Shortly after its 18th annual festival in Brooklyn’s Commodore Barry Park, Afropunk was placed under a microscope after attendees complained of being unfairly ejected from the festival for exercising their right to free speech. A couple was reportedly forcedly removed from the park for donning a DIY shirt that read, “Afropunk sold out for white consumption.”
The festival released a statement after being hit with backlash, but the next day, AfroPunk’s Editor-in-Chief of its digital platform, Lou Constant-Desportes resigned, accusing the outwardly pro-black entity of underpaying staff, exploiting culture, gaslighting and disrespect.
“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 at the time. “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.’”
Now, two months after the blowback, more accounts are coming forward on the toxic work environment some staff members, vendors, associates and artists endured while dealing with the company.
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According to a new, extensive blog post on The Rad Voice, 11 anonymous and named individuals came forward with statements of varying degrees of alleged mistreatment and generally “harmful” behaviors.
“Afropunk has not practiced the very teachings that catalyzed and sustained their movement. Our bodies and freedoms have been intimidated, our creativity stolen and our voices silenced for ‘consumption,'” said photographer Mambu Bayoh, who details a physical encounter. “Many people were dealt with violently including myself, at the hands of Matthew Morgan, Jocelyn Cooper and their 1-10 silent partners and owners. In 2015, after Afropunk Brooklyn, I confronted Matthew Morgan regarding the use of my work without my permission. We agreed he and the company would no longer do that. In 2016, I returned to take photographs. Morgan instructed the security hold me down. He walked up to me, dug his hands in my pockets and took my photo memory card from me. Then he forcibly and physically kicked me out of the festival, with the muscle of his security.” Additionally, Bayoh filed a lawsuit against the festival for using his work without permission.
The time when people remained silent about abuse, lies, theft, exploitation is over.
What happens when a company that claims to be radical and ‘for us, by us’ harms and silences people? Are we supposed to keep supporting this corporation? No thanks https://t.co/9RtCg0wEl1
— Lou Constant-Desportes (@LouConstantDesp) October 17, 2018
Kendall S., a former Afropunk intern, said that, “During a design meeting, Matthew [Morgan] told the graphic design interns to make the marketing materials more ‘accessible.’ He told us to put more white people on them to attract them to Afropunk. His reasoning was that American Blacks don’t have any money, therefore it was a waste of time to market to them.”
Head here to read all of the complaints against the expanding festival—Afropunk has gone on to set up shop in London, Atlanta, Paris and Johannesburg—in full.