Criticism of AfroPunk has reached an all-time high this week when a member of the festival’s publication vertical resigned with a long list of accusations against the company. Editor-in-Chief Lou Constant-Desportes of Afropunk.com announced his resignation on Facebook Wednesday (Sept. 4) while raising claims of “gaslighting, disrespect, victim-blaming and exploitation.” He also went on to claim employee mishandlings, from underpayment to company heads watering down AfroPunk’s radical values.
Kicking off as a free festival in the aughts, AfroPunk’s festival and cultural extensions are worldwide with artists, actors and more celebrities lending their voice to the importance of black culture.
“When the editorial content was too ‘radical’ or unapologetic for their taste, we were asked to tone it down, our independence was compromised,” he said. “I resisted the best I could and repeatedly fought against, called out unethical behaviors and decisions internally when I saw them, to the point where I was being considered inconvenient and negative by management. Meanwhile, they were using radical imagery, slogans and intersectional mottos to market their events. 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.”
Constant-Desportes added how he refused a paid settlement at the time of his resignation. With AfroPunk in areas like Atlanta, London and Johannesburg, Constant-Desportes hints that leadership has dwindled across the board.
“I tried to convince myself that I could continue and do it for the community, maintain my integrity in this unhealthy environment, keep giving ‘second chances’ to people who don’t even seem to understand how problematic their actions are, or be selfish and try to at least reap some of the benefits generated by my hard work,” he said. “But staying silent is not doing anyone justice, not to mention that it keeps me and others in harm’s way. We deserve better.”
The festival has faced a slew of criticism from the public as of late. Mic reports two former allies of AfroPunk were removed from its Brooklyn installation last month after educator Ebony Donnley wore a shirt that said, “Afropunk sold out for white consumption.”
The couple claimed they were removed by co-founder Matthew Morgan, who questioned her presence at the festival due to her t-shirt. A statement was released by the festival who apologized “if the couple felt mistreated.”
“AFROPUNK is not perfect and the people who work and run AFROPUNK are not perfect, but we work hard and do our best with the resources we have at hand to give back to our community,” the festival said in August.
Morgan and Jocelyn Cooper created the free event in 2005 following the 2003 documentary of the same name, that explored black creatives in white punk realms. Since it was switched from donation to a general admission and the inclusion of larger acts, criticism about the festival’s culture increased.
Speaking with Mass Appeal last year, the two shared the festival’s impact on festival culture and beyond.
“I’d like to think we’ve had an enormous impact, along with a lot of other things that come together to create change. I think it continues to change the notions of identity and what one can and cannot do based on the color of their skin,” Morgan said. “There’s certainly an alternative to perceptions that were there a decade or two ago. It wasn’t even acceptable in certain places for black kids to skateboard in their (own) neighborhood 10 year ago. So things have changed.”
“Connecting people and promoting young artists, that is the heartbeat of AFROPUNK and our main business,” Cooper added. “The festivals themselves are just a celebration of that community.”
Read Constant-Desportes’ statement below.