I went to Coachella mostly for the experience and not the music. I am not the fan who knew every song from every artist word-for-word. For the artists I saw at Coachella—Travis Scott, Future, ScHoolboy Q, Kehlani, DJ Khaled—hooks and choruses are all I got. With the exception of Kendrick Lamar, whose Sunday headliner set I looked forward to the whole weekend.
I enjoyed plenty of acts, even more than I had expected. Lil Uzi Vert was surprisingly energetic, and though I had only vaguely heard of Kaytranada, I found myself really enjoying his set. But the most interesting thing to witness at Coachella was not just how much, but also HOW white people enjoyed black music.
And boy, were there a lot of white people.
I found a spot on top of a trash can, leaned against a palm tree during the Travis Scott set on Friday night. I stood alone there to enjoy a little people watching when it dawned on me. This nigga says nigga. I can’t explain why this thought never crossed my mind leading up to the festival.
Another young lady, clad in a flowy black dress and gladiator sandals—who was definitely not black—asked if she could join me. Sure, it’s Coachella. She knew more words than I did—more power to her. Homegirl was a true fan.
Scott mostly screamed about mosh pits and blood, so I’m not sure what song it was. But I glanced at her as she sang along and heard the lyric, nigga, over the speakers but not from her mouth. The missing lyric hung there between us— two strangers in the desert—and she looked a little sheepish standing so close to me. Shortly thereafter she hopped down and joined friends.
Maybe she got tired of the balancing act, who knows.
I remember thinking, OK, well, you ARE at a festival that’s pretty white. At least they’re singing along and not directing the word at you. If you’re looking for the PC police, you might as well call yourself an Uber and leave.
I let it go, determined to enjoy the weekend. I braced myself because it kept happening with every black artist. Future. Gucci. Lil Uzi Vert. Every time, I heard it and swallowed the way it made me feel.
Pour up, drank. Head shot, drank.
It was always interesting to look at the people within earshot of me. Even if they didn’t say it, you could hear the audience singing along, and well, we’ve already discussed who made up the majority of the audience. I mean, really what was I going to do, start a fight? Tell them to stop using the word, appropriating and enjoying black culture?
I refused to let my emotions get the best of me over a word, and struggled with how I should actually feel about it. I decided to enjoy the music, jerk chicken, and hazelnut churros. Besides, it was Sunday, and Kendrick was about to make everybody at the festival go DAMN.
Through some of Kendrick’s standards, I was already at “bruh, ya’ll gotta chill with this bopping around dancing choreographed stuff, this ain’t that type of music.” I may not know all the words, or know anything about the streets, but this is MY culture, MY music, and I know the damn rules. Then, I heard the Dah-dah Dah-dah of “Alright” and the opening lines I’ve sung a thousand times:
Alls my life I had to fight, nigga.
In a handful of thinkpieces, “Alright” has been called the new black anthem. And watching all these people—almost none of whom were black—asking each other MY questions,
Do you hear me? Do you feel me? We gon’ be alright.
I was TIGHT.
I had to take myself back to a cookout two summers ago, celebrating a friend’s new job, when everybody around me sang along and encouraged one another with those words and innately understood what the song was all about.
Nigga, we gon’ be alright.
I was in my feelings. At what should have been the highlight of the weekend, I looked at all these happy-ass people Snapchatting their jealous friends at home. What have you had to struggle through?
Girl if you don’t sit yo ass down, I thought of the two brunettes dancing in front of me, including twirls.
Bro, this is NOT America’s Best Dance Crew, I thought of the guy pop-lockin’ near the girls.
It’s BEEN alright for you all.
STOP IT, YOU’RE RUINING MY MOMENT.
In reality, it’s alright for me as an individual. I’ve been blessed. And I don’t know those people, their lives could be entirely more traumatic than mine. They could have even marched in BLM protests where they live.
But they ain’t black.
That’s not their word. They don’t know the struggle. They don’t understand what that song means to me, to US.
And we hate po-po wanna kill us dead in the streets fo sho’.
Yes, that US. The black US. The ones slain at the hands of police, mostly for looking suspicious, whatever that means. The Trayvon Martins and Walter Scotts and Terence Crutchers and Aiyana Joneses. And just when you hoped it might cool down, they got another one just the other day. Jordan Edwards. Fifteen years old.
So what’s a black chick at Coachella to do? Surely I couldn’t interrupt the show to educate the droves of people around me. Nor am I so naïve to believe that Kendrick Lamar’s success, or the success of any of the black artists that performed at Coachella, is entirely due to the support of Black America.
I wondered if maybe I was being too sensitive, again. A “snowflake,” as they like to say. Monica, should this even be a thing?
Yes, it is a thing. Just like slavery was thing, Jim Crow was a thing, decades of segregation were a thing, systematic violence against and oppression of people of color is a thing.
Besides, in April ain’t👏 no 👏 damn👏 snowflakes👏 in 👏 this👏 desert.
I did not have a solution in the moment. But I did not have to quiet the voice inside of me that was highly agitated. I’m black, I’m proud. I use the word nigga, and have even said “excuse my French” before using the word in front of my nearest and dearest white friends. Yes, I have white friends. And no, they better not try it. This is not no damn Richie Incognito situation.
Double standard? Hell yea. Welcome to America, for black folks.
I’m taking my moment back. Ya’ll tried it.
You almost soured the experience… but
Wouldn’t you know
We been hurt, been down before
And just like Kendrick promised, we gon’ be alright.