From the Clash to Los Crudos, skinheads to afro-punks, the punk rock movement has been obsessed by race. And yet the connections have never been traced in a comprehensive way.
White Riot is the definitive study of the subject, collecting first-person writing, lyrics, letters to zines, and analyses of punk history from across the globe. This book brings together writing from leading critics such as Greil Marcus and Dick Hebdige, personal reflections from punk pioneers such as Jimmy Pursey, Darryl Jenifer and Mimi Nguyen, and reports on punk scenes from Toronto to Jakarta.
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.
A keen writer on music and an extraordinarily sharp theorist, Theodor Adorno once wrote "The task of art today is to bring chaos into order."
His own selection of essays and journalism on music, Quasi Una Fantasia, reverberates with his deep conviction in the human properties of music as a form capable of resisting barbarity. We're not sure, therefore, how he'd feel about Minima Moralia EP.
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.