We are black, it is true, but tell us, gentlemen, you who are so judicious, what is the law that says that the black man must belong to and be the property of the white man? ... Yes, gentleman, we are free like you, and it is only by your avarice and our ignorance that anyone is still held in slavery up to this day, and we can neither see nor find the right that you pretend to have over us ... We are your equals then, by natural right, and if nature pleases itself to diversify colours within the human race, it is not a crime to be born black nor an advantage to be white.
This excerpt is from a letter written in July 1792 by the leaders of the revolution of Haitian slaves. The letter has been republished in the collection of writings of the black leader Toussaint L'Overture, The Haitian Revolution, which includes also the correspondence between him and Napoleon Bonaparte. In the late eighteenth century, Toussaint L'Overture and his supporters established the first black republic in the world.
In the United Kingdom, October is Black History Month. The celebration was originally introduced in 1926 on the initiative of Carter G. Woodson, the editor of the Journal of Negro History. In 2007, no fewer than 6,000 events were held in the UK as part of its programme. Here are some key Verso titles past and present that are relevant to the study and celebration of African and Caribbean history.
After the Occupy Wall Street "People's Library" was brutally dismantled by the police, Paolo Mossetti of Through Europe asked some of his favourite writers, activists, and academics to help him compile a list of books that would recreate, though only virtually, the library's shelves.
Here is the second part, with contributions from Simon Critchley, Stephen Duncombe, Alex Foti, Peter Hallward, John Hutnyk, Esther Leslie, Bertell Ollman, Matteo Pasquinelli, Aaron John Peters, Nina Power.
The third part of the reading list will be online next week.
Stir features a long interview with the editors of White Riot: Punk Rock and the Politics of Race, Stephen Duncombe and Maxwell Tremblay. The "basic premise" on which the book is grounded, Duncombe and Tremblay explain, is that "race is deeply embedded in Punk Rock, not just musically ... but integral to its very formations." Punk was one of the first subcultures that "acknowledged that we (in the UK and US) were now all living in a multicultural society." At the same time, the book also aims to debunk a white-only representation of the punk scene, stressing
those contributions of non-white punks who were part of the scene from the very beginning yet tend to be marginalized or white-washed entirely out of standard punk histories.
There is much to learn from the history of punk. In an age in which racism seems to be again on the rise, today's young radicals should bear in mind how white punks who claimed to have an anti-racist approach ended up hegemonising the movement, Maxwell Tremblay emphasises:
The lesson of punk rock's attempt to do this is to be mindful of the ways in which subcultures can, in fact, replicate that white power structure within their own limits.
Stephen Duncombe and Maxwell Tremblay's White Riot: Punk Rock and the Politics of Race is continuing to spark wildly overdue conversations on the role of race in music culture. One of these much needed and often awkward conversations was broadcast on the Michael Eric Dyson Show. Another, a conversation between the editors and Souciant magazine, is transcribed online.
Among the various claims Steve Duncombe and I make in our recent book White Riot: Punk Rock & the Politics of Race , one in particular seems to me to have been enlivened—or at least encouraged—by the "Occupy" actions of these past few weeks: the notion that the very abstractness or vagueness of punk's oppositional stance is one of the keys to its endurance and, occasionally, political efficacy. In other words, there is something about the immediate accessibility of punk's "Fuck Off! [and We'll Fill in the Details Later]" that makes the genre/subculture, despite its myriad shortcomings on issues of race and gender inequality, so attractive to all kinds of people.
Now, there are many more subtle and elaborate political critiques to be found within punk itself, but what makes them unique is that they come across with the kind of confrontational flair—whether Kathleen Hanna's "Suck my left one!" or Martín Sorrondeguy's "That's right motherfucker, we're that spic band!"—on whose wavelength one can get even if a more robust engagement with the specific content of the message may only come later (hopefully).