We Need to Talk about Racism in Punk

We Need to Talk about Racism in Punk
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By Stephanie Phillips

It’s hard to start this article. Even though it’s not a face-to-face conversation, it’s still hard. I won’t be able to track the real reaction on your face and the furrows in your brow as you take in what I’m about to say. I don’t know if this is easier or harder for you but I am past caring about making it easier; it has to happen so let’s begin.

We need to talk about race in punk… like now. There’s no time to make a sandwich, let’s sit down and talk this one through. I love punk music. I’ve dedicated my life to it, which is a strange thing of a shy, chubby black girl from the West Midlands to do but alas I did. Over the years I’ve blogged about music, put on nights, been in bands, written zines and more. I have enjoyed every second of it but there was something that was worrying me about it. Like a blurry flash of light in the corner of your eye; you know something’s there but when you try and get a proper look, it vanishes.

That was all until I played a gig with my band, My Therapist Says Hot Damn, in Deptford at a tiny pub and discovered the real reason why I felt so uncertain all the time. It was a good show, our bassist got drunk and fell off an amp, we managed to get our guitarist to crowd surf on two people, oh and we sounded ace too. I thought nothing of it until a week later when a friend told me that a guy, wanting to thank our band for the gig, walked up and thanked another black woman who happened to be in the crowd thinking she was me. Now I’m not an egotistical manic, the issue isn’t that he didn’t recognise me. The issue is that this person clearly was so steadfast in his belief that there couldn’t possibly be more than one black person in the room he went up to the first black woman he saw (who looked nothing like me if it needs to be said).

I took this a conscious act of refusal to acknowledge my presence as a black woman in that space. It may seem extreme but the situation was a prime example of racial micro-aggressions, a subtle form of racism which people of colour encounter on a daily basis. I had been walking around in a daze for most of life and then it hit me and my eyes were open. I was the only black woman usually in punk clubs and they weren’t just punk clubs they were specifically white spaces. Occasionally a black person would get into the mix but essentially white people had segregated themselves and it blew my mind.

In a review of The Punk Singer, a documentary on the life of Kathleen Hanna, Laina Dawes, author of What Are You Doing Here: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal, sums it up when she suddenly realises why she never understood the Riot Grrrl movement: “About 10 minutes into the documentary, I knew that I had made a colossal mistake. Well, actually, as soon as I saw a snippet of 17 year-old fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson waxing poetic about an era she was not even alive to witness, I knew that I would not be able to put my personal biases in regards to my age — and more importantly, my ethnicity as a black woman — aside when watching this documentary. From watching The Punk Singer, I realised why I had never been that psyched on the Riot Grrrl scene. It wasn’t for me. It was for white women.”

As important as the Riot Grrrl movement as to many women it was led by a majority group of white middle-class girls and so the political issues the movement tackled followed in the same direction. Issues of sexual assault, domestic violence and eating disorders were tackled, but little thought was given to how race intersects with those issues.

Obviously, I’m not saying that black people aren’t involved in punk culture and haven’t made contributed towards it. If anything I’d argue we are its roots, which sprung up from reggae, blues and rock’n’roll, but in terms of who is paraded as its icons, who goes to gigs and who gets in magazines and blogs, it’s a white scene.

I went into a kind of musical existential crisis after this. I just could not see the point of performing for crowds who clearly had no interest in even acknowledging my existence let alone understanding my politics. I wanted to be in a space where I didn’t have to turn a blind eye to the quasi racist statements, the shows where I’m one of two black people there and the middle class white girls twerking to Iggy Azalea, or whatever culturally appropriated, rap lite crap the kids are dancing to nowadays.

I needed my own space. We need our own space. Unfortunately, away from white people (well not unfortunate for me; black people bring a lot to the musical table so you lose badly in this scenario). There needs to be a black space within punk’s overwhelming white scene.

What if there are millions of black kids sitting in their bedrooms listening to ESG and X-Ray Spex like I was that would love to come to shows, but are put off by the racism they fear they may encounter, what their families say about ‘white music’ or just generally the anxiousness brought on by being the odd one out. What if there needed to be more black people in prominent positions to make it a safe space for others to join. While there are a few punk bands that feature women of colour, The Tuts and Skinny Girl Diet, it wouldn’t hurt to bring one more to the mix.

After seeing an advert for a new band night I’ve decided to get together with a friend and start an all-black punk band. We expect criticism, derision and name-calling. Hell, we even got a bit of the reverse race card before we even did our first practice. The reverse race card is a well-used tool in the white supremacist box, whipped out whenever said supremacist feels a bit left out of something fun black people are doing. In this case we were advertising for a bassist and specifically for a person of colour. We were accused of being racist and told that if a white man advertised for white bassist that would be seen as racist. Well, yeah it would, and they do. They don’t say it outright but if there’s an advert for a guitarist that likes The Rolling Stones, Oasis and Kings Of Leon, chances are that white male band are gonna find themselves a white male guitarist. We just wanted to be honest and say we are segregating ourselves but only because you did too and we need to get away from you. To recover, to feel free, to feel safe.

