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Women of Color are Decolonizing the Punk Movement

While women in general have struggled to legitimize their place in punk music, the struggle by women of color in this movement is even greater. Women of color are almost fully displaced in punk spaces. Indeed, the arena of punk music is specifically reserved for white men, therefore, generating great difficulties for white women, which by default makes it a more difficult space for women of color to enter.

Punk, rock in general, has roots in African-American music. Yet since it’s conception it has been a movement reserved largely for white people. In fact, many African-American punk bands in the U.S do not get the same recognition as their white (cishet) male or female counterparts. In fact, white women in punk are more recognized than black men. Death, a protopunk band, has yet to acquire the recognition that other mainstream punk bands [the Ramones, Sex pistols, the Clash,] have already received. In essence, punk, although reinforced collectively, has historically been a platform for exclusion. For example, in punk spaces, where many black women have experienced micro-aggressive racism to outright exclusion and abuse of both men and women of color.

Where many all-girl-bands have flourished, many women of color have gone unnoticed, and many had to put forth and originate their own movements. During the rise of the LA punk scene in the 1970s, a punk movement began to grow in East Los Angeles with Alice Bags, a first generation punk rocker. Bags, who outset the Chicana punk movement, states, in her article, that she felt the early movement of punk was inhospitable to Latinos. In addition, during the Riot Grrrl scene of the 1990s third wave feminism era, women of color were mostly excluded. In fact, Tamar-Kali Brown, Honey Moonchild, Maya Glick and Simi Stone started their own collective to counter-balance Riot Grrrl, called Sista Grrrl’s Riot. Brown stated in an interview that she did not feel part of Riot Grrrl because it was “too white.”

Therefore, the “alternative to the alternative” is lacking in community where women of color do not hold the “iconic feminist riot girl status” of Kathleen Hannah, lead singer of Bikini Kill, who emerged from the Seattle music scene in the 90sa with an ironic valley girl accent. Hannah, who even has in her own documentary, shows the self-centrist, privileged, white feminist mode that punk often adapts to.

Within the Latinx and Black community, the punk identity is scrutinized and judged.

Both insiders and outsiders devise binary rules as to how people of color are expected to behave. We are consistently polarized into these monolithic identities and people of color experience this the most.

There is also a huge punk following in Latin America that also goes unnoticed on a larger scale. In fact, there existed many protopunk bands from the 60s, like Saico, a Peruvian band, originated in Latin America. An important punk movement came about in Medellin, Colombia, which even produced a Cannes featured film. This movement was a direct response to the displacement of many youths due to violence during the 70’s/80’s. Moreover, a feminist movement within punk began. The first Colombian all-women band began in the 1980s Polikarpas y sus viciosas. (Polikarpas and her vicious-aries) The group chose their name after Policarpa Salavarrieta who was a revolutionary during the Spanish Reconquista. She was captured at age 22, and executed by firing squad.

Without reservation, growing up Punk in people of color communities can be divisive from all parties because this identity is seen as “acting white.” Contrary, through the white gaze, this identity is perceived through different registers. For example, if you have colorful hair and were white, you were rebellious, but if you had colorful hair and were Latinx and/or Black you were seen as “ghetto.” These definitions are saturated until a famous white person comes along and sets it as a “trend.” In turn, you were condescendingly questioned because your chosen identity did not fit the prescribed identity of what Latinx and Black people are meant to be.

In my own personal experience, once in college, because I held somewhat of a New York accent, people questioned my knowledge of rock music, to the point of being interrogated, and even being told to just stick to the rap music that I inevitably knew. Being Dominican, I could only like rap music and not any form of rock, when in fact I like both. I grew up with both.

There is a presence of punk in many countries where young people find refuge, albeit the punk scene’s frequent white-washing, and luckily we have movements like Sista Grrrl’s Riot, and artists like Saico to remind us that representaion in punk has always and will always matter.


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Written by Alyssa Evangelista

Alyssa is a Dominican-American New Yorker and graduate student in Communication and culture in Paris where she also teaches English.

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