Category Archives: Culture

What Being Sexually Assaulted at Afropunk Taught Me

I’m no stranger to unwanted touch, non-desired looks, and involuntary comments. I’m used to people having the impression that my body exists for their gaze, and no longer has value when they’ve finished with it. This isn’t the first time I’ve written about sexual assault, and given the world we live in, I doubt it will be the last. 

I attended Afropunk this past August, for the second year in a row. My first year wasn’t too amazing considering that the festival over-sold tickets, and due to the high quantity of people there were numerous jams and congestion at the festival. I’m someone who has social anxiety and I do tend to have panic attacks when I’m in large crowds, so I suffered from feeling severely triggered my first year there. My second year was a lot better in regards to congestion, there weren’t as many people so I was able to actually enjoy the festival without having a mental breakdown (haha). I was also joined by friends that I don’t get to see often and new faces that I hope I will be able to get to know better over time. For the most part, my Afropunk experience was pretty amazing. Between seeing Tyler the Creator, Erykah Badu, and ACTUALLY being able to eat all the vegan food I want, I was living on cloud-9.

This year there were only really three things that made me feel uncomfortable, and I’ve spent a significant amount of time on my own trying to process it. The first being the presence of so many non-black folks. I love seeing so many people celebrating Black culture and Black joy, on the other hand, I understand Afropunk to be a festival for Punk Black folks by Punk Black folks. Afropunk to me is a festival that celebrates the Black kids who were teased for being weird, or acting too “White.” Obviously, it’s not become a festival that is for ALL Black folks (which is a conversation for another post), but I can’t help but side-eye White folks in African print and Dashikis made in India. I can’t help but wonder if they put on my culture for the weekend, and consider it unprofessional for the rest of the year. I couldn’t help but feel like it was ironic that folks were wearing tribal face paint while taking selfies next to shirts that say “No Cultural Appropriation.” 

The second thing I realized out of relief actually. When I would attend other festivals I’d constantly feel uncomfortable because of all the kids running around trying to drink illegally, or asking me to buy them alcohol (awkward). Then I realized, the reason why there were more adults at Afropunk is that a lot of Black families might not be able to afford for their kids to go to a super expensive festival. Yeah, you can volunteer and get free passes, but I started to feel uncomfortable that Afropunk wasn’t really for Black people. It was becoming a festival for the Black middle/upper class. 16-year-old Monisha, no matter how much she’d be able to benefit from being there, couldn’t afford the ticket. 23-year-old Monisha gets to bask in the magic because now she has a bit more privilege to afford it. The third thing that bothered me about Afropunk was a situation I’ve had to force myself not to be numb to. A situation I’ve spent a great deal of talking about, and researching about.

At the end of the first day of Afropunk, I was rather intoxicated and exhausted. I walked away from my group of friends because I felt extremely weak, my feet were hurting because I was wearing wedges, and I wanted to find somewhere that wasn’t so crowded so I could sit down. I went to the 21+ section and found a bench to relax on until my feet could recover a bit. “Hey.” I turned to my right to see a slender, clean-cut White man with a moderately thin mustache on his face (think Porn-stache, because that’s ALL I could think of). “Hey” I replied, figuring that there was no harm in having an exchanged with this stranger. It started with small talk, he asked me how I liked the festival and I explained how I loved that there were so many diverse types of Black folks. I loved seeing LGBTQ people being able to express ourselves, and that this festival really felt like a safe space for me. He then cut me off and asked: “Do you identify as trans?” I wasn’t stupid, at this point I figured he was probably asking because he found me attractive. I do technically fall under the trans-umbrella, but I didn’t feel like I had to answer that question. I tried dancing around it and expressing avoiding the question, but he just kept asking. Eventually, I snapped and said, “If you’re asking if I have a penis, no I do not.” You’d think he’d get the hint that I was really annoyed and was no longer wanting to engage, but I guess he figured that was a pass to pursue (looking back I wish I knew how to better handle that question).

“Oh, I’m not a millennial you know.” I couldn’t help but rolled my eyes. “Being Trans isn’t anything new.” I can’t remember if I thought that or said it out loud; guys I was really gone. I’m the type that has one drink and I get drunk off of that, do imagine a day of day drinking under the sun. I don’t exactly remember the rest of what he was saying, but eventually, I just became more uncomfortable with him than I was my blisters. I do recall him trying to get me to stand up and spin around for him, but at that point, I was REALLY over it and told him “I’m going to go… To better watch the show.” I started to walk away, and he went in for a hug. It seemed harmless, so I returned it. He used that as an opportunity to pull me in close, to run his hands down my back, my butt. I started to push him away, and he attempted to kiss me goodbye. I didn’t want to make a scene, so I went in like I was going to give him the European/Latin American kiss on the cheek farewell. Then he held my shoulders and tried to force me to kiss his lips. It was a back and forth for about 30 seconds of him trying to force the kiss, and me trying to dodge it. Him expressing that I should take it, and then me pushing him away and quickly darting out of the 21+ section.