My new band will exist, and we will be an all-black punk band. Not the first but hopefully not the last. I’m gonna go into my black feminist punk bubble now and leave everyone else to work it out for themselves. Think about racism and how race intersects with each issue you deal with. There is an issue when as a promoter the bands you book are majority white, there is an issue when the political discussions that go along with punk follow white, middle-class needs, there is an issue when black punk icons are ignored or forgotten in favour of more palatable icons.

Where society goes now falls thoroughly in the hands of white people deciding whether or not to let go of the hatred that has served them well these past few centuries or go forward into the unknown where they can be free to build a new image for themselves not based on the past.

So there it is. I started it but I can’t finish it for you. The conversation has been started but you need to end it. So go and wake me when the sun rises on the land that was meant to be ours.

40 Responses to We Need to Talk about Racism in Punk

  1. Tim Footman August 28, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    “I took this a conscious act of refusal to acknowledge my presence as a black woman in that space.”

    Surely it was the precise oppposite; it was an act that *defined* you as a black woman in that space; your race (and to an extent your gender) were the only characteristics that the guy perceived. So when he saw someone else who ticked those two boxes he thought she was you.

  2. Rich August 28, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    Punks are the most progressive music fans out there I’d say. Not the ‘oi’ type punks of course, but so many bands have positive messages and great attitudes about all sorts of issues.

    Also, Bad Brains.

  3. Harvey Manfrenjensenden August 28, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    Riot Grrrl was oblivious about race but even more oblivious about class (which was partially why it was oblivious about race). I’d also say that it was mostly upper-middle class, more than middle class, if we want to put a fine point on it and get specific. But yeah. I agree with you about almost all of this. I do have to say, though, that I don’t think you started this conversation, it’s a conversation I’ve seen and had on a semi-regular basis for like 15 years. But it’s good that you’re adding to it.

  4. Everett True August 28, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    (from Facebook)

    Eric Jarvis
    I never got the “white music”/”black music” thing. My parents played Harry Belafonte and Helen Shapiro at me until I started listening. I went through school thinking Motown, the Philly sound and the Rolling Stones were all the epitome of pop music. Then I hit punk and reggae at much the same time shortly followed by starting a lifelong obsession with mbaqanga. This whilst helping run a folk club. Now I sing the blues. Not a conscious decision. That’s what comes out when I sing anything. Which should be the point. You put out what is in your soul to create, and appreciate what is in other people’s souls when they perform, and don’t let anyone restrict you by applying labels and rules that have absolutely no relationship to anything that actually matters. There should be a space in every kind of music for every kind of person, there’s absolutely no bloody reason there shouldn’t be.

    Stephanie Phillips
    Hi Eric, whilst I wish it was true that there’s no such thing as white music / black music unfortunately we live in a racist society that filters down into every level including the music scene. How people interact within punk is therefore a reflection of that. I think it is vital to remember where our music originated because really whether it make us comfortable or not Motown, blues, reggae etc is all music that originated from black culture. There were a few white people around at the time sure but that is definitely black music. It’s strange that someone would deny that really.

    Circuit Ben
    Erm, no. It’s not “Black music” it’s not “White music”, it’s people music. Stax had people from both (excuse me, but a bi-racial dynamic is working for this analogy) races, they worked fine together. Advertising for a person of colour is necessarily racist – just because you can cite shit bands,who are all white, none of whom have advertised for new members, but have known of them already, doesn’t prove anything. Adopting a system of racial exclusion to combat racial exclusion, doesn’t work.

    Karen Schipma
    *sigh* Look, pretending that there is no such thing as white or black music is not going to help. It’s pretty much like saying “I don’t see race” and it’s not a sign of an enlightened attitude. It’s a sign that you’re lucky enough to be able to ignore other people’s lived experience.

    Marie Thompson
    Um, i’m really sorry Circuit Ben but I think you’re totally wrong on this one. To say that POC looking to play with other POC is ‘racist’ is to overlook the fact that racism is structural. It might be described as discriminatory but its not racist. This is what i’m getting at… http://callingoutbigotry.tumblr.com/post/51288105158/why-reverse-racism-doesnt-exist.

    Also, it seems absurd to say there isn’t ‘black music’ or rather, there isn’t a black musical history that is politically, culturally, and socially important. Of course those histories are complex, non-linear, and fragmented. But to deny a black music history in order to preserve some insidious liberal claim that music is somehow ‘colourblind’ seems really shady to me. Its also perhaps hard to swallow when such a statement comes from a white man – of course recognising and celebrating ‘black music’ doesn’t mean the same thing to you. Music isn’t ‘above’ or outside social struggles. Sometimes it can be subversive and pre-figurative but more often than not it repeats, expresses and exploits the same oppressions and exclusions of our wider racist, patriarchal, ableist, classist culture.

