from a review of White Riot by Golnar Nikpour (which you should read all of):
Whether they paint themselves as “white negroes” (White Riot starts of with a famous essay by Norman Mailer of that name, implicitly tracing punk’s lineage through American bohemian movements) or as “racetraitors” (the authors remind us of the thusly named—and terrible!—’90s HC band), punks are white (often middle class and suburban) folks anxious about race and their relationship to it. In other words, punk has primarily been a site where alternative models of whiteness—mostly oppositional, sometimes anti-racist, but always constitutively white—have been articulated. With this framing, the central question of whether or not punk can ever be anything other than (just) a white riot guides the editors through their project.
i think this is actually a really good assessment of how white people in the punk scene see the punk scene. the punk scene just happens to be a way of being white, and that is how we explain away and fail to take responsibility for the alienation non-white people might feel in the scene, and a reason non-white people might avoid the scene.
It is perhaps a bit off topic for the main body of this review, and may be too academic for some, but I’d like to propose an alternative way to discuss the emergence of punk in the late ’70s, which could prove more useful for punks in studying and contextualizing punk history. It seems to me that punk—I am speaking here of its late ’70s iteration—is a product of the 20th century movement of capital and peoples, insofar as it is one in a number of cultural (and subcultural) movements that are impossible to imagine without the prior two centuries of global urbanization and proletarianization. Thinking about punk in the context of urban space provides us with new methodological tools and questions, because the emergence of the cosmopolitan capitalist metropolis is a reality of both the colony and the metropole. This could help explain why in 1976-78 we see punk scenes not only in London and New York but also in Istanbul, São Paulo, Tokyo, Mexico City, Stockholm, Warsaw, etc. If there was a punk scene in Istanbul before there was a punk scene in say, suburban Iowa or rural Turkey—and there was, as far as I know—then the movement of ideas is not from “west” to “rest” but rather a product of a particular historical moment in the global city, a moment that is rife with tensions between not only colony and metropole, but also town and country. (This way of thinking also allows us to avoid the elision of class, political economy, gender relationships, etc.)
Interesting read. Thanks Al.