The Afropunk brand—characterized by the online news outlet, Afropunk.com, and an ever-growing international festival series—has weathered many accusations of Whitewashing and selling out ever since its humble beginning in James Spooner’s 2003 documentary, “Afro-Punk.” Lou Constant-Desportes, the founding editor-in-chief of Afropunk.com, delivered the latest of these criticisms in a Facebook post announcing his resignation yesterday (September 5).
Without naming specific people, Constant-Desportes alleged that the website and festival’s parent company routinely appropriated symbols of Black activism while disregarding those tenets in dealings with employees.
“It’s almost hard to know where to start because the philosophy and actions of some of the people who run the company are so at odds with the values that they claim to stand for, that it’s puzzling to watch them and their corporate entourage continue to practice their performative ‘activism’ dipped in consumerism and ‘woke’ keywords used for marketing purposes,” he wrote. “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 added that he wanted to speak out as the company tried to “make [him] sign a non-disclosure agreement in exchange for ‘hush money.’” He further charged leaders with trying to censor editorial material they found “too ‘radical’ or ‘unapologetic’ to their taste.”
“Meanwhile, they were using radical imagery, slogans and intersectional mottos to market their events,” he continued. “Performative activism offered to sponsors as ways to promote their products. Elitism under the guise of ‘Black excellence.’ One of the owners doesn’t even seem to have a real grasp of what intersectionality actually is, but sure knows how to put it on huge banners and market it to the masses.”
As of press time, Afropunk had not publicly addressed the statement via Afropunk.com or social media.
Constant-Desportes resigned two weeks after this year’s Afropunk Brooklyn festival. Many attendees accused the festival of forsaking the concert’s Black punk and anti-establishment roots as it grows and books more high-profile acts. For instance, Ericka Hart and Ebony Donnley called festival co-founder Matthew Morgan out online for allegedly forcibly removing them and a friend from a festival VIP area because Donnley’s shirt read, “Afropunk sold out for White Consumption.” Organizers told The Root that the group was “asked to leave a backstage area of the festival which was for talent and working staff,” adding that they were “sorry that Ericka and Ebony feel mistreated.” Ericka lambasted the “non-apology and blatant lie” in an Instagram post yesterday:
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