with Janee Woods
I recently visited Provincetown, Massachusetts during its nationally renowned Carnival, an annual celebration dedicated to gay pride. PTown, as the locals affectionately call it, is a tiny but special placeon Cape Cod where LGBTQ people are welcomed year round and given safe haven from the heteronormative cultures of other communities. Saying that Pride Week is crazy fun is a huge understatement, especially in the wake of marriage equality becoming the law of the land. If you love equal rights, outrageous costumes, partying in the streets until the wee hours of the night and then sleeping it off on the beach the next day with 90,000 gay-friendly people, then PTown is right for you.
People-watching at Carnival is awesome. Everywhere, I saw people of all ages, all genders, all sizes feeling free to be who they are, whether that meant walking hand in hand with their same sex partner or wearing a gender nonconforming outfit without fear of backlash by haters and homophobes. I could feel the exuberance swelling up all around, a sense that we were all free because nobody had to hide their love for someone else or for themselves. Letting that exuberance wash over me felt good, even as I carry the privilege attached to being a gender conforming straight ciswoman. Still, there’s something powerfully moving about sharing a space where you know that people around you aren’t forced to hide their truth.
Fast forward a couple days post-Carnival and I was at the biggest, Blackest event I’ve ever attended: Afropunk Fest in Brooklyn, which was practically a spiritual experience. Everyone was gorgeous. Seriously. Everyone was there to celebrate Black music and culture. Everyone was in love with Blackness. Never before had I seen so many people from the African diaspora in one place, representing every hue on the spectrum of beige to brown to black.
In addition to an incredible musical lineup, the rules for Afropunk are laid out in bold right across the stage, essentially demanding an intentional space for intersectionality. The intersectionality that I missed at Carnival was out in full force and in your face at Afropunk, including performances calling attention to police brutality and the murder epidemic endangering transpeople of color. The primary focus was lifting up Afrocentric culture, but nobody was excluded because of ethnicity, disability, appearance or sexual orientation or any of those other categories that divide us. At Afropunk, I felt proud to be a member of the crowd, and a strong sense of comfort knowing that I belonged to Blackness and that Blackness belonged to me right then in that place. We upheld a social contract that we would accept everyone and their personal expression of Blackness just as they were, without any need for questions or justification. This was a revelation for me because as a biracial kid growing up with a white family in a white community, I constantly needed to explain my appearance and family relationships to white people. Afropunk was different. I belonged simply because I showed up ready to love my Blackness, and the space existed for me to do that however I knew how.
Lenny Kravitz closed out the last night of the festival, which happened to also be the eve of my birthday. He swaggered across the stage feeling the joy of performing for the very first time in the neighborhood where he spent his childhood, wearing sunglasses at night and super-tight pants like only a real rock star can, singing pitch perfect anthems about love, faith and his mama. Toward the end of the concert, he lead the audience in a chant.
“Your life is a gift. Your life is a gift. Your life is a gift.”
I lost myself in the chanting, believing fully in the words rising up from deep inside and feeding off the thrill of lifting my voice in the company of thousands of Black voices. My life is a gift. My Blackness is a gift. I had never experienced the affirmation of proclaiming this truth in the presence of a community of Black people. What a profound and revolutionary mantra to usher in the next year of my existence.
This post (including the awesome graphics and photos) was published originally on Scenarios USA, where I am a new contributor. Scenarios USA is where young people and millennials go to talk about social justice issues, the Internet, culture, film and whatever else is on their mind! Scenarios USA is a national organization that uses writing and film to foster youth leadership, advocacy and self-expression, with a focus on marginalized communities.