Op-Ed: Will the Real Black Punk Please Stand Up?

May 30, 2022

What is Black Punk? If you frequent this site, you’ve seen endless posts on the subject’s origin, the major players involved in blazing its trail, and the legacy it holds today and beyond. So, there’s no need to rehash, even though a constant reminder via a refresher course is needed from time to time. Nah, the current issue in the Black Punk landscape is who determines what is and what artists are or aren’t considered as such…still…after decades of examples of what is the genre and culture.

Sigh, I guess this is a refresher course, after all.

“Despite the height of Punk’s white consumerist commercialization in the 70s, a persistent Black underground culture remained active. Though the white aspects of it have always been seen as a type of fashionable, cultural aesthetic, Black punks have been intermixed in the scene in hopes of reclaiming the communalistic politics and cultural traits they grew up with—with a bit of an edge.” –, 2019

There are many layers to this subject, as is with any subject that has many moving parts. But the universal layer of this debate is simply in Black and white. Universally, punk is considered a “white thing” when all articles, reports, and anecdotes state otherwise. So, while the punk pioneers, Pure Hell and Death, are getting their much-deserved flowers from mainstream audiences—as well as stalwarts like Bad Brains and Fishbone—they’re not lauded in the annals of punk rock like The Ramones and The Sex Pistols. And that causes a trickle-down effect to audiences who will raise an eyebrow whenever a POC band representing the culture pops up.

And that’s when we turn our attention to the music industry as a whole. When punk was burgeoning as the next wave in music in the 70s, labels and radio program directors saw fit to focus on acts that represented their target audience—young white teens with a shitload of angst—and not feature bands that were the anthesis color-wise. “The American music business is made up of gatekeepers of the corporate side, on the radio side,” the late great author and music historian Greg Tate said in an AJ+ interview. “They very much subscribe to the Jim Crow notions of separation, of segregation, which define American culture through the most of the 20th century.”

We’re over twenty years into the 21st century, and there is more inclusion in the punk rock space with artists like Meet Me @ the Altar, Danny Denial, Pinkshift, The Txlips, Howling Star, and others. Still, it seems they’ve been trapped in boxes they never placed in because they don’t fit the rebellious, DIY essence punk was birthed from. But as the culture evolves, so should the thinking about what is or what is not punk.

“The reason that there’s forever and a day been a question of what is punk, or an argument over what is punk, is because it can’t just be one thing. We are humans who are diverse, and within that, as it becomes bigger, we form little sections and segments,” James Spooner, co-founder of AFROPUNK said in a 2021 interview. “I believe that different genres of music exist for different reasons, and punk rock exists as a reaction to the mainstream and as a reaction to authority, as a reaction to oppressive environments….Depending on where you are and who you’re reacting to, who you’re flipping off is going to be a reflection of what your punk rock looks like.”