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).
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.