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.
White Riot editors Stephen Duncombe and Maxwell Tremblay were recently interviewed on WNYC Souncheck, where they discussed the complicated and problematic racial politics of punk rock.
Using Black Flag’s “White Minority” as an example—a song proclaiming “white pride” but sung by Puerto Rican Ron Reyes, accompanied on drums by Colombian American Roberto “Robo” Valverde, and produced by African American Glen Lockett (a.k.a. Spot)—Duncombe and Tremblay demonstrate that
The “white riot” was never white from it’s conception, yet it’s been remembered and thought of and articulated as white. And this creates an immense amount of frustration, of course, for punks of color.
Ducncombe and Tremblay took questions and comments from listeners with varying perceptions on punk and racial politics.
Listen to the interview in full below.
White Riot editors Stephen Duncombe and Maxwell Tremblay discussed punk, race and politics with Alexis Petridis for the Guardian Music Weekly podcast.
Going through the 'album' accompanying the book, the editors describe The Clash's 'White Riot' as
the quintessential articulation of radical whiteness ... It has all the complicated notions of the racial identity of punk rock - which is at one and the same time, a radical articulation of racial solidarity and anti-racist sentiment.
We purposely started the book with a non-punk piece, Norman Mailer's 'White Negro', because what we're trying to point out is that punk slips into a long line of bohemian cultural expressions of being able to and desiring to identify with the Other as a way of freeing oneself from white bourgeois restrictions; Patti Smith's 'Rock n Roll Nigger' is exactly within that tradition - and that haunts punk rock for 40 years.
American producers Cecil Otter and Swiss Andy have created Wugazi: 13 Chambers, the result of "a year's worth of cutting up every imaginable Fugazi record and trying out every Wu-Tang acapella they could get their hands on."
Is hip hop Black America's answer to punk? The two genres of music and subcultures share plenty of traits such as oft-politicized lyrics, repetition, an incredible ability to annoy parents, as well as the central concern with identity that has been played out through the politics of race for decades.
Fugazi frontman and punk hero Ian MacKaye once held some views about race that now seem shocking. At the age of 19, MacKaye was interviewed about race and the Minor Threat song "Guilty of Being White" for Maximumrocknroll, which he later stated to be "an anti-racist song." White Riot editors Stephen Duncombe and Maxwell Tremblay try to unpick his rants in their introduction to the interview: