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Sep 18, 2011 at 7:30 pm

White Riot? Punk Rock and the Politics of Race

With Stephen Duncombe, Maxwell Tremblay

Punk, in its first incarnations, was an attempt by young whites, dissatisfied with the world they were born into, to grab and forge a new ethnicity for themselves. What form it took was up for grabs. Punks of other races, meanwhile, navigated the space between the racism of the dominant culture and that of their “alternative” scene.

Born out of a time: the mid 1970s, and in places: the UK and US, when and where white supremacy was being contested politically, culturally and demographically, punk rock was forced – sometimes closedly and sometimes obliquely, at times with hostility and at other times with empathy – to grapple with the issue of race. The result has been a multi-vocal argument about what it means to be white – or not – in a world where whiteness is no longer the assumed universal.

Join “White Riot” editors Stephen Duncombe and Maxwell Tremblay for a look at the varied voices that have explored the issue of punk rock and race in film, and a discussion on how different punks have lived and negotiated racial identity.

“White Riot,” recently released from Verso and for sale at the event, is the definitive study of the subject, collecting first-person writing, lyrics, letters to zines, and analyses of punk history from across the globe.


Selections will be presented from the following movies:

Rude Boyby Jack Hazan and David MingayUK, 1980, digital projection

Jack Hazan and David Mingay’s semi-documentary story of a punk fan in a late 70s UK in economic decline and riven by racial tension; the film includes footage of the Clash playing “White Riot” at a Rock against Racism concert as well as fascist National Front rallies.

Decline of Western Civilizationby Penelope SpheerisUSA, 1981, digital projection

The first of Penelope Spheeris’ Decline music scene documentaries, this one chronicles the LA punk scene in its heyday, circa 1980. Among other punk bands, the punk doc features the Latina fronted band, The Bags, and catches Black Flag performing “White Minority.”

Afro-punk: the Original ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Nigger’ Experienceby James SpoonerUSA, 2003, digital projection

A film that defined a movement. The documentary chronicles the experiences of Black punks who find themselves navigating between the Black, and often musically conservative, culture they grew up within and the predominantly White, and frequently racist, punk scene of which they are a part.

Mas alla de los gritos/Beyond the Screams: A US Latino Hardcore Documentaryby Martin SorreondeguyUSA, 1999, digital projection

In this documentary, Martín Sorrondeguy excavates the history of Latino punk rock in the US, featuring performances from among other acts, his own seminal band: Los Crudos, as they travel outside of the confines of this country to play in Mexico City.

The Punks Are Alright: A Punk Rock Safari from the First World to the Thirdby Douglas CrawfordCanada, 2006, digital projection

Douglas Crawford traces the global circuits of punk rock, from the songs of a 70s era Canadian punk band, The Forgotten Rebels, to their inspiration for a later Brazilian band, Blind Pigs, to that band’s influence on contemporary Indonesian punk rockers.



Stephen Duncombe, an Associate Professor at the Gallatin School of New York University, is the author of Dream and Notes from Underground, editor of the Cultural Resistance Reader, and coeditor (with Maxwell Tremblay) of White Riot.

Maxwell Tremblay writes for Maximumrocknroll, plays drums in the band SLEEPiES, and is a doctoral student in Philosophy at the New School for Social Research.

Verso Books is the largest independent, radical publishing house in the English-speaking world, publishing eighty books a year. Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2010, it grew out of the celebrated journal New Left Review and has published many of the major figures on the left, including Tariq Ali, Eric Hobsbawm, Judith Butler, Benedict Anderson, David Harvey and Jacques Derrida.



Sep 18, 2011
7:30 pm – 9:30 pm

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