Yellow Dress and Problematic EssenceFest
In July I went to the highly revered (but low key controversial and high key celebrity cavalcade that is knows as the) EssenceFest.
Highlights: the concert and the city and all the lovely black people.
Low Light: pretty much everything else. Polarizing and ambigous!
Leave it to me to be shocked to learn my critical opinions about the Fest were naive at best, and fully uninformed due to lack of experience, at worst. The lack of diversity and myopic take on the interests of Black women (hair, jesus, getting/keeping a man, celebrities) - was sobering. Yes, these are in fact some of the interests of the Essence Magazine reader - but there were so many groups that were clearly not prioritized when deciding on content, programming and accessibility.
The groups I that I felt were left out were:
- LGBTQIA (obviously this was huge for me because this is my intersection on team Black woman and I seen a lot of black lesbians out and about, not including Queen Latifah, MC Lyte),
- Elders (for real tho, like 60-70% of the participants visible at the convention center, and concert and visibly walking down the street were women over the age of 50),
- Differently abled folks with different levels of health (there was a lot of walking and standing room only spaces throughout the convention and the super dome and it felt weird that with the staggering rates of diabetes and renal failure impacting black women that Coca-Cola would even be a fucking sponsor),
- Different Faith Orientations (fucking Snoop Dogg had a goddamn gospel set, it was top tier but it was presumptuous to think that everyone is drinking the blood of the lamb. It doesn't leave room for anyone else.)
During my time in NOLA, I was lashing out a bit on my social media - in what i guess is that annoying "woke" kinda way) and my online friend and I start DM'n about it.
"I feel like I can go on and on about black girl conferences. I had similar feels about [another black girl conference] - i just feel like when they try to go big and mainstream [advertisers] the offerings/content gets a bit watered down."
She herself is an events producer & black space maker she and understands the challenges around making the space without going broke. She goes on;
"And then, I feel the pain of having to produce something that large for that many people. I just want us to end up with something a little more in the end."
Her reminding me that budget and scale are always going to be a burden for our systemically strapped-for-cash folks, individuals and organizations alike. It really awakened a dormant fact that escaped my periphery for just a moment: as long as we continue to partner with corporate interests our large gatherings will lack integrity and inclusion.
Speaking of lack of integrity and inclusion check out this weirdly cut Urban Outfitters, overpriced piece of shit dress I acquired. The long & short: I wore it once, washed it once, and the buckles in the back broke off. This dress is now unwearable.
Yes, I do believe that #saggyboobsmatter but I do not believe I should look like my titties are growing out of my shoulders.
Although visually I was represented at Essencefest by sheer numbers, I still didn't feel seen or thought of, or worse - deliberately suppressed. It became obvious they there marketing to an archetype and many of us were just playing along. Just like how they show this dress on a model size XS but don't show what the it may look like in a size XL - and I buy it knowing the shit about to be suspect. I don't even like mass marketed shit like I used to anyway - so it's ironic that I wore this dress at Essencefest!
Overall I had a lovely time, I love New Orleans and still have a curiosity about it.
Will I ever go back to the EssenceFest? Yes, if i am invited back as a guest or to create content as a producer or to speak about an issue and they put me in a nice hotel, fly me down all nice too and I get big cash and a shrimp per diem.
Will I ever shop at Urban Outfitters again? Probably not, unless it's 50% off the sale price on a pair of shoes that happen to fit.