I didn’t consider this sexual assault when it happened. I just figured I was being groped, he was transphobic, I was uncomfortable, I didn’t want any of that, he was preying on me because I was intoxicated and alone. But I never considered it sexual assault. I originally laughed it off with my friends, joking you can’t trust those guys with Porn-Staches. I figured next year I’d just pay the extra charge to be VIP, then maybe I’d be safe from predators and anxiety attacks. It wasn’t until I started noticing other people critique Afropunk for ‘selling out.’ So many of my Black friends have expressed feeling like Afropunk is no longer for Black folks, that it’s just perpetuating the commodification of Black bodies. After enough time to process, I sorta feel that way too. I’m biased, what happened inevitably makes me look at things from a cynical perspective. But I kinda look back at Afropunk sorta feeling like it’s becoming like a zoo for Black folks and Black culture. I’m beginning to feel like it’s a place where people can oogle-oggle at the mythical “Black Magic,” and can enjoy dressing up like a Black person with cheaply made African print.

Ironically, I’ve never been assaulted, harassed, or made to feel unsafe at any other music festival until Afropunk.

I don’t blame anyone at Afropunk for the singular event, nor do I think they are responsible for vetting every person who enters the festival. I do think though, that this festival no longer serves the people that it was intended for. Afropunk was made for Black punks, it’s evolved to include all Black people. Now it’s evolved to include all people that take interested in Black people. Now it’s starting to feel like it’s becoming a festival for people who want to sample Blackness and Black people.

I’m not going to end this by undermining my opinion or excusing this. I am going to end this by pointing out that all things evolve, and by questioning what is Afropunk evolving into if it’s no longer serving the folks it was intended to serve? 

Damn, I’m a Pick-Me Ass Bitch

A “Pick Me Ass Bitch,” by definition is the “woman” who tries too hard to be liked (Men can be pick-mes, but this ain’t for them right now). She will compromise her independence, her self-esteem, and her self-respect for the opportunity to be chosen. Some examples of Pick-Mes are Phylicia Rashad, in the case of defending Bill Cosby’s rapist ass, and Erykah Badu arguing that Teenage girls need to ‘cover up’ so as not to distract male teachers. “Pick Mes” are women who are conditioned to internalize misogyny and changes their behavior to fit the narratives of a sexist society. Growing up in the rural South, I was surrounded by religious propaganda that conditioned me to internalize self-hate. Statements like “Don’t be easy” and “Boys don’t want a woman who has been used” were the main motivation for me wanting to be a virgin till marriage. I felt as though that’s how I would gain a man who respected me, by being “worthy” of “respect.”

Then I was raped… I found that living in a world where I internalized misogyny became difficult for me; how was I supposed to heal when in the back of my head, I felt as though my value had decreased. On one hand, I believed it wasn’t my fault, I was completely covered up, I wasn’t a “whore.” But in the back of my head I remembered the details, I had “no business being intoxicated,” why was I even at a boy’s home? I faced a rude awakening that existing as a woman, as my own woman, meant existing outside of other people’s expectations of me.

Now as a grown ass woman living in New York, surrounded by people who are “sex-positive,” I feel as though I am still unpacking my pick-me ways. Yes, my environment has changed, the narrative has changed, but I still found myself performing the same song & dance. For most of my life, I’ve had issues with my self-esteem, and finding “self-validation.” For as long as I could remember I would talk to my friends about every single thought, feeling, emotion, and response. I’d look at them as my stamp of approval, the people to prove I wasn’t crazy. When I dated men, I tried so hard to not fit into the “crazy” or “jaded” archetype.

In my last relationship, I think I went in with the subconscious thought that it was my job to compromise who I was. I had committed to him, so I had to be comfortable with the fact that he wasn’t comfortable with me showing too much flesh. I had made a commitment to him, so I get why he wouldn’t want me to be friends with males I’ve had sex with. He was my man, so I had to be understanding of why he was uncomfortable with my sex worker past. I felt like I owed him countless explanations, I owed him undeserved vulnerability, and that I owed it to him to shrink myself. But damn Y’all, I gave that man an inch and he took a WHOLE mile. When I cut my hair, he told me I looked like a man and expressed an issue with the fact that I didn’t “consult” him first. When I had sex with someone else after he broke up with me, he expressed he didn’t understand how I could be so ‘easy’ if I had been raped. The micromanagement only increased over time, and I was punished for standing up for myself or confiding in my friends and family.

