With conservatives in Britain blaming "black street culture" for the recent London riots, it's time to reconsider hip hop's power as a tool for social critique, writes sociologist Sujatha Fernandes—author of Close to the Edge: In Search of the Global Hip Hop Generation—for the Huffington Post:
Five years ago, the American rapper Nas proclaimed that "Hip Hop is Dead." But while hip hop culture may have succumbed to the music industry in the U.S., four decades after its birth in the Bronx, rap music has become the soundtrack to the social unrest sweeping the globe from Tunisia to Libya and London.
English human rights solicitor and Dispatches from the Dark Side author Gareth Peirce joined Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, where she discussed recently uncovered files detailing ties between U.S. and British intelligence and the Gaddafi regime's torture of dissidents.
In response to Prime Minister Cameron and President Obama's rejection of investigations into torture and extraordinary rendition, Peirce says,
It is absolutely critical that this not be put to rest, it's critical that if it's investigated, it be done publicly. Every organization in the world that has experience in how to eradicate torture insists upon two essential ingredients: first, that all the data that reveals torture is publicly known and understood; and secondly, that those on whose watch it happened, who were responsible, be brought to account. And neither of those preconditions is in existence in the construct that is present in Britain at the moment.
On his whirlwind tour through the UK, McKenzie Wark (author of The Beach Beneath The Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International) has given a number of fascinating interviews on the contemporary relevance of Situationist thought and practice. In an interview with STIR, over a game of Guy Debord's own Game of War no less, Wark suggests revisiting the Situationist canon in order to make sense of the commodity form (both virtual and real) and resist the institutionalization of knowledge:
So, why look at this stuff again? Well, if you are interested in how to think critically about everyday life, how to think and act outside of institutionalized forms of knowledge, in ways of inventing practices that are at least partially outside of the commodity system, then they are great precursors for dozens of things happening now such as Copy Left and Creative Commons on one side and forms of autonomous organizations in the media on the other.
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.
Here's something for your ears from while you're perusing White Riot: Punk Rock and the Politics of Race: an 'album' of songs treated in the text, with commentary by yours truly. Bop along, enjoy - though not the Skrewdriver track, which is offered only in the interest of scholarly completeness - and hear how different punks have lived and negotiated racial identity.
1. The Clash: 'White Riot'
Composed after witnessing black youth fight back against police presence - at the 1976 Notting Hill Carnival - "White Riot" calls for white youth to do the same, to have a "riot of [their] own." Its message of anti-racist solidarity with people of color is still, to this day, characteristic of most white punks, but it still problematically frames punk, at its inception, as an exclusively white phenomenon.