White Riot

White Riot

208 Pages


The first comprehensive reader on punk and race, from The Clash to Bad Brains.

From the Clash to Los Crudos, skinheads to afro-punks, the punk rock movement has been obsessed by race. And yet the connections have never been traced in a comprehensive way. White Riot is a definitive study of the subject, collecting first-person writing, lyrics, letters to zines, and analyses of punk history from across the globe. This book brings together writing from leading critics such as Greil Marcus and Dick Hebdige, personal reflections from punk pioneers such as Jimmy Pursey, Darryl Jenifer and Mimi Nguyen, and reports on punk scenes from Toronto to Jakarta.



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Published 01 July 2011
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EAN13 9781781683958
Language English

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First published by Verso 2011 © Stephen Duncombe and Maxwell Tremblay 2011 Individual contributions © the contributors
All rights reserved
The moral rights of the authors have been asserted
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Verso is the imprint of New Left Books
eISBN: 978-1-84467-799-3
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress
Typeset in Adobe Garamond by MJ Gavan, Truro, Cornwall Printed in the US by Maple Vail
Foreword James Spooner, director ofAfro-Punk
Stephen Duncombe and Maxwell Tremblay
Norman Mailer, “The White Negro”
James Baldwin, “The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy”
Weatherman Songbook, “White Riot”
John Sinclair, liner notes to MC5’sKick Out the Jams!
Steve Waksman, “Kick Out the Jams! The MC5 and the Politics of Noise”
Patti Smith, liner notes to “Rock ’N’ Roll Nigger”
Dick Hebdige, “Bleached Roots: Punks and White Ethnicity”
Steven Lee Beeber, “Hotsy-Totsy Nazi Schatzes: Nazi Imagery and the Final Solution to the Final Solution” Edward Meadows, “Pistol-Whipped,”National Review Roger Sabin, “ ‘I Won’t Let that Dago By’: Rethinking Punk and Racism”
Jimmy Pursey of Sham 69, interview inSounds
Bob Noxious of the Fuck-Ups, interview inMaximumrocknroll
Black Flag, interview inRipper
Greil Marcus, “Crimes Against Nature”
Daniel S. Traber, “L.A.’s ‘White Minority’: Punk and the Contradictions of Self-Marginalization”
Vic Bondi, Dave Dictor, and Ian MacKaye, on “Guilty of Being White,” inMaximumrocknroll
Lester Bangs, “The White Noise Supremacists”
John Clarke, “The Skinheads and the Magical Recovery of Community”
Timothy S. Brown, “Subcultures, Pop Music and Politics: Skinheads and ‘Nazi Rock’ in England and Germany”
Ian Stuart of Skrewdriver, interview inTerminal
Majority of One, review and letter exchange inMaximumrocknroll George Eric Hawthorne of RaHoWa, “Music of the White Resistance” Anonymous, “Rock ’n’ Roll: White or Black?”Skinned Alive
Kieran Knutson of Anti-Racist Action, interview inMaximumrocknroll
Lili the Skinbird, “Associating with Racists: A Way to Promote Anti-Racism?”Crossbreed
Jon Savage,England’s Dreaming Paul Simonon of the Clash, interview inSearch & Destroy David Widgery,Beating Time
Paul Gilroy, “Two Sides of Anti-Racism”
Joel Olson, “A New Punk Manifesto,”Profane Existence
Anonymous, “Not Just Posing for the Postcard: A Discussion of Punk and the New Abolition,” Clamor
Daisy Rooks, “Screaming, Always Screaming,”HeartattaCk
Otto Nomous, “Race, Anarchy and Punk Rock: The Impact of Cultural Boundaries Within the Anarchist Movement”
Darryl A. Jenifer of Bad Brains, “Play Like a White Boy: Hard Dancing in the City of Chocolate”
Greg Tate, “Hardcore of Darkness: Bad Brains”
Simon Jones,Black Culture, White Youth: The Reggae Tradition from JA to UK
Skeeter Thompson of Scream, interview inFlipside
Michelle Habell-Pallán, “¿Soy Punkera, y Qué?”
Alien Kulture, interview with the BBC Michael Muhammad Knight, “Muhammad Was a Punk Rocker” Siddhartha Mitter, “Taqwacore: Salat, Angst, and Rock & Roll”
Los Crudos, interview inMaximumrocknroll
Martín Sorrondeguy, interview inMaximumrocknroll
Afro-Punk: The “Rock ’n’ Roll Nigger” Experience, from the film script
Mimi Nguyen, “It’s (Not) a White World: Looking for Race in Punk,”Punk Planet “Just Another Nigger,” letter exchange inMaximumrocknroll Kelly Besser, “What Happened?”Chop Suey Spex
Madhu Krishnan, “How Can You Be So Cold?”How to Stage a Coup
Tasha Fierce, “Black Invisibility and Racism in Punk Rock,”Bitchcore
Vincent Chung, “I am Colorblind,”Race Riot
Taina Del Valle of Anti-Product, interview inHeartattaCk
Krishna Rau, “Try Not To to Think: Forgetting the Forgotten Rebels,”Broken Pencil
Vírus 27, interview inChiclete com Banana
Alan O’Connor, “Punk and Globalization: Mexico City and Toronto”
Carmelo Esterrich and Javier H. Murillo, “Rock with Punk with Pop with Folklore: Transformations and Renewal in Aterciopelados and Café Tacuba” Jeremy Wallach, “Living the Punk Lifestyle in Jakarta” The Punks Are Alright: A Punk Rock Safari from the First World to the Third, interview in Blind Pigs
Esneider of Huasipungo, “Migrapunk,”Maximumrocknroll
Notes Permissions