    Circuit Ben
    I kind of knew this was going to happen, and i’m glad it has. Yes, music isn’t above or outside social struggles, I entirely agree. What I do have a real problem with, is a person of one race being deemed more suitable than another for a role in creating sound, the article mentions that they advertised for a person of colour, did they specify which colour? I’m not going to pretend that “I don’t see race” is an argument, it blatantly isn’t. The fact remains though, that most of the time, I can’t hear race. Unless this is going to be a group that focuses on one issue, and makes sure that it shouts about it, then I doubt I will here either.

    Marie Thompson
    POC is a political term – it typically refers to political minorities affected by racism (i.e. non-white identities). This is a really great explanation of where the term Women of Colour originated https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82vl34mi4Iw. It also mentions working with other oppressed political minorities and how that can be empowering and important, which seems pertinent here. Also, r.e. hearing/seeing race – race isn’t just about skin colour/visible markers, just as music isn’t just about sonic markers or the sounds created. People sometimes choose to play in all girl/women/POC groups because it can be an empowering and comfortable environment to play/practice/learn in, and that elevates some of the social tensions that can arise when playing in other groups.

    Eric Jarvis
    Stephanie… There’s a difference between knowing the origins of a musical style and the culture it sprang from, and defining a type of music as solely belonging to one type of person. Most of the best music around comes from cross fertilisations. Of course it’s also true that pretty much every popular style of music has at the very least a strong African root. From hip hop to flamenco, from soul to death metal. There’s an album by Ali Farka Toure of traditional Malian songs called The Source. It’s also a contemporary sounding blues album. It’s my theory that, as a species, we were already making music when the first humans left Africa. In that sense ALL music is black music, just as all human beings are originally African (it’s just that some of us have been out of the sun too long and look a bit washed out). However the influence isn’t all one way. White bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones have influenced contemporary African artists too. Try the album Dunya by Malouma (from Mauretania) which is Toureg blues turned into rock and roll by directly lifting bits of Eddie Cochran/Buddy Holly 50s style bass and guitar. I think it’s good to be aware of the origins, and of who we should be paying the dues to, but also good to refuse to accept restrictions and labels.

    Eric Jarvis
    Circuit Ben… advertising for specifics that allow you to break stereotypes is progressive. It’s not racist to create an all black punk band, because it’s challenging the prejudices.

    Circuit Ben
    In this instance, rather than challenging prejudices, I think they are preaching to the choir in most cases, and where they aren’t (skrewdriver’s lot) I doubt they are going to change many minds.

    Edmund Schluessel
    It’s astonishing that so few people — now, 60 years since rock became a thing — even talk about the color or gender barriers in music. A recent glance at the Top 40 found only one band that was either multigender or multiracial: the Lumineers, who have a woman mandolinist.

    Circuit Ben
    The Top 40? Is that a reflection of bands that form, or a reflection of the record buying public? This band, even if they did make a Top 40 record, wouldn’t change that statistic (racially) one bit.

    Eric S Riley
    Ah yes, kudos to the puppeteers for keeping us fighting each other while they fuck us all. Argue on.

    Eric S Riley
    Plus, I have two VERY ground breaking words….BAD BRAINS.

    Stephanie Phillips
    Ok so many comments. I’ll just answer them in one.
    Marie and Karen thanks for getting where I was coming from.
    Eric Jarvis while I do think that we shouldn’t limit ourselves musically I do think we have to be aware of musical origins as like Marie said, a lot of black music was inspired by their political and social status and outlook. While i don’t think I own all black music and I accept that people will enjoy and want to create various types of music I do think that everyone should be aware of history and race as it’s something black people can never allow themselves to not be aware of.
    Circuit Ben you are exactly why my band needs to happen. Racism exists within punk. It’s here like it’s everywhere and tbh I don’t think I should sit down nicely and take it. I wanna create an all black punk band because it will give me some space away from the racism that I experienced in the punk scene recently. Why is it that white people go to an majority white school, work place, friendship group, club and then suddenly when they see more then two black people together at one time we’re segregating ourselves!!! Please question how you’ve segregated yourself from us first before you question me.

    Eric S Riley I don’t know what the fuck you’re one. Who are the puppeteers? Who’s fighting each other? And seriously are you trying to educate me or make me seem stupid by pointing out that Bad Brains were an all black band. Funnily enough I know that and I know black people have made a great impact on punk and many other music scenes but it gets forgotten and erased. I’ve spoken to many people who love Poly Styrene (of X-Ray Spex) but were unaware she was black as it didn’t occur to them that a black person would exist there. I don’t expect to be ground breaking I expect to exist so others can exist and then they can help other black people too.

    Ok I think that’s it. Essentially this isn’t an easy conversation. Some people have reacted badly because that’s what will happen. It will get on your nerves. You’ll think I’m accusing you of being racist and hate it but know that this is a real issue. Please don’t dismiss what I’m saying or try to deny it. Question how everything intersects with race because it does and no amount of “but we’re all one race” kind of thoughts will stop that being the case.

