- Wikipedia (Public Domain)
Your world is doomed
With our own integration
Just another Nazi test
~Big Takeover by Bad Brains
One of the largest issues in punk music is racism. Even though the punk aesthetic was all about anti-establishment, anti-conservative, left wing views, almost all punk scenes were dominated by white straight males. Many punk bands in Britain drew upon their idea of “Britishness” in there look and style, which often lead to the exclusion of many commonwealth migrants and other minorities. Though bands like The Clash and the Slits wanted to prevent racism within the community with events such as Rock Against Racism, the exclusionary hegemony of it’s white members stayed prevalent.
Oi!, a form of British punk, became a breeding ground for white power skinheads. Originally, Oi! had a heavy focused on fraternity and took a lot of old football club chant melodies, so it grew huge in many pubs and football clubs in southern England. The National Front, a far right nationalist group in Britain, saw the appeal of punk and Oi! music. The organization targeted disgruntled, drunken, working class boys who had no other outlet from these football clubs using Oi! to subversively spread their agenda to the impressionable youths. This drove many of these young boys to start punk bands and start going out to shows, usually looking for a fight. They were well known to show up to shows just to shut them down if the band was in support of racial equality or other issues they disagreed with. Wherever there was a punk scene, Nazi punks would soon infiltrate them.
Even with the huge racial tension in Britain, a lot of racial issue in punk across the pond in the United States were often over looked. All through the west coast had a few bands with a black member in them (The Dead Kennedys, Suicidal Tendencies, Fishbone, etc.), many of the bands, especially in Los Angeles, were full of members who were self marginalized. They wrote from the prospective of angry middle class white kid from the valley. All the racial issues that were prevalent in the late 70’s and early 80’s were completely overlooked by these bands. They never experienced the oppression of being a minority in America.
In D.C., a city that is predominantly populated by minorities (mostly African Americans), most of the members of the hardcore scene were accepting of all races and racial point of views. By accepting all races to come, and not just white straight males, Neo-Nazis and other white supremacists were deterred from this scene. This allowed Bad Brains, a seminal, all black band, to flourish. They lead them to produce their self title debut, which is one of the most prolific punk albums of all time. Everyone went nuts over Bad Brains. Henry Rollins, the vocalist of Black Flag, recalls Bad Brains’ singer, H.R., jumping on to him during a show, grab young Rollins and sang on top of him to show the energy of their songs. It’s this energy that Bad Brains’ shows created that excited everyone.
Bad Brains showed that punk rock isn’t just for white people, anyone can be involved and create punk rock. When asked why aren’t there more black people who are in rock bands and come to shows, H.R. said “Because of exposure …Black people ain’t gonna find out about it until white people find out about it.” More than thirty years later, black musicians got the exposure that they deserved. In Worcester Massachusetts, where I’m from, there are a lot of minorities in the hardcore scene. After talking to a few of them, many of them cite Bad Brains as one of the bands that drove them to create music. Bad Brains showed the white masses that African Americans can make punk music (and really good punk music at that).
Lipez, Zachary “Your ‘Ironic’ White Power Skrewdriver T-shirt Might Make You An Asshole“. Vice News, 2012 (Nazi Punk Image)
Drowned in Sound (Public Domain), Fuck Off Nazi Punks Image
Arlington Public Library (Public Domain), Bad Brains Basement Show Image. circa 1980
Wikipedia(Public Domain), Bad Brains at 9:30 Club, Washington, D.C., 1983
Ensminger, David. Coloring Between the Lines of Punk and Hardcore:From Absence to Black Punk Power. Lee College, 2010
Hebdige, Dick. Subculture:The Meaning of Style. 1970
O’Hagan, Sean. Skinheads: a photogenic, extremist corner of British Youth. The Guardian Press, 2014
Petridis, Alexis. Misunderstood or hateful? Oi!’s rise and fall. The Guardian Press, 2010