First we’d like to thank all the writers whose words make up this reader. This book is really theirs. We’d also like to spotlight two individuals who were critical in the genesis ofWhite Riot: Elizabeth Esch, who floated the concept of this reader nearly a decade ago, and Joe Lowndes, who resurrected the idea a few years back and contributed so much to the project in its early stages. As with any endeavor like this, our deepest debt is to librarians and archivists: Billie Aul and Paul Mercer at the New York State Archives; Jenna Freedman at the Barnard Library Zine Collection; the staff at NYU’s Bobst and Tamiment libraries; Chris Hubbard and the Kill from the Heart online zine archive; the Operation Phoenix Records Punk Zine Archive; Eric Nelson, Jack, and Cookiepuss the Cat at the ABC No Rio Zine Library; Andy Vande Vorde at theVillage Voice; and Cissie Spurlock, Layla Gibbon, and Justin Briggs atMaximumrocknroll, who let us hang out and scan things at the house for a couple days. We’d also like to thank Mimi Nguyen for helpful points in the right direction, Ben Holtzman and Dewar MacLeod for leads early on, Bryan Waterman for his thoughts on Patti Smith, Brian Cogan for his prodigious knowledge of punk rock history, Vivek Bald for his filmMutiny: Asians Storm British Music and turning us on to Alien Kulture, Millery Polyné for his thoughts on race and popular music, and James Spooner for embracing the project. Several people and institutions also made this book possible. We’d like to thank the Gallatin School of New York University, the Gallatin Faculty Enrichment Fund, and the New School for Social Research Philosophy Department for helping support this project, Suzanne Wofford for her generosity, and the fabulous Linda Wheeler Reiss for her financial acumen and conjuring ability. At Verso we’re indebted to Sébastien Budgen, Audrea Lim, Mark Martin, John McGhee, John Yates, and especially our editor, Andrew Hsiao, who nurtured this anthology from the start and made us kill some of our darlings to keep its size under control.White Riotwould never have happened without the support and encouragement of our friends and family: Alisa, Rayna, Juliet, Mom and Dad, Jean, Sydney and Sebastien, and band members past and present. Finally, we’re thankful for punk rock and all the kids who continue to try and make it alright.
It’s 1988. I’m a biracial kid, in a white trash town sprinkled with black and brown gang affiliates. I’m the new kid at school, fluffy hair and a Powell Peralta T-shirt. My Walkman blares the one tape I own, Black Flag’sWasted … Again. I just found out about punk rock this summer, but when Keith Morris screams, “I don’t care,” I know what he’s saying. That’s me! I think to some extent all adolescents can relate to the angst of punk rock. For the kids, everything is black and white. You are this or you are that, you’re real or you’re a poser. Your ability to be yourself is what makes you real, but in truth every kid just wants to fit in. Life is complex, but when you’re thirteen a slogan like “I don’t care” makes the hypocrisy go away. When I walked into school that first day a gangbanger named Troy asked me why I “wasn’t a nigga like him.” He showed me his jailhouse tattoo and keloided knife wound across his arm. Up until that day I thought gangs were limited to the Hell’s Angels and the Mafia, but Troy thought I would somehow be an ideal candidate for the Black Mafia Crips. Later that day I befriended another black guy. Travis. He was a real punk rocker. Spikes on his jacket, bleach spot in the front of his hair. A little white dude, Mason, with a shaved head and red laces in his boots, sat down next to us. We all ate lunch together. In one period, I learned about the Circle Jerks and Descendents, and was asked to join a band (never mind I’d never played an instrument). Mason also clued me in on another tidbit: he hated “niggers,” but like Travis I “was cool.” That day I was asked to make a choice: punk or black. I’m biracial, black and white; I was born into duality. My mother raised me to believe I didn’t have to be one thing. But when you can’t explain, even to yourself, something as complex as navigating double consciousness, it’s easy to regress into what you know. Nigger or nigga, it was unanimous I wasn’t like Troy and his friends. For me the choice was clear.
Q. Are you black or punk? A. I don’t care, I choose PUNK FUCKING ROCK!
My freshman year of punk rock was like boot camp. I was beaten emotionally and occasionally physically into the arms of my chosen identity. I was continually questioned and challenged by everyone—skinheads, gangsters, teachers, and my parents—about my chosen identity. The more they questioned me, the more I had to prove. In no time, I had pierced myself, slashed myself, and shaved my head in a double Mohawk in order to show everyone that I was punkfirst. A year later, by the grace of my wonderful white mother, we moved from that California truck-stop town to the Big Apple. It was 1991. New decade, new me. Almost immediately I felt a sense of relief in this giant city. Living a few blocks away from Washington Square Park, I was instantly inserted into a world where skateboarders, punks, Rastas, street performers, and park weirdos hung out with relative ease. Kids were Puerto Rican and Asian and white and black, and it didn’t seem to matter. No one wanted me to be a nigga or nigger or anything else. I was just another kid