Coachella reminded me that some people simply don’t care. They’ve decided that their fashion statements are more important to them than the feelings of POC.
I said I’d never go back. It was after my second time attending Coachella in 2012 and I had mixed feelings about my experience. On the one hand, I’d stood mere yards away from Tupac’s rapping hologram, and how could I possibly top that? On the other, I felt the spirit of the festival had changed since I’d first attended. It was their first year attempting to duplicate the Coachella experience by splitting the festival into two successive weekends. Unlike years past, it seemed overrun with teeny boppers spending on their parents’ dime and various corporate installations that were made to be just as attractive as the headlining performers. On top of all of that, the desert heat made the treks between stages feel like miles. I made the decision to go out on a high note.
In the years that followed, Coachella became more corporatized and a magnet for celebrities. Local hotels hosted pool parties with line-ups just as star-studded as the festival, and Native American headdresses became a go-to look for those who thought the polo grounds were interchangeable with sovereign reservations.
I never felt much temptation to return, but when I stumbled upon an opportunity to work the festival this year, I decided to accept and see how the other side of Coachella lives.
My position entailed handing out headphones at the Silent Disco, which was the only after-hours activity for Coachella campers and ran Thursday through Sunday from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m., though my working hours were longer. I was warned before accepting the position that it was thankless and would get stressful at different points throughout the night. I found out when I arrived that because the headphones all shared the same signal (most silent discos have two stations), they would lose service as more were turned on. This resulted in huge-pupiled festival-goers approaching me near-breakdown because their headphones kept cutting in and out. That, plus the endless line that would occasionally bulldoze security to rush the entrance, made it a truly unforgettable experience.
It also gave me a courtside seat to the types of people who attend Coachella in 2017. Though I questioned whether many of them were legal adults, I was nonetheless impressed with their commitment to rocking ’90s-era hip-hop-mogul-inspired fashion. As I took in the countless millennials rocking cornrow extensions and dangling hoop earrings, I had to ask myself whether I had the emotional capacity to continue to let cultural appropriation ruffle me.
To its credit, I do love that Coachella encourages an environment that allows people to step outside of societal expectations and be more free in their fashion choices. I loved seeing men push gender norms and proudly sport leather fringe skirts with their booties bared to the world. I got my literal life from the amount of carefree Black girl magic present, and I was inspired to embrace my own curves when I saw flawless fat girls in crop tops and booty shorts.
But, like everything else, some folks just don’t know when to stop. For future reference: please stop before you outline your nude lips in dusty brown to mimic Chola style. Please stop at two french braids and don’t ask your appeasing Black cosmetologist to cornrow in those bright blue extensions. And finally, please stop before purchasing a cheap replica of a Native American headdress from an Etsy store — especially one that has “Gypsy” in the name.
I’ll admit, I’ve reposted my fair share of articles informing others about the differences between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. The thing that Coachella really instilled in me is the fact that some people simply don’t care. They’ve decided that their fashion statements are more important to them than the feelings of POC. They’re skimming the articles we’ve taken so much care in writing and remain convinced that these cultural hijackings are really a compliment, that we should be honored by the attention.
I knew before Coachella that white people loved trap music, but it’s different to see it in mob action. Without headphones on, my main entertainment on the clock was watching the silent disco-ers. They knew all the words to every rap song and proudly belted every “nigga” and “bitch” that the lyrics called for. With their baggy pants, gold chains and backward caps, they could have easily fit in on any music video set. It was obvious from looking at them just how much they enjoyed participating in Black culture, even if it was without an invitation.
What they didn’t seem to love is Black people themselves. They clearly don’t care about our feelings or opinions, and as the weekend wore on, I questioned whether they saw us as human beings at all.
Hands were outstretched in lieu of a greeting. Headphones were slammed on the table as they demanded replacements. Though some empathized, others chose to berate us instead. They’d offer commentary as they stood in line, remarking on our attitudes and threatening their influence if we matched them in tone.
“You’re going to fucking regret that,” one 17-year-old promised a co-worker who responded to him in sarcasm. “You have no fucking idea who I am.”
When I wasn’t catching up on sleep, I did my best to make my way inside of the festival to enjoy what performances I could. I met up with a few friends on Friday who were attending Coachella for the first time.
“It’s like a fashion show,” one of them remarked as another woman in a floor-length lace gown passed by.
I thought about that observation a lot throughout the weekend. While I missed most of the actual performances, I found Coachella attendees to be just as entertaining. Whether they were performing what they perceived to be Blackness or posing as a Kylie Jenner stunt double, everyone seemed to be “on.” Coachella used to represent an escape, a chance to discover new music and people in an environment designed to inspire community. Now it seemed the only thing many attendees were escaping was their responsibility to be decent human beings.
Working at Coachella gave me a new appreciation for those who work tirelessly behind-the-scenes to craft a picture-perfect experience. I’m grateful to have experienced a different side of Coachella, but it also taught me that it’s never a good idea to return from early retirement.
When it comes to cultural appropriation, at this point the only solution I can come up with is for musicians and artists to take up the cause. It became obvious to me after this weekend that the only time offenders are willing to listen to us is when we’re entertaining them.