Why I’m Boycotting the Roots Picnic This Year

Yes, there are lots of impressive names on the lineup, but I can't see past the toxic men being given a platform at this year's installment.

dave chappelle roots picnic 2023

Dave Chappelle is set to perform at the Roots Picnic this June. /  Photograph by Stephen J. Cohen/Getty Images

According to Visit Philadelphia, this summer’s upcoming Roots Picnic is “loaded with legends and icons” — but all I can see is a tragic lineup splattered with problematic men who make it impossible for me to appreciate the legends and icons.

One of the festival’s headliners, comedian Dave Chappelle, has an ongoing history of transphobia. The event’s podcast stage is giving a platform to radio shock jock Charlemagne tha God, who’s become notorious for degrading Black women and LGBTQIA people; media personality DJ Akademik, who’s been constantly accused of misogyny; and hip-hop star Talib Kweli, who has persistently trolled individuals on social media who’ve been critical of his perceived cyberbullying of Black women.

As a Black queer millennial who has always viewed the Roots Picnic as a space in which to celebrate the culture at the intersection of Pride Month and Black Music Month, I cannot in good faith recommend that people attend this year. This isn’t a safe space for those who respect the LGBTQIA community and Black women. There are too many problematic figures booked this year — people whose views are threatening to the most marginalized in our community.

While there are indeed some great acts on the bill (the legendary Ms. Lauryn Hill, the Isley Brothers, and queer powerhouses like Syd), that doesn’t cancel out the multiple performers who have been consistently accused of misogynoir and bigotry. There’s no way to “both sides” this controversy.

When the Roots Picnic lineup was recently announced, social media was polarized. While some people instantly embraced the artists they loved, others, such as Black feminist educator, writer, and community activist Feminista Jones, raised the flag on the glaring inclusion of these problematic acts:




It’s hard to separate the art from the artist when it’s literally embedded in the craft. Dave Chappelle’s legacy has become mired in the controversy about him disrespecting transgender people over and over again. Charlamagne tha God has literally built his persona on transphobia and insulting Black women. DJ Akademiks has more than enough examples of being on the wrong side of history when it comes to decency and civility. Despite claiming he isn’t harassing his critics online, Talib Kweli hasn’t been able to shake off the ongoing impact of his retaliatory actions — so much that it’s gotten him permanently banned on Twitter. At the time, a spokesperson for Twitter said the site decided to permanently ban Kweli “after repeated violations of the Twitter rules,” adding that “[v]iolence, harassment and other similar types of behavior discourage people from expressing themselves, and ultimately diminish the value of global public conversation.” Kweli claimed he left Twitter on his own. (Disclosure: I became a target of his when I critiqued his appearance at a Philly event last summer.)

You are what you platform, and the event’s organizer, Live Nation, is revealing its position by booking these toxic acts. The only solutions I can see are for these artists to be uninvited or for the public to boycott. In 2023, we cannot be hypocrites and remain complicit when it comes to the harm inflicted on Black women and LGBTQIA people by the artists in question. Attending the Roots Picnic as it platforms these individuals implies that your allyship is conditional and fickle.

To those who claim to care about our communities, please demand better from the producers of this event. By remaining silent, we all run the risk of more harm being committed. Who’s to say that Chappelle won’t use this platform to once again punch down on our most vulnerable community members? What’s stopping DJ Akademiks and Charlemagne tha God from spewing more offensive remarks on the podcast stage? Where is the consideration for Black women and/or LGBTQIA people who may want to attend the Roots Picnic for Ms. Lauryn Hill or Syd but now must contemplate the possibility of being subjected to transphobic/misogynistic “jokes” and, through the purchase of a ticket to the festival, financially supporting/endorsing the perpetrators?

I’ve been fooled by these men more than once; I won’t allow myself to be subjected to the same disrespect yet again. And neither should anyone else who claims to love us. This year’s Roots Picnic isn’t an expression of Black cultural excellence — it’s a disappointing exhibit of endorsed toxic masculinity and complicit bigotry. Until there’s a change in the current lineup, boycotting it is the only reasonable response.