wearing a leather jacket in the summertime. It’s there where I met another black punk, Ryan. He was in a punk/ska band called Bushmon. Ryan was just old enough for me to look up to but young enough to enjoy having a fifteen-year-old to pal around with. Bushmon was playing one of its first shows, and Ryan used his one comp ticket onme. A month prior, angry skinheads were chasing me through a field of dust and tumbleweeds, and today I was on the guest list to see an all-black punk band on the Lower East Side. Seeing Bushmon did something to me. Some of the complexity of double consciousness just got a little less murky. I didn’t have to defend myself as a black punk. Dreadlocks swinging, brown sweat pouring from their faces, these guys validated me. For the first time in a long time I felt pride. Dreadlocks were popular in those days and my spiked Mohawk followed suit. But it wasn’t just black kids locking up. I got my first taste of black camaraderie while smoking pot and dissing our white buddies’ struggle to dread. We’d laugh and slap five; no amount of egg white, beeswax, spit,
and dirt could replicate what us brothas had. Some of the guys in Bushmon were having similar feelings of pride. But for them Black Power was giving way to black rage. They were feeling hate for the white kids that I was yet to understand. “Power to the People,” “Kill Whitey,” “Down with Yacob.” Ryan, with me as his loyal follower, was asked to make a decision.
Q. Are you black or punk? A. PUNK ROCK! Fuck you for asking.
The party was over. Summer came and went and I was back in high school. A lot more black peers ushered in a new boot camp with a new set of identity-challenging drill instructors.
“How come you wearing tight pants? You gay?” “Oh my God, look at them skulls. You a Satan worshipper?” “Yo son, he got a ring in his lip! You black, right?” “Oh, he got a white mom, that’s why he act like that.”
ARGGGGGG!!!!!! Black or punk, punk or black. I couldn’t get away. It would be years before I found a way to properly answer the damn question. Two years later, New York, with all its legendary punk and hardcore history, was failing me. I was getting tired of the tough-guy, drug-infested NYC hardcore scene. I was getting into politics: animal rights, feminism, DIY, Straight Edge. I needed to find people like myself, so I started to travel. Every weekend I was on a bus to somewhere. Middlesex College in New Jersey, the Cabbage Collective in Pennsylvania, the Middle East in Massachusetts. I was racking up serious Greyhound miles going to see bands and, more important, my newfound friends. This was a different breed of punk rocker. We had a network of kid-run concerts, kid-owned record labels, and kid-produced media. We debated the merits of peace versus militant action. We plotted and protested. It was empowering. It was also very, very white. In this politically conscious climate, no one would dare mention race. No one would dare ask me to choose. To be honest, it felt good. I was just another kid wearing the same dirty pants for a month straight. It might be oversimplification to pinnacle another big change around one event but the summer of ’95 sticks out. I was traveling with a band and we kept bumping into another band, Los Crudos. They were one of the most popular bands around, all Latino, superpolitical, and sang exclusively in Spanish—on purpose. Tempe, Arizona, marked the third time I was seeing them this tour. The kids rocked out, traded zines, joked around, and did what kids do, but there was one noticeable difference: everyone, and I meaneveryone, was Chicano. Seeing punk in a brown context put things in perspective. I sat at the merch table and watched the show, the whole time thinking, “Punk rock is reallywhite.” A week later I found myself in San Francisco and, wouldn’t you know it, saw Los Crudos again. The night came and went. After all the bands left, some of us stuck around to help the promoter clean the venue. As I was sweeping stepped-on flyers and empty soda cans into the recycling bin I heard, “Why do they have to speak Spanish? I mean, who can understand them?” I turned around to see the radical white feminist I had been crushing on through letters for a year. As I thoroughly tore her a new asshole to pack her privilege in, I explained that maybe she was not who they were talking to. That night, as my friends began to be a little more awkward/cautious around me, I was realizing that maybe it was time for me to make a choice.
Q. Are you black or punk? A. Uh … fuck me.
Skipping ahead only a year, I found myself completely alienated from the scene. Maybe I was getting older, maybe it just wasn’t speaking to my needs anymore, but one day I was out. No longer punk but not any more black. With the passing of Y2K, I was five years deprived of the punk scene that raised me. Still, I was clinging to my eighth-grade motto more than ever. Without punk rock and still no black community, “I don’t care” was the only thing I could hold on to. But I did care. I needed answers. I was pissed at the black community, I was pissed at my punk family, I was pissed at myself. All these years I had let everyone push me around, and the only thing I had to do to release all this anger was to make a choice.