Detroit music festival removes race-based ticket prices

A local music festival in Detroit has moved away from ticket prices based on race after drawing international attention when a rapper pulled out of the show over the price difference.

AfroFuture Fest still suggesting donation from 'non-people of colour'

Detroit-based rapper Tiny Jag pulled out of Afrofuture Fest after finding out its ticket prices were based on race. (Se7enFifteen Enterprises)

A local music festival in Detroit has moved away from ticket prices based on race after drawing international attention when a rapper pulled out of the show over the price discrepancy.

The organizers behind Afrofuture Fest announced on their Eventbrite listing last week that tickets for people of colour would cost $20 US. Tickets for "non-people of colour," however, were priced at $40 US.

The festival is put on by Afrofuture Youth, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping young people create a more equitable world. In a statement to CBC News on Monday, the group said the event is an "immersive, intimate and intentional space for Afro-Black futurists" with the objective of "uplifting youth in Detroit."

"The goal is ensuring ethics were centred in each and every element," the statement said. "This meant, in part, acknowledging and recognizing a legacy of cultural appropriation."

The statement went on to say the initial ticket pricing structure was meant to reflect an "historic inequity."

The festival, which is scheduled to take place Aug. 3-4, describes itself as as a home for arts and healing, advertising a "day parade, drum circle and bonfire."

"Our ticket structure was built to [ensure] that the most marginalized communities (people of colour) are provided with an equitable chance at enjoying events in their own community (Black Detroit)," organizers had posted on Eventbrite.

The pricing has since been changed but debate over the plan, which sparked both outrage and support, continued into the weekend.

The explanation from organizers went on to argue that "people outside of the community" benefit most "from affordable ticket prices because of their proximity to wealth."

"This cycle disproportionately displaces black and brown people from enjoying entertainment in their own communities."

Afrofuture Fest advertised a different price scale for tickets based on race, prompting both outrage and support for the idea. The tiered pricing existed for both early bird and regular tickets before the change.

The original ticketing idea prompted a Detroit-based rapper — who is of mixed race — to pull out of the event. 

"My grandmother and her husband, they both had a big influence on me," said Tiny Jag, whose real name is Jillian Graham. "Even my first mixtape is named after my grandmother who would have been charged double to come support me."

Eventbrite said festival organizers were violating a rule and would unpublish the event if changes weren't made to the pricing structure.

"We do not permit events that require attendees to pay different prices based on their protected characteristics such as race or ethnicity," Eventbrite told CBC News in a statement Sunday.

Tiny Jag said she has received a combination of support and hostility for her decision.

While some people lauded the musician for taking a stand, others accused her of misunderstanding the point they believe organizers were trying to make.

The music festival offered an explanation for the race-based discrepancy in tickets on its Eventbrite page.

"Gawd this is embarrassing," Ijeoma Oluo, author of the New York Times bestseller So You Want To Talk About Race, posted on Twitter regarding the rapper's comments.

"My white mom would be proud to pay more because she understands the history of economic exploitation of black folk in this country to benefit whiteness & she wants a better future for black folk, including her black kids."

At the same time, A U.K-based rapper, who goes under the stage name Zuby, commended Tiny Jag for withdrawing and criticized the festival in a series of tweets, telling organizers: "You've become the very racists you claim to stand against."

"I think it's offensive regardless of what angle you look at it," Zuby, whose full name is Zuby Udezue, told CBC News in a phone interview Sunday.

"As someone who is black, the idea that I'm going to be charged less money for something because the assumption is, 'oh, this person is not white so therefore, they are poor and can't afford this,' that is racism itself."

He added not everyone in Detroit who is below the poverty level is black.

"If the intention were to make it more accessible to people who are not financially well off, you could just lower the ticket price," he said.

'We have options'

And that's just what the event decided to do.

The festival is now charging a general admission price of $20 US, with an option for a "Non-POC suggested donation."

Tiny Jag says she supports the goals of Afrofuture organizers, but not the means. Since she went public with her decision not to perform, she says she has also received support from groups she would never support, such as white supremacists. She's also been told music festival organizers were receiving threatening calls, which wasn't her intent.

"I'm not supporting any supremacy, that's the whole point of this," she said. "We have options as a race ... We have options to get ourselves in a better place."