Afropunk is more than a music festival. It is a movement. A movement defined by hard drawn political line: no racism, no sexism, no ableism, no ageism, no homophobia, no transphobia and most simply, no hatefulness. These lines are etched into the DNA of the festival that began as a celebration of fringe Black punk culture and has since expanded to include other genres of music. The politics of the movement is also expanding and many of the festival’s attendees are at the forefront pushing those boundaries.
Ericka Hart, a 30-year-old Black,queer New Yorker and sexuality educator, is one of those individuals at the front lines.
“I love to be what punk is is like a resistance to what the norm or what is supposed to be,” Hart explained of the music festival to Clutch, “It’s a space to be in your truth. I love Black people being care free in their truth and just listening to music.”
Though Ericka is seemingly carefree in her photos at the festival (which have since been featured on the Afropunk Festival website), the scars on her uncovered breasts, reveal a deeper story. Ericka Hart was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago and since endured a double mastectomy to rid her body of the deadly disease, which claimed her mother’s life when she was only 13-years-old.
— Ericka Hart (@iHartEricka) August 28, 2016
“Two years ago I went to AfroPunk while I was on some really strong chemo,” she explained, “My then wife was like you really shouldn’t go, but I went anyways. I rolled up in a blanket (it was really hot out but I felt like I was freezing because of the chemo), a tank top and jeans. I was there and I was so happy to be there. And it was then that it hit me. Even though the festival is about no ableism, where was the visibility for non-able bodied people? Or those suffering with illnesses?”
Hart attended this year’s festivities topless in a fearless act to bring about awareness for Black women who are battling with or have battled Breast Cancer.
“We are not the target women for breast cancer awareness, “ Hart explained,” Whenever you do a google search of breast cancer, images of White women popped up. However, breast cancer has huge impacts on many different people. It impacts queer women at a morbid rate. I identify as queer and I am a Black woman who survived cancer.”
Even though Ericka understood the importance of visibility for non-White women battling with cancer, it wasn’t an easy choice to decide to go to a nationally publicized music festival topless.
“I really wanted to show up this year in my full truth, Ericka explained, “I thought about painting my chest. That was going to be cute, but I didn’t think it would bring across my message fully. Still, when I decided I would go completely topless, I feared what if people are upset about it? What if they shy away from me? What if they are disgusted?”
Nevertheless, Ericka made the decision and AfroPunk attendees took notice.
“When people first saw my breasts, many were speechless or questioned ‘but what happened to you?’ That just shows we don’t talk about it,” she said of her reception at Afropunk, “we don’t have examples of what it looks like. I wanted to put it out there and it really took everything for me to do it.”
Bewilderment was not the only response Ericka Hart’s topless advocacy garnered. Thousands have shared her photos on social media, responding with an outpouring of support and encouragement.
“ I wanna say something profound but the picture just dwarfs any comment I could make about it. Such power, such confidence. Humanity at its greatest. Amazing photo,” one commenter wrote.
Ericka’s photos are a voiceless protest, more powerful than words. A testament to Black women’s power, fierceness and fight for survival. And The Afropunk Festival has become a space where these protests can be seen.
Photo Credits: Gabrielle Royal, Afropunk, Richard Stuart Perkins, Ericka Hart