afropunk sold out for white consumption” #afropunk— Ericka Hart (@iHartEricka) August 27, 2018
At an event that claims to be punk, a stand against racism and resistance to kick us out of a space because the owner and his followers were butt hurt is the complete opposite of why we come #Afropunk— Ericka Hart (@iHartEricka) August 27, 2018
The feeling that follows calling out a major institution is not fair and likely what stops people from speaking out. I do hope people get the issue is way bigger than being forcibly kicked out of a space for wearing a shirt. Afropunk’s Instagram photo reads #notrumpism and yet I’m pretty sure #matthewmorgan behaved in the same ways Trump does: I don’t like what you have to say, so you are out. The most disheartening part about speaking up about something is that we don’t have hella celebrity backing or a large machine behind us to protect us from any retribution or fallout or upset that comes with it by the institution especially one that colludes with @instagram to take messages down or stop a hashtag, etc. and the other black people questioning our motives cause of how much they’ve been harmed into silence. I get it. We live in a country that claims to encourage speaking out and yet when it’s done, you are policed and asked “so why did you come?” It’s my own internalized antiblackness that I know people have been harmed at @afropunk and by the festival organizers, people who look like me and I went anyway and that’s a larger intracommunal convo of all the shit we participate in even though we know it’s harmful. I don’t want to support an event that doesn’t care about black people even one that I like. And resistance looks like disrupting a space even one that I like. Performative activism diminishes people’s work, which is also why we are getting questioned for wearing the shirt at the event. Should we have stayed home and tweeted about it? . I hope that this incident has us all check our anti-Blackness. We ALL have it. Listen and support Black people. We aren’t the only ones. Black people die for much less with no visibility. . . . . . #afropunk18 #performativeactivism #antiblackness #dothework #calloutinstitutions #boycottredapplenails
According to Donnely, the duo was invited to spend time in VIP as compensation for Hart participating in a documentary collaboration with Mass Appeal. Donnely's shirt soon became a focal point which allegedly led AfroPunk owner Matthew Morgan to begin questioning with "no interest of dialogue."
As the exchange escalated, the couple was ultimately kicked out with Morgan allegedly saying, “This is my house. This is MY house. They have to leave.”
Hart and Donnely's story caused waves on social media, and they haven’t been the only people to question whether Afropunk has forgotten its roots.
your annual reminder that Black punks BEEN critiquing Afropunk for YEARS now and the current popularity of the festival is absolutely built on the re-marginalization of the Black punks who created the festival in the first place.— juju jones (@so_treu) August 26, 2018
afropunk kicking someone out for wearing a t-shirt stating "afropunk sold out for white consumption" while continuing to tote Black radical + (diluted) punk traditions as their brand + digital presence is why you lot in the Black capitalist crowd cannot be trusted— vanessa taylor (@BaconTribe) August 27, 2018
Amid the backlash, the organization addressed the controversy in a Wednesday Instagram post.
"We are living in incredibly challenging and oppressive political times. As Black people, we face overwhelming confrontations—systemic racism, social injustice, disproportionate rates of incarceration, higher health disparities, and the ravages of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. We are under attack. The AFROPUNK platform was conceived to celebrate Black excellence and create a safe space for Black folks who are marginalized men and women, gender non-conforming, and those considered other by white heteronormative powers that be. We give our AFROPUNK community a voice, a platform and a space to express themselves and be their authentic and unapologetic selves. Being activists is hard, uncomfortable, and sometimes complicated. There was an unfortunate incident at AFROPUNK Brooklyn with Ericka Hart and her partner/friend Ebony Donnley, and friend Lorelei Black were asked to leave a backstage area of the festival which was for talent and working staff. The couple/friends were escorted back to the VIP section where they stayed for the rest of the evening. We have great respect for Ericka and Ebony and would never kick them out of AFROPUNK."
The organization went on to issue an apology to Hart and Donnely, expressing that mistreatment was never the intent.
"We are sorry that Ericka and Ebony feel mistreated," the statement continued. "That was not, nor has it ever been, our intention. We have supported Ericka and her activism for many years. We celebrate her voice, her activism and her black body. She is a part of our AFROPUNK community."
Afropunk adds that the organization will stay true to its mission of uplifting the black community.
Following the organization's official statement, Afropunk's editor-in-chief, Lou Constant-Desportes, announced on Facebook he had resigned. In his statement, Constant-Desportes accuses the company of mistreating its employees and using "performative 'activism' dipped in consumerism and 'woke' keywords" to make money.
"I have experienced and witnessed so many lies, gaslighting, disrespect, victim-blaming, exploitation, not to mention overworked, undervalued and underpaid staff being kept in precarious situations, that my only consolation was producing editorial work that could somewhat be independent and serve the community," Constant-Desportes wrote. "I also was in denial for a while about how violent what I and others had been through was."
The former editor-in-chief claims Afropunk tried to coerce him into signing a "non-disclosure agreement in exchange for 'hush money'" once he informed company leadership of his decision, but he refused because he believes "staying silent is not doing anyone justice, not to mention that it keeps me and others in harm's way. We deserve better."
Constant-Desportes is credited with transforming the Afropunk website from an online message board to the media outlet it is today, according to Get In Media. He took the job after studying journalism in Paris. The organization has never had another editor-in-chief, and in an interview with Get In Media, Constant-Desportes described his role with the company as being very hands-on.
"I actually research and find most of the topics and artists covered on Afropunk.com," the former editor-in-chief said. "I think that’s why people enjoy Afropunk, we don’t just post whatever publicists send our way, and we go and look for great things to cover."
Afropunk has yet to issue a statement on Constant-Desportes' resignation.
Now, check these out: