By Sophia Ghoneim.
As a movement rooting for anti-capitalism and subversiveness, it always strikes me as odd that none of the leading figures of the punk movement were those of marginalized communities. As Carson Peaden puts it in his article Being Black Is Punk In Itself; punk is “a movement that has been historically and culturally whitewashed, Black folk embrace punk and alternative.”
The whitewashing of the punk movement has a lot to do with how we define its origins. It is widely agreed upon that punk originated in late twentieth-century England’s white working class. As we all know though, nothing truly starts where we think it started or by who we think started it. Punk, specifically, is hard to define, having no decisive factor, at its core, it is only a counterculture of violating normativity. And has therefore, always inherently existed in marginalized communities. As Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff says in her article Why is The History of Punk Music so White?:
“In many ways, black people were the original counter-cultural figures, racially excluded from a domineering white society, albeit not out of choice. Our music and culture have been intimately linked with the punk genre since its inception. [...] It’s not so much recognising black people in punk, it’s recognising the punk that already exists in black culture”
In addition to recognizing that the abstract message of punk precedes the origin of the movement, it is equally important to learn about how the movement has concretely alienated and appropriated marginalized communities. In the article The Contradiction of Punk Whiteness, Salsgiver argues that in an intentional aim to be ostracized, punks adopted traits of Black culture, such as dreads. In addition to this, she further discusses punk music’s origins:
“Within punk, there is also the undeniable influence of reggae. Hebidge theorizes that the unique blackness of reggae and its exclusivity is what made it so appealing to punks. In essence, it was so un-white that it was exciting to punks. They wanted to get away from the overdone white pop and revolt against the British culture, so they used reggae as a way to lose themselves and to experience of alienation.”
In recent months, I have become more and more interested in the punk movement and have built an affinity for the radical messages of the twentieth century. But I could never fully embrace them, not knowing their origins. In contrast, I find the modern punk movement to be too centered around aesthetics and not entrenched enough in radical messages. Having better understood how the ideology of the past only served certain communities by appropriating others, I think there is a balance to be reached between the mainstream punk of today, and the discriminatory punk of the past. By requestioning punk’s origins and revealing its tendency to appropriate Black culture, we can return to the present with an attitude more inclusive and more efficiently radical than the subversiveness we used to fight for.
Dazed. “Why Is the History of Punk Music so White?” Dazed, 12 Nov. 2015, https://www.dazeddigital.com/music/article/28372/1/why-is-the-history-of-punk-music-so-white.
Eileen Salsgiver. “The Contradiction of Punk Whiteness.” American Culture, 13 Mar. 2018, https://americanculturesdsu.wordpress.com/2018/03/12/the-contradiction-of-punk-whiteness/.
Peaden, Carson. “Being Black Is Punk in Itself.” Garnet & Black Magazine, 10 Dec. 2021, https://www.gandbmagazine.com/article/2021/12/being-black-is-punk-in-itself-peaden.
“'We Still Need to Be Seen': Behind the Rise of Black Punk Culture.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 15 Aug. 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/aug/15/we-still-need-to-be-seen-behind-the-rise-of-black-punk-culture.
Afro Punk Fest 2013 - J-No - https://www.flickr.com/photos/j-no/9587976762