    Circuit Ben
    I’m a solo act, segregation doesn’t really play a part, and I haven’t segregated myself from anyone. Your statement that all white people have the attitude that “More then two black people together and we are segregating ourselves!!!” is kind of off, and I take exception to being lumped in with everyone who is the same colour as me. I sincerely hope that there is a better reason than me to start a band.

    Circuit Ben
    Also – white people can’t help going to majority white schools/workplaces/clubs when they are in the majority- it’s practically statistically impossible.

    Stephanie Phillips
    Dude I mean in life. Think about your social circles, how you interact with people. I’m sorry but this applies to everyone. I don’t think starting a black punk band is bad as I see the main punk scene as majority white, problematic and I do think a lot of people spend their lives barely interacting with people of colour. Also why is my band such an issue for you? Do you wanna join? Cuz you can join any band you want and be more likely to be successful, that is the privilege of being a white man along with a lot of other things. It is guarantee that it would not be the case for me x.x.x

    Circuit Ben
    I’ve been out once this morning, across to Marcus’s shop to fix some Xbox 360s for him, Marcus is Jamaican by birth, and apart from my girlfriend, probably the person I see most. I live in an area of Nottingham which has more people of colour than white people. I don’t want to join your band or any other, it would probably be impractical due to distance anyway. I just see it as necessarily limiting your options, when best practice would dictate that the best person for the job should be employed, regardless of race, given that you (presumably) value musical ability/cultural understanding over skin colour.

    Eric S Riley
    The majority of punk bands are white because the majority of punk fans are white. There has never been any exclusion in punk rock for blacks or any other race. There just are way less non white punk fans. I am just stating what I see and know after being in punk bands for twenty years. If you want to attack me and try to berate me for that, you have a problem with yourself, not me. But, sincerely, good luck. You can do whatever you want to as long as you really want to. That includes not trying hard and blaming other people. Cheers.

    Stephanie Phillips
    But by that logic Circuit Ben all white bands have limited themselves when looking for guitarists. We can try and believe that most bands audition people from a variety of races but they don’t. So I’m doing the same. We’re choosing bassists that have the same political beliefs, outlooks and musical tastes as us they just all happen to be black. Eric, we will do what we want, we’ll try hard and thank you when we’re successful. That’s all from me. I’m off to do some work and marvel at some artwork by Adee Robertson, the drummer from New Bloods, who were by coincidence a majority black band. Check them out they’re amazing https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQIkQlHk8b8

    Circuit Ben
    I’ve been in bands before (admittedly bad ones) I can’ recall ever placing stipulations on adverts pertaining to race. THAT is the crux of this argument. If you are choosing bassists based on those criteria, and not race, then what exactly is the point of this article? That said, if you want any nasty fuzz pedals, let me know (presuming that the colour of the person who makes the electronics is of no consequence, which of course, it isn’t)

    Marie Thompson
    Ben I can’t believe im hearing this shit from you of all people . Surely you know not every conversation about racism/sexism is a personal attack on you? This stuff is structural. Great that you don’t think of yourself as racist, but when a black woman tells you there’s a problem in the punk scene, try reflecting on that and even why you don’t see it, rather than just telling her she’s doing things in a way you dont like. You dont get to decide how POC resist racism.

    Stephanie Phillips
    Urrgh back for the last time cuz you’re not listening to what I’m saying. Bands do choose people based on race. No one may be saying it and it may not be a conscious decision but it happens all the time the same way interviewers are more likely to pick a white person for a job than a black person regardless of their criteria nad skills. It’s an example of the persistant racism that exists within society that makes you question your every move. You can’t prove it but every person of colour has experienced that in various ways. I don’t expect the person’s colour to change the sound of the band. What I want is to interact with black people and enjoy making music together where we can be equals in the same environment and not have to worry about racism within our own group. Obviously we’ll have to worry about it from other people but having other black people around you makes facing those kinds of situations a lot easier, honestly x.x.x

    Marie Thompson
    Also – playing music in an all POC/all women band isn’t just about advertising your political minority to audiences, or proving that you can do it too. it’s about creating a space to play with people who might have a common or shared experience. Ive spoken to you before about how horrid it can feel being the only girl on an otherwise all guy noise lineup. Sometimes playing with other women provides some relief from that. Surely you can see that?

    Circuit Ben
    A personal attack on me? Nah, I wouldn’t see myself as that important.

    Stephanie Phillips
    Thanks Marie

    Martin K Smith
    full support, whatever that’s worth *eager anticipation*

    Stephanie Phillips
    Thanks Martin xxx

  5. Steph August 29, 2013 at 6:01 am

    Erika- I do think racism has served whites well. Not spiritually but in terms of privilege it benefits white people in ways they aren’t even aware of sometimes.

    Rich- Punks are progressive but that doesn’t mean they can’t be racist. This is my main problem with it all. I hang out with people who think of themselves as political and progressive but aren’t aware of their own racism and privilege.

    Harvey- You’re right I didn’t start the conversation. I think I was being a bit dramatic saying that. H/T to Laina Dawes, James Spooner and Mimi Nguyen to name a few.

