eds. Stephen Duncombe & Maxwell Tremblay
Editor Stephen Duncombe is one of those punk academics. In addition to editing White Riot he has written a book about zines and he explains in his intro to White Riot his punk background which included membership in a band called White Noise. Those are his punk credentials, and to prove his current cultural-studies-academic credentials he reflects upon his old band's name to segue into the contents of the book, a vast collection of writings on punk and race.
White Riot is a collection of reflections on race in punk from virtually every available source, from academic authors, including Dick Hebdige, the father of subcultural studies, and their articles, to popular magazine articles, letter exchanges, zine writings, interviews, and song lyrics. The book creates a sense that punk has always had a deeply problematic and fractured relationship to questions of race, from the Sex Pistols wearing swastikas to the presumption among glamour punks that they know what it's like to be of another race because of their weird punk appearance. A reader may recall such singular, uncomfortable, issues as all the supposedly ironic Nazi references in British punk's most famous icons, which are, of course, problematic. The overall view of punk this book creates should compel the reader to recognize a much larger and more profoundly strained scene that appears use its claim to a self-imposed social difference to trivialize the difference of others and reinforce dominant racial values.
Many of the written pieces are actually quite disturbing to read when considering that punk has, to a large extent, constructed itself as the youth culture of radical left politics and social tolerance. Minor Threat vocalist Ian Mackaye, who, even as a 17 year old, was an intellectual leader of the hardcore punk scene, sounds incredibly naive of issues of racism in society in an interview where he is discussing the Minor Threat song 'Guilty of Being White' and lamenting his experience in a Washington DC high-school with an almost entirely black student population. Of course, he was young when he made his statements and perhaps unlikely to repeat them now, but he was also so relevant to the hardcore scene that he was essentially a primary source of punk concepts One musician-of-colour claims that her white audience gets upset when she shifts from straight punk-rock to picking up an instrument that's traditional to her cultural background, because she's being exclusionary, implying that punks are unwilling to enjoy music that deviates from the conventions they've constructed, and that those conventions transcend any notions of cultural specificity.
Too many punks claim that the experience of being snickered at for their hair-dye gives them the knowledge of the experience of racial prejudice, many subcultures make similar claims, in the documentary film Hells Angels Forever, for example, members of a notoriously racist subculture argue that they, the bikers, "are the real n***ers" because of their outlaw status. Towards the end of White Riot, an argument via a Maximumrockandroll letters section where a black punk, frustrated with the scene and the racism he experienced, is chastised by white punks for giving up on the scene, meanwhile other black punks relate to the original letter with their own thoughts and experiences, indicating that, within punk, racial divides can emerge as soon as the subject is broached.
PS: Comrade Dr. Alan O'Connor, professor of cultural studies at Trent University, has contributed a piece to this collection about the punk scenes of Toronto and Mexico City.