Newell: There's a context for racial equity conversation, but AfroFuture Fest ain't it

Detroit music fest charging double for white people badly misses the mark

Newell Normand
July 09, 2019 - 5:01 pm

Activists on the left are moving forward with a new construct for racial and social justice, and a new vocabulary to go with it. Do you know the difference between "equity" and "equality?"

It begins with the AfroFuture Fest in Detroit, which rolled out an admission pricing model - in the name of "equity" - that asked non-POC (people of color) attendees to pay twice as much to get in. They said "equity is insuring everyone has what they need to be successful, and their "ticket pricing insures that marginalized communities have an equitable chance at enjoying events in their own communities."

Predictably, this did not go over well, and after having a headline artist drop out in protest, getting ripped in headlines all over the world, and citing threats from white supremacists, Fest organizers changed course and decided nobody would be charged extra based on their race. 

Even so, the damage was done, and now we're left struggling to understand - setting aside the public relations disaster the pricing model wrought, isn't this a prime example of reverse discrimination? Doesn't that violate the Constitution? The Civil Rights Act?

 Newell invited Nghana Lewis, an Associate Professor of English and Africana Studies at Tulane University, to help explain what AfroFuture organizers were getting at.

"I know what the explanation is that was given by the organization," Lewis started, "But it is an explanation that is deficient when we take into consideration the bottom line. It's not a viable means of addressing what may be a legitimate concern about inequity. That's not a viable means of addressing that concern, by proposing to charge people attending an event different rates. That's just illogical... it would be a violation of equal protection under the Constitution." 

Newell asked, "In what context, then, when we start making these comparisons of equality, meaning treating everyone the same, and equity, insuring everyone has what they need to be successful - is there a context where that is a legitimate conversation?"
Lewis replied, "The most clear cut area where issues of equity and equality are in the notion of balancing out a playing field would be the area of education, specifically K-12, and also in housing... those are areas where we could probably bring enough people to the table and come to some agreement there there is a history of inequality, and continuing inequity that needs to be addressed. Again, the efforts of this particular organization... it's just really mind-boggling to me, the rationale this group would come up with to justify charging attendees of a concert different rates. It's just disturbing."   

"I agree with you!" Newell said. "There is a context in which this is a legitimate conversation to be had, but when you see examples like this, it really just pulls the rug right out from under folks that really want to have a legitimate conversation about this in real ways." 

"I was shocked and really disappointed," Lewis continued, "because it seems this organization really missed an opportunity to try to engage the public in a conversation about some of the issues that seem to be important. There are a lot of organizations that have good intentions in the kinds of issues that are important to them and what they want to address, but the way they go about doing it is so highly problematic, it almost seems that their way of justifying it is because they're an organization that aims to address inequity and inequality, but that's not valid. That is not a justification for engaging in what essentially, blatantly, amounts to discriminatory conduct. There's no rhyme or reason to it." 

Hear the whole interview below.


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