FAIRBANKS, Alaska — Alaska Native organizations are calling on an Interior Alaska state fair board to address issues of minority treatment and cultural insensitivity after a performance by two rappers was cut short and the men were ordered to leave the fairgrounds.
Leaders of the Tanana Chiefs Conference, Fairbanks Native Association and Denakkanaaga told the Tanana Valley State Fair board in a letter that they “cannot in good faith” support the operations of the fair until the issues are addressed.
Natasha Singh with the Tanana Chiefs Conference told The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (http://bit.ly/2bXcWUZ) the organizations are encouraging the board to apologize directly to rappers Julian Lillie and Michael Cofey, who are known by their stage names as Bishop Slice and Starbuks.
The two men, who are Alaska Native and black, were asked by fair manager Joyce Whitehorn to leave mid-performance after the fair said their music contained inappropriate lyrics. But the rappers say they edited their work to make the set family friendly.
The incident prompted several other musical acts to cancel their shows at the fair in support of the rappers.
The fair board released a statement apologizing for the incident and to “those who may have been offended,” but the Alaska Native organizations didn’t find the action sincere.
“The public statement that you issued was not only vague in nature, but it solidified your inability to take responsibility for the aforementioned actions” the letter states.
Singh said the Native groups are seeking an open dialogue to confront what they see as systemic racism and cultural insensitivity in Fairbanks. The incident involving Cofey and Lillie isn’t the only time minorities have been treated inhospitably in Fairbanks and at the fair, the groups say.
“With racism, I think it’s a very loaded word, and I think through dialogue we can kind of break down some of that meaning,” Singh said. “It’s difficult because people associate racism with evil people, bad people, hateful people, but what happens is you can be a perfectly educated, well-intended person and still harbor racism or stereotypes and actually act on them and not be aware of that.”
The Tanana Valley State Fair board did not respond to multiple requests for comment.