  6. mk August 29, 2013 at 9:13 am

    you are refreshingly earnest. punk has always been refreshingly earnest, and sincere. but punk, no matter how much you love it, is like hockey…or sailing…or skiing…or lacrosse…even tennis, despite the US open being in queens. and really, how many punk kids. are really from Queens. or anywhere urban, for that matter?

  7. Pingback: Comment | We Need To Talk About Racism in Punk | Don't Dance Her Down Boys

  8. mike turner August 30, 2013 at 7:26 am

    thought everyone knew how big homophobes bad brains were back in the day. i wouldn’t use them as a sign of anything but just some dudes who could play super fast, but they had some shady ideas too.

  9. Dan August 30, 2013 at 10:05 am

    I’ve read this and the comments and number of times and can’t help but feel a pang of useless sadness at the events described well by Stephanie: far be it from me to best prescribe the course of action you should take from this perceived act of aggression (for clarity: was it not just a dick being a dick? or a drunk being a drunk? I would hate to think you’re ruling yourself out of future awesome music with someone based on their skin colour or gender) and I honestly wish you well in your endeavours (Everett: can you make this part read more sincerely and less patronisingly?). Part of me thinks that the implied logic of your recourse is further factionalisation (along sexuality lines, on languages and dialects not typically represented in punk, on political lines, on which line-up of The Fall was best lines, etc, reductio ad absurdum) but I’m keen to read about how this works out for you when it comes to fruition and whether in a few years you’re willing to tolerate some acts of micro-aggression for music (which, for me, is part and parcel of playing away from the mainstream, call it punk or whatever, I don’t think of it as ‘a safe space away’ but more ‘a place where we can bring these provocations to a more agreeable public exchange’).

  10. Steph August 30, 2013 at 10:42 pm

    Erika- When it comes to being a black woman it is never either or. You are always seen as black and female and are therefore discriminated as such.

    Dan- There were many incidences of racism I’ve experienced that was just on of a long list. The point of micro aggressions is that they are so ingrained in our every day way of being that it is not something you would necessarily notice, especially as a white person looking at the situation. The guy probably didn’t even know he was doing it but he was.

    Again and again I’ve been asked what if I’m losing out by not picking a white male guitarist. What is it with white men that makes them think they are these music gods sent from the heavens to help poor little white girls and black people who don’t know anything about music. I’m missing out on nothing by not having a white man in my band. News flash- punk rock isn’t that hard to play and there re plenty amazing black female musicians that could give plenty white guys a run for their money.

    Finally I think the most important thing is to actually look and remember incidences of racism that you’ve witnessed or perhaps committed. This is the main way we can tackle racism by first actually acknowledging it exists. By telling me i should ignore it or it wasn’t racism you’re only helping your own ignorant causes.

    Also when someone is telling you they’ve experienced bigotry. Do the decent thing and actually listen. Let it swirl around your head for a while and take in what is happening and what the consequences could be. Put yourself in the shoes of black punks. If there are 200 white kids at a show and 2 black kids chances are you’re gonna be nervous about possibly experiencing racism and feel left out.

    This article (which is actually about how to be an ally in the aftermath of the #solidarity is for white woman hashtag) has some useful tips about being an ally, which is what you all need to do if we wanna move anywhere with this thing. If not I’ll leave you here and find an ally somewhere else: http://www.xojane.com/issues/after-solidarityisforwhitewomen-so-you-want-to-be-an-ally

  11. James Flint August 30, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    When I was a kid growing up in the 80’s I saw no distinction between punks, white-supremacists and football hooligans. I was pretty terrified of all of them. But then, it’s not about me.

    All I want to say is, I get you, I understand, of course you should go play the music you want, YOUR music, fuck those little white boys and girls and their bullshit, their ‘micro-racisms’, their thoughtless ‘micro-aggression’. That person didn’t recognise you because they weren’t paying enough attention to YOU as a human being, to YOUR character, to YOUR features
    (pretty standard in the live music arena really). I say fuck them, go out and start an all black punk band, start 5, call it B-Punk and shove it up their arses. You can do this because you are marginalized, you can do it because you may need to do it, punk needs you to do it, we need you to do it, because as far as I understand these things it’s all about messing with the establishment – the musical establishment, the political establishment, whatever – and if punk is racist, then it’s fucked. Punk NEEDS to be told, and punks need to wake the fuck up like everyone else in this regard, or stop pretending, hang up the shitty denim sleeveless jackets, put away the egg-gel and piss off back to the playground with the rock-bores and the casual Sunday-paper racists, and I don’t know, listen to Neil Sedaka or some shit.

    I hope you know that not every musician is so ignorant as to disregard others based on race, culture, gender or even ability. I believe everyone has potential genius. But you are right, we should all look very careful at our selves, in all regards.

    Sorry Neil.

    Thanks Steph.

