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Comment | What I’ll Gain From Starting An All Black Punk Band

Lola’s Bar, Houston, TX, early 1990s. Copyright Ben DeSoto.

Lola’s Bar, Houston, TX, early 1990s. Copyright Ben DeSoto.

So I wrote about racism in punk scenes and why I wanted to start an all black punk band a few weeks expecting a shitstorm of accusations and general passive aggressiveness to follow. Like clockwork it did, immediately. I was told that I was racist, I should have just ignored the racism I experienced, I didn’t experience any racism, I was looking for someone to blame, I would never be influential, not change anything and not be any good anyway so there *mimes little boys sticking their tongues out and scrunching up their faces as I’m sure that’s what those guys were doing behind the safety of their computer screens*.

This was predictable behavior and what happens whenever you mention racism anywhere.You want someone to say it sweeter, calmer, more articulately. Say it in words you can understand but you’ll never understand till you wrap your heads around the concept of racism. It has never been resigned to the skinheads causing trouble in the streets or the middle class bigots you try so desperately not to turn into. Racism is neither an intellectual concept or something you can hold down, touch or even point out.

I mentioned the incident where a gig goer mistook me for another black woman because it was a clear example of the daily issue people of colour go through on a daily basis. Since you can never properly prove why they mistook you, you’re left in daze wondering what actually happened. Did I imagine it. The whole point is that you’re left questioning yourself and whether or not your experiences are your own. Now I don’t think this guy was necessarily racist but I do think that he subconsciously believed that he was in a white space and assumed that  there wouldn’t be more than one white person there. This is a problem because this kind of denial of the full black presence in punk spaces leads to black punks feeling left out, misunderstood and ‘othered’.

The amount of wildly absurd stories some people have come up with to try and believe that race had nothing to do with this incident was unbelievable. One guy even suggested that maybe he had a rare facial recognition disorder and he couldn’t tell anyone apart. Really? NO I don’t think it was the one in a million disorder. Sometimes things are just what they are and he didn’t recognise me because subconsciously he thought all black people looked alike and he didn’t expect two black women to be in the same venue.

What I didn’t expect were the comments that asked me whether I thought I’d miss out on finding an amazing white male musician who wanted to join the band. Well, the simple answer is I wouldn’t miss out and I would reject him straight away before he could play a single note. It’s a black punk band!!! I mean what kind of dickhead forces themselves into a black space and then gets upset when asked to leave. That’s not the kind of person I want to hang around with never mind make music with.

Since people seem to see white men as musical gods sent from heaven to help us poor ladies and people of colour play our instruments proper I thought I’d write a list on what I’m ACTUALLY missing out on by not having a white person in my band and what I’m gaining by having an all black punk band.

What I’m missing out on:

  • Racism that I’ve experienced being dismissed as something else
  • Feeling like a token and not being sure what that means
  • Seeing my issues constantly getting sidelined in the political discourse
  • Knowing that the people around me will never truly understand my worries, fears and issues like a black woman would

What I’m gaining:

  • Black female sistah solidarity (it’s a powerful thing)
  • Being part of a gang who could back each other up if any of us experienced bigotry
  • A safe space where we can all be creatively satisfied without fear of racism from each other
  • Knowledge that everyone is aware of what racism actually is (sounds strange but the majority of people genuinely don’t know)
  • If this all goes well hopefully we’ll be able to surround ourselves with other black punks in bands and gain wisdom and knowledge from that sense of security
  • extra haircare supplies (jokes…but am I)

Moving forward from this I think the first thing white punks need to do is acknowledge that racism does exist within the scene. From here change can occur but only from this first step. Then I would suggest acknowledging ones own privilege and whether or not you have been responsible for any racist thoughts or beliefs. This includes microagressions such as assuming a black women is being more aggressive than she is or patronising a person of colour for coming to a punk gig (this happened to a woman of colour I know recently).

From here other good ways to help involve supporting people of colour in bands, looking at what kind of bands as a promoter your’re booking and considering to book more bands with people of colour, not looking weirdly at people of colour at gigs (this has happened before) and remembering that punk and alternative spaces are not white spaces and making a conscious effort to correct this way of thinking.

The most important final thing is to listen to people of colour. I can’t stress this enough. When a friend tells you that they have just experienced something awful, believe them. Don’t question, deride or try and pass it off as something else. This is the worst thing that happens and is almost worst that the incident that we might be complaining to our white friends about.

The most important thing to remember is that society has indoctrinated white people for a good few centuries on attitudes to race so it’s going be a long up hill journey towards a better scene. As long you are dedicated to changing things than it can be done.

So, let me know. Are you dedicated to change in the punk scene?

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9 thoughts on “Comment | What I’ll Gain From Starting An All Black Punk Band

  1. As a Hardcore dude, my ‘scene’ so to speak will different to punks, but Hardcore doesn’t seem quite as bad in the physical spaces. Sure its still a very white space, but people of colour don’t get treated as outsiders as a general rule, though we have had some manifestations of racism in the form of colour blindness (long story short, blackface was done and not being seen as a bad thing as it was ‘in respect to the person’, needs a history lesson or 50!). Online though, some people act like racism has never ever happened ever and that people shouldn’t bring it up, its quite jarring really. This is getting very off track, anyways, fight through the bullshit of your scene and do whatever you feel necessary to get your point across, as that’s definitely Punk! Hope to see your band becomes fully fledged and recording, definitely want to see the output to this!

  2. – Love what you wrote, hope all goes well, wish I was in London to see this ! !

    also comment on the nopopnomanagers person, are you white ? just worry it sounds like you’re talking about something you don’t know about, of how POC’s get treated in punk physical spaces and how damaging some shit that fellow punks do.
    Also, saw you think Ian mckaye is awesome on your nopopnomanagers fb, and sadly he’s said some pretty racist shit, in a zine I read in an archive where he thought it was unfair as fuck/racist that there’s such a thing as affirmative action, and his white friend was offered a scholarship when ticking in a box that he was black, but when they found out he was white, they revoked their offer.
    Sounds like a white privileged racist asshole to me.
    maybe think twice of what you write and how you might have an idea of what something’s like and not know what it’s like for other people . also different punk scenes differ from city/country etc.

    • Hi there, yes I am white and if it sounded like I was attempting to speak with any authority on the matter I apologise as I fully well understand I can’t see/understand all the contradictions and complications POC’s face. I do know that a lot of the people I know who are white and in hardcore are trying their best to understand racism and white supremacy from an intersectional viewpoint but i/we definitely are far from the ones who (should) lead these conversations or have the knowledge to do so. I know as a high school kid Ian Mackaye said some really dodgey things (guilty of being white being a prime example of juvenile racism) but he has provided the context in what he meant. Whether that absolves him isn’t by any shot for me to decide but it worth remembering he is 40 and most of his lyrics were written at 15. If he’s still being a racist douche in currently then discount what I just said, I was mainly impressed at his attitude towards clothing and being hyperbolic at the same time.
      Also, what he friend definitely makes him an arsehole for sure, won’t argue with that at all.

      Did that respond to everything? I can’t tell I’m too tired and editing too, forgive my ignorance as best as possible and teach as best as possible!

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  4. Pingback: We Need to Talk about Racism in Punk | Welcome to Stephanie Phillips' Site

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