Dispatches from The African American Recruitment Festival
Wednesday July 6th, 2011 by
I came to this year’s African American Festival (known almost universally in Black
After taking in all the normal festival sights, my eyes were drawn to an incredibly large contingent of police. This was one of the many subsequent moments, where the militarization of the festival would overwhelm my ability to enjoy it. A large police trailer served as a gathering spot for approximately 30 police who, to my dismay, were not part of the ceremonial pre-Fourth of July Parade, but rather were assigned to patrol and canvas the festival. This, they would proceed to do in one swoop. Thirty of them strode through the festival - a wave of blue splashed against a background of red, green, and black.
Toward noon, the formal parade began - bringing Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake; who would use this year's military theme to place her, and her re-election bid, into the spotlight. It was somewhat unnerving to see a political leader on the festival’s two big screen TV’s. She touted the event as proof of the city's advancement, conjuring up 1984-esque thoughts on political control through media exposure. Seeing her speak at the festival, with cadres of military personal surrounding her, I couldn’t help but feel that she was quite overtly, both waving the flag and using the time-tested “bread and circus” political technique- of giving the people fun distractions, in order to cement proof of competent political leadership. To her credit, the mayor executed the technique to perfection; cutting ribbons with military personnel at her side, awarding citations to fallen soldiers, standing hand- over-heart during the Pledge of Allegiance, like the most enthusiastic of students. With electoral challengers
Big Sister is Watching
After the mayor's festivities ended, I finally confronted the most dominant presence at the festival, that of the
Not to be outdone, the
The most visible force at AFRAM was, however, the
I left the festival as the bulk of the crowd came in to hear the evening's music line-up. Generally, I felt that it was quite appropriate, that due to legal issues, the festival has dropped the word “Heritage” from this year's title. There was very little of anything that could be called "Black Heritage" on display. The main thoroughfare, normally paced with small vendors selling African inspired jewelry, incense, and clothing, was reserved mostly for food vendors serving the traditional carnival/festival foods (funnel cake, chicken tenders, etc). One booth owner, who sells Afrocentric jewelry, commented on the difference between this year’s AFRAM and previous years. They noted that this year, most of those selling archetypically “AFRAM”-wears were given “crappy spots,” faraway from the majority of foot traffic and that they were bunched too tightly together.
“Many of us are selling similar things,” she said, noting that such bunching makes it harder for the venders, as sellers are forced to directly compete against one another.
When asked about the Armed Forces sponsoring the festival, she summed-up her thoughts by saying that AFRAM would be better used to promote local business. “Unless you’re getting signed-up for the military,” she said, “I don’t know what that does for you.”