  12. Dan August 31, 2013 at 1:53 am

    Woah, who was saying that white men are necessarily the best guitarists? What is ‘best’, etc? That seems a wilfully hysterical misreading of what I intended as a supportive comment. Just seems better for the sake of the music to open up the possibilities of who can join the group rather than reduce them. Obviously the band doesn’t just have music qua music at stake otherwise this article doesn’t exist – and anyway, you might find the dream line-up within the community you’re limiting yourself to.

    Furthermore: I didn’t tell you, neither overtly nor implicitly, to ‘ignore’ racism and I fully acknowledge that it exists. I’ve read. I’ve listened. I’ve actually talked about this article here with friends. It’s an important topic and I think it’s only right and proper it should be brought to bear. However, please don’t ask me to put to one side my critical faculties: solidarity doesn’t necessarily come from blind acceptance of someone’s subjective experience. My version of punk isn’t didactic – it’s conversational, it’s negotiation, it’s challenging ALL SIDES of the experience and I’m completely up for being scrutinised and ridiculed and held up to account for my multiple hubris and failures into the bargain. And I wouldn’t dream of ‘putting myself in the shoes of black punks’ because they don’t have a homogenous worldview much as Asian punks, lesbian basketballers or Kenyan ultramarathoners don’t either – and neither should you ascribe one to them.

  13. Dan August 31, 2013 at 3:53 am

    Erika: Yes I am and I concur, I don’t think that alters what I said though.

  14. sieve! August 31, 2013 at 3:55 am

    A very very old discussion…
    Read Lester Bangs White Noise Supremecists.


  15. Ken August 31, 2013 at 4:48 am

    Sorry that you had bad experiences. That sucks. I would be thrilled to see more black folks at punk shows or getting into punk. I think they would have a lot to offer.

  16. James August 31, 2013 at 5:58 am

    The White Noise Supremacists felt like a more honest read than this. I have a lot of issues w/ material coming across as indignation as means to a moral high ground. And painting an entire race of people as either possessing malignant agendas, or too dim to acknowledge the hold their “racist” upbringings had on them is as dubious as responding to segregation w/ segregation. Does the author really believe the sole or even primary reason fewer blacks (or females for that matter) hold iconic (whatever that means) stations in punk is due to some conscious and guided agenda (executed by who she never identifies)? To an extent, I believe in the experiences she described here; it is the scale, the deliberate intent or the quiet dumb acquiescence of whites implied here, and the regressive solutions born of spite and indignation I find unproductive… or hurtful. I can’t stress enough I believe in her experiences and I support her freedom to react in her own accordance. But I’ll exercise my right here and now and call this irresponsible and adolescent. That’s not a dismissal either; it is a reaction based in disagreement after a reading of your article.

    I was really hoping for something more productive. If I were Poly Styrene I’d be upset my likeness was produced at the top of this article.

  17. Kristin August 31, 2013 at 10:20 am

    As a white girl who loves punk but struggles with how it’s dominated by straight, white men I would love to see a whole movement of punk bands full of women of colour. I’d love to not have to sift through songs and bands to find the least offensive of the bunch. Sometimes to make it happen you have to keep it in the family as it were to give people the space to thrive.

  18. Rot September 1, 2013 at 1:08 am

    This has got to be the most absurd un researched cry baby piece of shit I have ever read! Obviously this person has no idea of what punk is or punk ethic is, nor does she know anything about the history of punk. This rant is a racially motivated and discussed through racist eyes. What the hell is middle class white punk? Punk is a poor boy ethic. And takes an approach to being an individual and doing your own thing. Race has no part in punk. And will never have a part in punk. I know many a black punk and skinhead… I grew up in the midst and, was apart of the Chicano scene in Los Angeles. And she proclaims there is no color in the scene or black presence is ridiculous. Bad brains, death, scream, dead Kennedy’s, pure hell,, suicidal tendencies, body count, I can go on for a good long while before I run outta names.
    And yes it is racially motivated… She states… “I needed my own space. We need our own space. Unfortunately, away from white people (well not unfortunate for me; black people bring a lot to the musical table so you lose badly in this scenario). There needs to be a black space within punk’s overwhelming white scene.” Sounds like a black separatist… Yes black people can be racist as well. Black white yellow blue… A bigot is a bigot! It is racism …. This is an unfounded, un referenced argument. A badly written argument. She comes off as an idiot who did not do her research. Just another bigoted cry baby rant. That has no ground to stand on.
    Regardless of where the hate comes from it is still hate! Racism comes in many colors and from many sources…. I don’t care what color you are! If it sounds like a duck, looks, like a duck hmmm must be a duck. I don’t support racism from any stand point!