Now, I’m at a very similar place as I was when I was 18, trying to figure out how to heal. After I left him I internalize his messages: “Good luck finding someone that will deal with you.” He made me feel like because of who I am and who I was that I had something to be ashamed of. The next guy I dated I found myself trying to do everything to appease him. He was surprised when I wore a crop top, so I changed it (even though he said it was fine). I kept my past hidden from him, “He doesn’t need to know the ‘dirty’ parts of you that made you who you are.” Eventually, when it came time to commit, I truly don’t think I was ready. But so many of my friends seemed happy with him, and I figured that I was stupid for dating so many “bad guys” that why shouldn’t I give a “nice guy” a chance? Then very shortly after he asked me for a relationship, he ghosted me. Immediately I blamed myself. I figured it was because of the times I was too annoying, too affectionate, too attentive, too me.

I felt destroyed, I felt like my ex was right. I wasn’t able to keep him, and I wasn’t able to keep the next guy. I didn’t begin to snap out of my funk until I realized that it’s really hard to mess up the “right thing.” That no guy who REALLY likes you sits at home and thinks: “Damn, shawty type bad and I deadass like her, but, she was too affectionate, so I ghosted.” Maybe men don’t prefer the affectionate type, but a person who is invested in and values you won’t just ghost you. Once I accepted that I realized that being ghosted hurt not because I really liked him, but because just like he was probably using me to validate himself, I was doing the same. I allowed myself to commit when I wasn’t ready and almost agreed to a situation I felt tricked into (that’s another story) because I was seeking validation that I could keep a man. I wanted to feel worthy, and I wanted to believe that I was able to pick a “good guy.”

Y’all, just like 18-year-old Monisha had to do, 23-year old Monisha is working to undo her pick-me programming. Very shortly after I was raped, a man told me that if I had a dominant man in my life that I probably wouldn’t have been in that situation. I don’t think I’ve talked about how I internalized that things that happened to me were my fault. I don’t think I’ve owned up to the fact that in some cases I date men who are more “traditional” because I lack the self-esteem to combat my internal feelings of incompetence. I think I still have a lot of “pick-me” in me because I’m scared Y’all. I’m scared of being alone, I’m scared that I won’t have to protect myself, I’m scared that I’ll always have to be a “Strong Black Woman.”
When I have daughters, I hope I can raise them to have more faith in themselves than I did. Cause nothing for nothing, I don’t want to raise daughters, I need to raise women. I need to raise girls who don’t internalize that they are incapable of being their own person, I need to raise myself to internalize that I am cable of being my own person. It’s a process, I am healing, I am transforming.

An Ode To Black Kids Who Had To Be Black In UnBlack Spaces

For most of my life, and even now, I’ve lived in very White spaces. My early memories are seeing cartoons that reflected faces of my friends, and I having to explain the purpose of the Proud Family existing and being so Black with only one White girl. I’ve been told not to color in the lines of paintings with black skin, pink, purple, and polka-dotted would have to do. I remember how hard it’s always been to find products for my hair; so I’ve learned to make them. I remember how difficult it was to celebrate my skin; so now I gravitate to other melanin-ated beings like myself.

From childhood to adulthood it hasn’t gotten much easier, it’s the same issues but different language. I’d have to explain my existence on White campuses, arguing that I did go there; No I don’t play any sports (nor am I extremely smart). I’ve learned to hold my tongue, to code switch, to identify fake friends and fake people. I’ve memorized exactly why you ain’t about to say the “n” word if you ain’t lived an “n” word life and a rebuttal for every lame retort back in the book. I’ve found Black joy with Black bodies who were having the same Black experience as me. I’ve found “Moonlight”, “Dear White People”, “Get Out”, and “She’s Gotta Have It.” When White Kids say “Frank Sinatra” I scream “DIANA ROSS BBY!”When White kids take “YASSS,” I’ve already moved to “Okay ____,” and “I see you ____,” with a little “YOU BETTA,” and let us not forget “F*** IT UP!!” Needless to say, I didn’t have double-dutch as a child, but I sure as hell have dominos (someone please teach me spades).

I’ve learned to survive micro-aggression, cultural appropriation, police brutality, racial fetishization, and the gaslighting of my Black feelings. I’ve learned how to swing my Black hips, and let Ebonics and patios flow off my Black lips. Loving myself, all of myself, Blackness included, has been the most difficult thing for me in a world that taught me that I shouldn’t point out race. In a world that tried to be colorblind to my existence, that tried the White out my life.

Loving myself, loving my Blackness, as where it is still a struggle together, has been the most revolutionary act of defiance.

As where people try to understand my struggle, our struggle, the Black struggle, I found solidarity. I found AfroPunk, Poetry Slams, and Black Lives Matter. I’ve found myself in spaces and people who get it (or are a lot more likely to). So with that, I leave a message to my younger self:

“You are out there, you exist, give it time, and you’ll see yourself.”