AfroPunk: The “Rock ‘N Roll Nigger” Experience

| August 20, 2004 | 0 Comments

Fuck Yeah! Having listened to Bad Brains off of a friend’s compilation punk tape, I was completely enthralled by their intensity that was crazier than most other bands I heard at the time. I then bought one of their CDs and I saw in the album sleeve these punk rockers are Black. Holy Shit! Now that was inspiring. At this time I was starting to get into punk music and punk culture and I found myself discovering an entire punk/hardcore scene that wasn’t white. Bands such as Youth Against… , Arma Contra Arma and one of the most important hardcore bands EVER, Los Crudos, were all Latinos playing and living punk. I felt represented. I did have a voice, be it in a small community of Latino punks, but it was loud as fuck.
Director James Spooner confronts this issue in his audacious documentary AfroPunk. This film is the first of it’s kind to reach such a large level of mass consciousness truthfully detailing the experiences of African American youths in the predominate White experience of punk culture. Although punk music isn’t made for just a White audience, it has been brandished as part of a White rebellious youth identity. Well, what about all the non-White kids who devote themselves to shows? What about their punk culture and their identity? Through a series of interviews with Black people in various punk scenes across the country, Spooner, confronts the issues they have faced. Although those interviewed are from different cities, their experiences are very much the same. Some have grown up in White communities. They’ve mostly dated White people. They feel the Black community sees them as sellouts and for some of them, they tend to feel that White kids only see them as a “safe” Black person. These are people caught in between two contradictory worlds that ridicule and isolate them for their individuality and for not looking like everyone else. They are a minority in a punk scene and outcasts of a mainstream Black community. However, their responses are bold and honest. One interviewee makes the remark that American mainstream Black society has a “tunnel vision” when it comes to defining the Black identity. It’s an identity that won’t recognize a mohawk or slam dancing as a Black thing. Regardless of the fact that rock and roll music in general was once considered Black music.
Spooner cleverly juxtaposes the stories of two Black women, Tamir-kali Brown from New York and Mariko Jones from California. On one hand, Tamir-kali is a woman who struggled with her own identity as a Black person in the punk scene, but came to find the connections she associates with punk culture with her own heritage. The camera follows her, capturing her confident and self-assured demeanor. Mariko on the other hand is portrayed as a lost soul. She is seen wondering the halls of a school aimlessly and huddling in a fetus like position on her couch watching TV. Mariko comes off as a clearly intelligent woman, but when her Black identity is of issue, she appears to be trying to convince us (or herself) that she is proud to be Black. She is even working on T-shirts that say “Black is Beautiful”. Spooner presents here different parts of the spectrum his subjects make up.
For me the hardest and most troubling issue I mostly identify with is the lack of support from one’s community. At what point isn’t a person Black, Latino, Asian, for listening to punk rock? If we identify with punk music, does it mean we never were whatever race we believed to have been since birth? If so, then what are we? I can’t possibly start to answer these questions. What I do know is that AfroPunk communicates a shared experience amongst African American kids that only they know. I identify with the minority label in this predominate White scene and the “tunnel vision” many of us are excluded from. Being excluded from this “tunnel vision” isn’t the problem. The fact the vision does not expand beyond the tunnel is the actual problem.

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