if you know ahead of time that you will not be able to/don’t have the funds to shell out the cash for a show, there are tons of other things that you can help with to make sure that it runs smoothly and that diy events can continue to happen for & with all of us because punk is pretty much the…
In the various complaints against the decision to remove Shokazoba from the Hampshire Halloween lineup, it is clear that the detractors of this decision are unaware or uninterested in what actually led to it. Many people are only listening to the organizing efforts of aggrieved white people rather than the students of color that have, from the start, been personally harassed. For the rest of you, I’d like to provide my understanding of the context and backstory to this debate. In a thread on the Facebook event page for Hampshire Halloween, students of color were mocked, attacked, and sent extremely racist images. The notion that the band was simply deemed “too white” is a politically motivated farce.
Several popular misconceptions have already spread quickly through organized misinformation efforts. Firstly, while the conversation this controversy erupted in did open by drawing concerns around the appropriative nature of—with the exception of the lead singer—a group of all white and white-passing men playing ‘afrofunk,’ this is not what actually lead to the band’s removal from the lineup. Contrary to popular belief, it was not their racial composition that lead to their removal, but the behavior which threatened the well being and safety of Hampshire students. This much has been said in the statements issued by both Hampshire College and the HYPE Committee on the decision.⁽¹⁾⁽²⁾ There’s no disputing the racist nature of caricatures—complete with exaggerated facial features—of a black man eating fried chicken, watching news coverage of himself committing a crime, and showing a backyard littered with mounds of stolen bicycles. Images of the students themselves were also taken, edited, and recirculated. Did anybody distribute images of any members of the band, or the band as a whole, or any of its defenders to belittle them? No.
Secondly, the concerns of students of color have been twisted in claiming that the lead singer’s racial identity has been erased for not being dark or black enough.⁽³⁾ Several of the concerned students of color are themselves mixed race and/or light skinned and intimately familiar with this type of erasure. The issues raised against the band were not at all about denying the racial identity of any individual band members, but about the fetishized representations of blackness that the group as a whole is trafficking in and promoting. This is epitomized by the tokenizing of one band member—out of ten—in an attempt to lay claim to the “afro” roots of the music they play. Regardless, those concerns were not the reason behind the decision, but the bigoted substance of the response, band members’ participation in that, and the personal targeting of Hamphire students. The band members’ contributions to the racist dialogue that unravelled was documented in the letter to the HYPE Committee and Hampshire administration. The group has continued to make this about themselves and divert attention away from the racist, misogynist, and homophobic discussion which was the bottom-line of the decision.
Finally, as per their contract with the school, the band was paid. Still, their privilege still affords them the power to, with a wave of their finger, instantly organize a rally of almost entirely non-students to protest this supposedly great injustice.
In attempting to dismiss the demonstrated validity of the concerns raised by students of color (especially those who were being harassed), band members displayed a totally apologist and sympathetic attitude towards the racist comments which had already been made, siding with them against the concerned students of color. The HYPE Committee initially made things worse by censoring the students of color who were making articulate complaints, while leaving the graphic images and harassment unchecked. More and more people, both students of color and their allies, were upset by this, and a very select few organized in an accountable and transparent manner to compile a statement to the HYPE Committee and Hampshire administrators documenting the events which had taken place. The statement drew upon contemporary understandings of first amendment rights which protect political speech but not violent hate speech, as well as violations of Hampshire’s own Non Satis Non Scire (Not To Know Is Not Enough), the Hampshire College Student Policy Guide. It was only at that point that the band was removed from the lineup for the event.
Still, many people are only upset about the perceived prejudice against white people, rather than the disturbing facts of what actually took place and the harassment that students of color faced and continue to face. Students of color are still being personally targeted over this. Nobody seems to care or notice (because pointing it out is immediately decried as [reverse]-racism) the racial divide between those who oppose the decision to remove the group from the lineup versus those who support it. Those denouncing the decision claim post-racial values and use multiculturalism to defend their convenient that racism is solved through ignoring racial disparities. They act as if racial prejudice is only a problem when it hurts white people, who notably dominate—by no slim margin—in government and in business and, most relevantly, in music. Repeated attempts are being made to separate the excusal of racist comments on the event page, the racial composition of the band and its defenders, the colorblind racist ideologies of the band and its fans, the appropriative nature of the band (calling it purely ‘appreciation’ and ‘fair cultural exchange’), and the position of white musicians—from Elvis to Eminem—who consistently have an easier time turning bigger profits from forms of music invented by people of color than those people of color do. Those five aspects are all clearly connected.
I had hoped that the decision to remove the band would encourage people to be critical of the types of speech and behavior that are invited, accepted, and encouraged (versus that which is not) by every decision that is made on behalf of the Hampshire student body. This includes being actively conscientious of who (yes, in terms of race, ability, gender, sexuality, class, etc.) is saying what. In particular in this case, bringing Shokazoba promoted the liberal post-racial ideologies that excuse, apologize for, and sympathize with colonialism, white supremacy, and peripheral racism. Evidently, this is not the discourse that has dominated in response to Shokazoba’s removal, neither in the local press nor on social media.
In transforming Hampshire into an anti-racist institution, all of us—every member of the student, faculty, and staff bodies—must understand why this matters.⁽⁴⁾ We must hold each other to a set of community norms which does not tolerate oppressive attitudes and demands accountability for any oppressive behavior. We, as students of color, are tired of being the ones expected—in the face of peers, superiors, and other burdens—to put ourselves on the line to argue, educate, and hold others’ publicly accountable. This in itself is part of the systemic violence and material harm we endure in and out of Hampshire College, and it affects our survival.