I forgot that AfroPunk was this past weekend. So while others were out in the sun, enjoying the food, vendors and festivities, I was at home, getting some much needed rest, looking at pictures, and reading a particularly good think piece about the annual event. In an essay titled, #LiterarySwag: Shade In The Shadows, Yahdon Israel, writes about his hesitancy to attend AfroPunk.
While he felt the Black folk who attended the event were beautiful and eccentric, he wondered if their attire was authentic. Were they really about this life or were they just playing dress up, performing the type of Blackness deemed acceptable at an AfroPunk event.
I was also trying to figure out if everything I was seeing was for real. If the people with the purple pouted lips, the Bantu Knots, the lime green cornrows, and the tribal face paint were these people all the time? Or were they just doing that because they were at Afropunk? I wondered if the only way these people felt their bodies could navigate Afropunk successfully was by dying their afros pink and wearing dashikis?
But then, after further reflection Israel realizes that maybe AfroPunk was one of the few places where this type of in-your-face-Blackness could be accepted, without condemnation or consequence.
The “family secret” amongst black people is the visceral knowledge that our bodies’ survival and success in the world, be it black or white, is predicated on acting, on performing. While it is true that acting and performing concede to the idea that we aren’t being authentic—that we aren’t “keeping it real,” that we aren’t “keeping it 100,”—it is also true that this “authenticity” has always come with an asterisk.
I was reminded of his words when I came across the story of Ericka Hart. Hart also attended AfroPunk this past weekend. And she did so topless.
In a recent Instagram post, Ericka described her decision to do so.
Afropunk feels like a second birthday and pride for me all rolled into one celebratory black queer time. Lots of people have been asking me why I went topless, so I thought I’d share. Black people are at increased risk for many health disparities and we don’t always talk about them, resist doctors, and die at early ages (all of which are directly related to historical trauma due to white supremacy). Often, I share my experiences to support others in whatever way feels good and that was definitely one of my reasons for going topless. But, I also wanted to bring visibility and honor to my breasts just as they are. People often go topless at music festivals. Why not me too? Everyday is an act of resistance of loving my breasts (and body) just the way it is. Being topless took something for me each day. People stared. Wanted to take photos. Asked me questions. Told me their experiences with cancer. I have never felt so connected to people. So, it seems that when we share the most vulnerable parts of ourselves, others around us will do the same. Thank you black folks at #afropunk for loving on me! I am free. #blackgirlmagic #fuckcancer #scars #freedom #etinan #blackjoy #feltbeautiful #queen #here @afropunk @enitan_vintage
As you might imagine, Ericka would not have been able to walk down the street baring her breasts. AfroPunk provided the space for that. There are still far too many places in this world where women aren’t safe. Other countries have issued travel advisory warnings for Black people traveling to the United States. Because interacting with law enforcement, with Black skin, is not safe. And with homophobia preached as religious doctrine, it’s certainly not safe to be queer either. And Ericka happens to be all three. Where else, besides AfrroPunk, could she express herself in this way, safely?
Veronica Wells is the culture editor at MadameNoire. She is also the author of “Bettah Days.”