*Note: I can understand that this might be seen as an attempt to derail from the wider issues brought up about race at LaDIYfest, that I’m writing a blog to congratulate and appease myself for shaving my head. But my intention is to take responsibility for my lack of understanding, to explain and apologise as an organiser and a DIY gig promoter.
I want to talk about LaDIYfest Bristol and something that it massively failed at. I know the things it did great at, many people pointed those out to me and I did a lot of self-congratulating and congratulating of other organisers. But rarely do I evaluate anything, I never give myself time to dwell on past events, I’m already moving on to the next project which is a flaw I am aware of. It is important to reflect, especially with something as sensitive and effecting as our first LaDIYfest Bristol. And before I go on, it is important that every reader understand that this is my personal account and thoughts and not anyone else’s, nor is it an official LaDIYfest response. There will be one on our website soon.
On Sunday night of LaDIYfest, Big Joanie (a lo-fi, afropunk band from London) headlined the gig, preceded by Petrol Girls, Viva Zapata!, Fight Rosa Fight and Kelly Kemp. The show was held at the Chelsea Inn, in Easton. Easton is a multicultural area of Bristol, largely home to working classes, people of colour and religious communities, notably Islamic (Easton History). The Chelsea is in the middle of Easton, has strong traveller roots and attracts many different types of people. It is a place where I (as a single promoter) put on a load of gigs, it is free and I work there, so it helps. It is also a place where a majority of punk/traveller/men of colour drink. I like to throw loud, in-your-face feminist punk gigs there because these are the subjects of many songs, poems, stage talk, people that need more education, and there’s been some great responses out of those locals who have stuck around to see bands and appreciate female musicians. Some have the time to chat behind the bar with me over gender politics. It was decided very early on to use the pub as a venue and Big Joanie were one of the first bands I contacted about performing. I think subconsciously I was trying to tick some boxes, but I genuinely booked them because I think they’re an amazing punk with the DIY ethics and sound that I wanted to put on. My mistake though was not considering how the venue and the band would mix. I had not accounted for the large presence of white people with dreads, piercings and problematic clothing. When decorating, I did not think about addressing racism amongst the anti-trans, homophobic and sexist banners. I had not thought about how LaDIYfest was largely white, despite efforts to break away from white feminism. No one wants to be a white feminist. I suitably squirm for my mistake, rightly pointed out in an email from Big Joanie the following day (See their post about booking the band.) I apologised, for myself and the festival and promised to fix things for the future but I didn’t thank them for bringing race into the front of my feminist perspective. It’s that switch, like when you start to think about gender politics and suddenly you’re sensitive of all of these things that make you uncomfortable and terribly, terribly aware. I feel truly awful about the situation and want to do everything in my power to make sure it never happens again at one of my shows. I want to take positive action.
On Wednesday after a lot of discussion with my partner and friends, after reading different perspectives and ideas on culture appropriation, I cut out my ‘locks and shaved my head. I want to make it clear that I did not this because someone called me out and I wanted to appease them. I did it because I personally felt heavy and uncomfortable with the idea of continuing to have this hairstyle. I could have called them glibs, or matts, or whatever but the reality is, I got them partly because I wanted my boyfriend to find me more attractive (another story, another time…) and I called them ‘dreadlocks’ before and after I had them done. I knew about the Rastafarian significance of them but hadn’t bothered to look into the violent history of their origin. When I did, I was, as I said, heavy and uncomfortable with the reality so I cut my hair because I felt that I was personally exploiting and appropriating a cultural aesthetic for my own ends.
I don’t pretend to be a know-it-all now when it comes to race, the oppression of women of colour and womanism. But as I have said to the many men I have called out on sexism, it is how you chose to react to the criticism and move forward. If you are willing to learn, accept responsibility and become aware of the wider issues your actions reflect, you’re already becoming a better ally. I hope I can do the same, take positivity from a bad situation and become a better ally and feminist.
I’m truly sorry for the alienation and hurt I have caused anyone.