  19. Rot September 1, 2013 at 1:32 am

    As a punk you have chosen to be a social outcast. To go against the grain…. Where does race or feminism come in to the picture?! Many comments posted here have statements like fuck them white kids! Doesn’t that constitute as being racist? Or is it excused because you are not white? If it does then I can go off on all you fuckheads! Yet I chose not to go that route. As I judge people on their character… Not color , religion, heritage etc.
    I am no stranger to racism… I am a half breed and make no mistake out of it. I have felt discriminated on all sides. The blacks hated me cos I wasn’t black, the Mexicans hated me cos I wasn’t Mexican, the whites hated me because I wasn’t white. So I was a person that was never accepted by anyone. Yet I don’t sit around and cry about it. I did my own thing and have a fuck you punk rock attitude.
    I found punk rock in 1980 and it saved my life. It was a safe place to go and not fit in… That is the whole punk idea… You don’t have to fit in… Just be yourself! Make your own band,zines,scene…. Nothing wrong with that. But to sit and cry about how you feel you’re not included… Well that’s on you! I don’t fit in, and I don’t want to… I’m doing my own thing. And if you dig it cool… If you don’t then cool… I don’t give a fuck. Means nothing to me…. I’m happy with all my friends and fellow bands… We need not worry about the race or gender issue. As it goes against what it is to be a punk.

  20. James Flint September 1, 2013 at 5:43 am

    I can say fuck them white kids for the simple fact that I’m a white man.

  21. Wallace Wylie September 1, 2013 at 8:09 am

    Most of the comments I’ve here read are embarrassing. When a bunch of white people feel the need to school a person of colour on how they should and shouldn’t feel in regards to a situation with a racial element then it just shows the need for articles like this. For god’s sake, stop with the “black people can be racist too” stuff. I feel like we’re a hair’s breadth away from “What about white history month”. The idea that a person of colour, who experiences situations and attitudes that white people never have to even think about never mind encounter, should constantly have to take the high road, act like some kind of saint, and never feel hurt/angry/confused by a situation is in itself a racist idea. Then when a bunch of white people start schooling a person of colour on their tone, telling them they might have read the whole situation wrong, instead of listening and making a leap as to why the person expressing the hurt/anger/confusing might be feeling that way then it shows what a long way society has to go. Great article, shame about most of the comments.

  22. Harvey Manfrenjensenden September 1, 2013 at 10:36 am

    Right on Wallace.

  23. Dan September 1, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    I’m sorry Wallace but people have the right to comment and ask questions and negotiate and they may occasionally be a little hamfisted but none of this has gone anywhere into the territory you suggested. Many people here have been reasonable. There is no suggestion of disbelief, or that these events did not occur, or that they did not wound, or that they couldn’t form part of a wider struggle. No one is ganging up with fellow white people (fucking SIGH) or “schooling” anyone. This is part of a conversation. This is a relatively grown-up corner of the internet. To find the right path we may occasionally have to take a nettle to the groin.

  24. Erika Elizabeth September 1, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    People in positions of power just hate it when someone less privileged tries to point out the (admittedly, sometimes unintentional) negative consequences of that power. My guess is that all of the people up in arms in this thread about “reverse racism” or “discrimination against white dudes” have never really had to be in a position where their contributions to the independent/punk music scene weren’t taken seriously because of their race or gender expression or sexuality or…

    Honestly, after only ever being in bands with straight white dudes, whose egos were bruised when I had the nerve to speak up for myself in music-making situations & insinuate that some of their actions were motivated by doubting my abilities because I’m a girl, leading them to flip out on me & call me a “man-hater”, I totally understand where Stephanie is coming from when she says that she wants to create a controlled band environment that will be more conducive to empowering other black punks & giving them opportunities they might not otherwise be able to access so easily. I’ve had the same exact thoughts about only wanting to play with women, POC and/or queer folks who will understand the uphill battle that I’ve faced as I’ve tried to play music in a so-called “progressive” scene. Anyone who has ever been made to feel completely powerless & completely dominated simply based on how they were born would be able to empathize with the idea of trying to level the playing field a little bit. It’s not like the conscious decision to exclude white men from ONE BAND is going to completely disenfranchise all of those poor music-making white dudes overnight. Something tells me there are dozens of other bands out there where their place in the band, no to mention their basic abilities & competence, will be accepted right away without question.

  25. James Flint September 1, 2013 at 7:47 pm

    I’m with you there Wallace. If someone says to you that they have experienced pain, you don’t tell them that they must be confused, delusional, miss-informed, overly sensitive or lying, you support them. You try to help them to overcome that pain and find a way to go forward in as positive a manner as possible, not give them more of the same. That may mean you have to be self-effacing or even self-deprecating. If in doubt, try compassion and empathy.

