afropunk defends m.i.a. after black lives matter controversy

Organizers see her controversial statements as 'a chance to understand the role of structural racism and other systems of oppression underlying these issues.'

by Hannah Ongley
Jun 23 2016, 6:55pm

M.I.A. caused a furor earlier this year when she brought up the Black Lives Matter movement in an interview with London's Evening Standard magazine. "It's interesting that in America the problem you're allowed to talk about is Black Lives Matter," she said. "It's not a new thing to me — it's what Lauryn Hill was saying in the 1990s, or Public Enemy in the 1980s. Is Beyoncé or Kendrick Lamar going to say Muslim Lives Matter? Or Syrian Lives Matter? Or this kid in Pakistan matters? That's a more interesting question."

The outspoken artist refused to apologize for her comments, confronting the issue again on her recent race-themed track "Poc That Still a Ryda." After addressing the #OscarsSoWhite conversation, M.I.A. sings "I'm here for every color, including Black Lives Matter." Nevertheless, many people still felt that her comments were insensitive at best. The fact that she was scheduled to headline the London leg of Afropunk later this year only caused the backlash to escalate further, leading M.I.A. to reveal earlier this week that she was dropping out of the festival founded to highlight a Black presence in the punk scene. "I've been told to stay in my lane," she wrote on Twitter. "Ha there is no lane for 65mil refugees who's lanes are blown up!"

Now the Afropunk organizers have leapt to M.I.A.'s defense, citing a need for open — and often uncomfortable — conversations about systemic racism and oppression. "To us, the fact that M.I.A.'s comments sparked dialogue about a global view of the Black struggle is not a failing," they note, adding, "We've read and welcomed the critique of M.I.A.'s participation. Even prior to our announcement, we had been creating a space to continue the dialogue she initiated, to better explain and understand how the Black American experience and the American construct of race, intersects with rampant anti-Muslim rhetoric, and the crushing refugee crisis she was bringing to light. The debate is healthy and as people who have long been silenced, we refuse to participate in silencing of other voices."

Afropunk sees the debate as "a chance to understand the role of structural racism and other systems of oppression underlying these issues," which include "the simultaneous hyper-visibility of Black Americans and the ignored anti-Blackness and systematic racism around the world" — things that emphasize divisions rather than deeper connections. "We hope that this event also brings to light the experiences of black Brits, immigrants and refugees in the UK, who are continuously erased," they say. 

M.I.A. is yet to respond to Afropunk's statement. Yesterday she tweeted a screenshot of an article comment that claimed, "Forcing the world to look at issues of race and blackness through the hegemony of the American Lense is unwise. The struggle against injustice, racism, and white supremacy is Global." 


Text Hannah Ongley
Photography Wolfgang Tillmans [The Declaration Issue, No. 255, 2005]

Black Lives Matter