Friday, July 15, 2011

A New Anthology on Punk and Race

There's a really fascinating looking new anthology just published by Verso, titled White Riot: Punk and the Politics of Race.

I'm really happy to have an essay included in the collection, which is an anthology of previously published writing. The editors, Stephen Duncombe and Maxwell Tremblay, chose to include an excerpt from my essay on the MC5, "Kick out the Jams! The MC5 and the Politics of Noise." It's pretty cool to have old work being recognized like this, especially since it was actually the first thing I ever published - it originally appeared in the collection, Mapping the Beat: Popular Music and Contemporary Theory, then appeared in slightly edited form in my first book, Instruments of Desire. This piece of mine has had a more interesting life than most.

I haven't yet gotten my hands on a copy of the new book - am awaiting the arrival of my comp copy - but it looks great from the table of contents, which you can see on the book's Amazon page (link is above). Its release makes me reflect on my own recent book on metal and punk, This Ain't the Summer of Love. I went back and forth as to whether discussion of race should be a significant part of the book, and ultimately decided to downplay it in favor of other issues. I'm still pretty comfortable with my decision in this regard, but there's definitely a part of me that feels like I missed an opportunity to take on some oft-ignored questions concerning how race informs genres like metal and punk, so I'm glad that someone else took the lead.

Both metal and punk tend to get pegged pretty straightforwardly as "white" genres, and so most commentators just don't bother to say much about how race matters for the players or fans who gravitate toward them. The "whiteness" of these genres is true to a large extent, albeit less overarching than many folks assume. Yet as a certain strain of cultural studies has been arguing since the late 1980s/early 1990s, "whiteness" has as much to do with race as "blackness" or any other similar construction. Answering a question such as, is whiteness only incidental to punk and metal or is it integral to them, is a challenging task but an important one. When the Clash sing that they want a "White Riot," are they issuing a call for racial solidarity, given that their song was so strongly influenced by the efforts of immigrant black Londoners to resist police harassment? If so, why does it have to be a "white riot" - a "riot of our own," as the band asserts? The phrase is so suggestive but it's also slippery, and as with so much popular culture, lends itself to different ways of being heard and understood, some of which might lead in a more racially exclusionary direction than the band ever would have intended.

I could go on (and on and on) about these matters, but I won't. I'm just glad that the anthology White Riot is out, and hope it leads to more open and more complex dialogue around these issues.

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