  26. Pingback: Can we talk about white superiority and racism in punk? | The Multicultural Politic

  27. Tim Snyder September 5, 2013 at 10:55 am

    First off, I’d like to say the “race” thing is getting old as fuck! The reason you don’t see many black people at punk shows is because not many black people like punk music! There are however, very influential black punk artists. Kudos to them. But, in the same breath, who fucking cares! I grew up in the early 80’s-90’s scene in Dallas Tx, back when Deep Ellum was full of Mohawks, Rude Boys, Liberty Spikes and Skin Heads, it was fan-fucking-tastic! The shows I went to, nobody cared if you were White, Black, Mexican, Asian, or whatever, they only cared if you were part of the scene. The majority of the discrimination was because WE chose to look different. Punk bands were mostly white because mostly white kids were into it. And I say were because the watered down shit y’all call punk today is BULLSHIT!! One more thing, back around ’91-’92, they opened up a bunch of Hip Hop clubs in Ellum, when that happened it changed the dynamics of MY stomping ground. It became unsafe for us, the predominately white punks, to be there. It became violent, there were muggings, stabbings, and shootings. I was singled out for being White and told I didn’t belong down there anymore. Why didn’t anyone scream “RACISM” then? Because it was Black on White aggression, that’s ok, that’s normal, product of their environment. I spent my youth down there, every weekend and then some for at least 6 years, and it was alive and thriving! Great bands, artists, people, and fun! It took about 6 months of the gangsta crowd being there for it to become a fucking ghost town! It’s sad really, 23 years later, it’s still shit compared to my youth. You cry racism in punk music? Fuck you! I call bullshit! I accuse you of being a racist! Pull your head outta your ass and focus on what going on around us, and I mean all of US! While you’re so worried about racism in the punk scene, they’re building “FEMA” camps and dispersing our troops all over the world to leave this land unprotected! Such a bullshit, trivial article!

  28. Wallace Wylie September 5, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    Tea party punks fuck off.

  29. Lola September 5, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    Tim Snynder isn’t it nice for you that the ‘race thing is getting old as fuck’ yeah, that’s how many black people feel, like seriously, 400 years on and we are still here experiencing variations of the same old tired shit. But you didn’t mean it like that did you Tim? Only someone who has racist tendencies would say and mean the bullshit you have written. It is tantamount to saying this ‘disability thing is getting old as fuck’ when the world is still completely geared up for able bodied people.

    And, fuck you for telling a black person to ‘focus on what going on around us’ and not see racism as a big part of the urgent issues that society at large needs to work on. You see, you give yourself away when you instruct the writer to ‘focus on what going on around us’. Racism isn’t something that is happening to you therefore it is not a problem, therefore black people need to shut up about it. Fuck! You are so comfortable within your little racist head that you can’t even see clear enough to understand how ridiculously racist that is- but then, you are a racist so…

  30. Keith Knight September 5, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    I feel you. My comic strip about Death: http://www.kchronicles.com/2013/07/09/band-called-death/

  31. Another Person September 5, 2013 at 6:53 pm

    This is a simple, transparent point that I would like to make.
    I will not mention my age, race or gender.

    I wanted to start a band.
    I needed two other people to join the band.
    A bass player and a drummer.
    All that I required were that they had hands and feet and could, to some degree, navigate aforementioned extremities to within their comfortable confines upon their respective instruments.

    It happened.
    It continues to happen.
    Their age, race, gender, weight, sexuality etc etc etc is entirely arbitrary.
    It does help that they’re not jerks. That’s all a person should be. Not a jerk.

  32. Pingback: What I’ll Gain From Starting An All Black Punk Band | Don't Dance Her Down Boys

  33. James Flint September 15, 2013 at 9:16 pm

    How did Tim Snyder get here?

  34. Bea October 2, 2013 at 1:59 am


    Am sure that you have experienced racism and that I, as a white person, have no idea what it is like. However the example you chose to write about makes you seem some what paranoid and sensitive to me. It is well known that one race finds it harder to distinguish between the facial characteristics of another race. You can’t just deny that that science exists. Just as you can’t deny that the UK has been a predominantly white population for how ever many years and that this may well effect the ratio of whites to blacks in a pub where punk music is being played. Why is it so unreasonable therefore for the man to assume that the only black person he could see was you?

    As I am sure you are aware it is possible to make a situation worse than it could be when you have a mind to pick up on certain things to strengthen your conviction. If I say that there is a lot of red then you are going to start seeing a lot more red you know?

    Like I said, this is not to say that you have not been subjected to racism before but the example you chose to write about (when you say in the comments section that you had many more that you could have written about) undermines you article because it is too easy to see in a different way. Indeed, as said earlier, from an outsider’s perspective I would say that you were probably being paranoid in this particular circumstance and that this paranoia probably comes from a combination of having a history of perceived racist incidents and a dislike of the scientific and geographical facts stated above.

    My apologies if this offends you,


  35. ruthzine November 5, 2013 at 8:03 am

    First black punk band 1974 Pure Hell


  36. Pingback: Has Punk Lost It’s Way? | This Is a Logical Preference

  37. Pingback: Sleater-Kinney | Emma Falconer

  38. Pingback: musik_kulturelle aneignungshandlungen: kritiken-dimensionen-interventionen | in_frage_stellen:musik

  39. Elijah June 1, 2016 at 11:38 am

    I don’t understand why she’s upset. I’ve been to countless concerts and not one of them is a racist, yeah maybe African Americans don’t participate in punk culture as often as white people, but how is that racist? pulling the “racist” card isn’t solving anything. that’s like saying because there aren’t as many white rappers as there are African American ones it’s racist..

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