Right after the last BLAG on “Durrrrr, Sportsball,” San Francisco 49ers back-up-but-starting-this-week-or-on-the-bubble quarterback Colin Kaepernick had to go and do the punkest thing this NFL season. Surely, you’ve seen the various hot takes from ESPN sportscasters, other players, and most likely your racist uncle who inundates your Facebook feed with right-wing birther memes.
Opinions on Kaepernick predictably sort into the reactionary, divisive rhetoric seen in today's political theater — the two mindsets are so steeped in chauvinism and lack the nuance necessary for reasonable dialog. Outside of Us vs. Them potshots, any calls for unity are tone-deaf statements that simply placate the status quo (looking at you, Seattle Seahawks — as a team, not as this individual, or this former player). Race and police brutality are complicated issues, and thoughtful musings are a rarity, as exhibited by New England Patriots’ Chris Long’s on an ESPN syndicated radio show, or a rare show of words San Antonio Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich.
My favorite take: Billy Werner noted how Kaepernick went from one of the more immature young male bravado Instagrams of sneaker collections, stylin’ outfits, and his giant pet turtle (ok, that’s pretty rad) to this simple, but potent protest. And he backed up his stance in the press with a level of articulation that certainly isn’t in his passing game. Basically, this is the last dude you’d ever expect to pull something like this.
Kaepernick’s jersey sales went through the roof. While it sounds like a joke, a very real thought crossed my mind: Do you think Jello Biafra bought one?
We’re only in Week 5, and Kaepernick’s protest is working: not as a catalyst for policy, but pushing a conversation that continually gets suppressed by white America. Week by week, more figures in the sports world speak on it. The topic has even crossed into the holy world of Triangle college basketball, with Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski weighing in. Some support the exercise in a right to free speech. Others employ sanctimonious rhetoric that crosses the line between patriotism to nationalism. It’s a slow tide of progress, but steeped in the spirited dissent our Founding Fathers realized.
We think about white supremacy in extreme circumstances: the KKK, dropping the n-bomb in a racist context, or a good ol’ family lynching. While these examples still exist today, they’re far less acceptable than back in the “good ol’ days” before “political correctness” and integrated restrooms. Again, that’s the gradual change of progress, which is great, but we know racism still exists today in more insidious ways, from structural oppression to supremacy’s more subtle symptom: privilege.
On all sides of the political spectrum, the majority of my white friends indulge in some form of white privilege, however well-meaning their intentions be. It’s rarely out of malice, and its intentions mostly naive. There’s a detachment of, “well, it doesn’t directly affect me, so it’s not my problem,” which — in its most innocent form — translates into apathy.
Likewise, we think of white supremacy within our punk underbelly as a specific subgenres: neo-Nazi oi, NSBM, hatecore, yadda yadda. Punks generally lean left, or at its most right, libertarian. The ugly side of white punk culture is ghettoized to the fringe and easily dismissed, save for the occasional ironic Skrewdriver t-shirt. But look into any crowd at a show and white males make up the majority. It’s a pretty dominating demographic.
White punks get defensive when I point this out, either that “It’s not my fault — outta my control” response, or that weird persecution complex that fuels #AllLivesMatter reactions. It’s not saying that white voices are invalid, but the overabundance of them tends to drown out others, rendering punk’s seemingly inclusiveness moot.
Watch any documentary on the subculture and punk’s lure unanimously lies in that inclusiveness and acceptance. Punk was great because you could let that freak flag fly. You could be anybody without judgement. Finding this underground world in my formative high school years was certainly an epiphany, and I spent years believing in this utopia. But, as with most Aging Punk Lessons, you eventually learn to not expect perfection from our little community. It’s a subculture, or a reflection on the grander society, but sometimes punk was just as racist as the bigger world we were trying to subvert.
In day-to-day interaction, minorities rarely speak up. Living out decades of being “put in your place” and checking “Other” in the race box makes one acutely aware of their surroundings. It’s a subdued caution catalyzed by constant assimilation, and it never feels quite right. I don’t think many of my white friends feel that on a daily basis. You learn to pick your battles, and that constant withholding grates over time.
What helps? Listen. While listening, refrain from interjections of ifs, buts, and even ands — I know that’s hard when you’re feeling defensive in your own backyard, but just let it soak in.
Basim Usmani shares similar thoughts on navigating hardcore as a Muslim American in a New York Times opinion piece. Tangentially, the infamous Racetraitor have reunited, and Iranian American singer Mani Mostofi gives a seasoned reflection of his former self in this interview.
There’s a documentary on Netflix called Los Punks: We Are All We Have that documents the East Los Angeles backyard show scene, a primarily Latino community.
Speaking of Latino punk scenes, one of the most legendary ones (the Pilsen neighborhood in Chicago, IL) recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of Los Crudos and their influence to generations of local Hispanic bands.
A lot of this writing was spent listening to the recent Pure Disgust LP: ten righteous songs of race fury, a couple of which I posted here at thematically opportune breaks.
Raleigh artist Tyrone Demery created these Black Lives Matter / Black Flag mash-ups in a collaboration with local shop Lumina Clothing. Proceeds donated to charity. You can get one here.
The new Sect record was on my radar simply because of its Raleigh, NC connections as Jimmy Chang’s new band. They definitely got my attention when they previewed this track before the LP release date:
It struck me as odd. There aren’t many bands tackling this elephant in the room. Perhaps most don’t want to come across as patronizing, or don’t feel like it’s their place, or it’s just not a part of their life. That's acceptable — even admirable — but the fact that so few can is a fundamental problem.
Where punk is generally apolitical on race in America today, the sports world is having that important discussion of race. And don’t get me started on hip hop — that’s a BLAG for another day. So, when framed by Miles Raymer, punk’s on the side of history with Death Cab for Cutie-style indie rock, which is a bad look. Score one for the jocks.
Got a lead on a contemporary punk band addressing race relations? Let me know in the comments.
Vincent Chung is a designer and writer living in Raleigh, North Carolina.