New Take on White Riot

Over at Maximum RocknRoll, Golnar Nikpour has penned a searing review of White Riot: Punk Rock and the Politics of Race, which was the subject of my first ever post on this blog. Nikpour has a much keener sense of punk history and a more incisive pen than I and puts both to good use ripping apart the editors’ delusions that have they written something “definitive” about punk and race.

Nikpour rightly states that Duncombe and Tremblay (two white dudes) would have been better off limiting themselves “to a study of, say representations of racial difference in the U.S. punk scene in some given era…”  In fact it is this more limited version of their project which I mostly addressed in my review. In that sense, I still think the book has valuable points about how racism and oppositional whiteness operate in mostly American, but also UK, punk scenes. However, as Nikpour points out, the book itself becomes an example in its own exposition of how white privilege works.

Nikpour’s problem with the editors then has a lot to do with their hubris in declaring their book, which is mostly about white people’s difficulty in not being racist, something more than it is. It would have been less offensive if the last chapter, which finally addresses punk scenes that are (gasp!) thriving outside the U.S. and Europe, didn’t rely on anthropologists’ and ethnomusicologists’ “expert” (a bad word in punk speak) opinions. The move is condescending, as if these punk sub-cultures are so strange, we couldn’t understand them in their own words, and lazy. I mean if your gonnna make “the definitive collection on punk and race,” you should be willing to spring on some translators and get some foreign language zine or song lyrics in there.

I don’t want to go much more into Nikpour’s arguement because she says it best, and reviewing a review seems a bit gratuitous, so you should go read it…right now!

You can read Nikpour’s review here at the Maximum RocknRoll site and my review, “Carnival of Privileges”, here.




Filed under Book Review, Uncategorized

2 responses to “New Take on White Riot

  1. Thanks Lindsay, as always you provide new angles of insight to think about! hope all is well. Cheers, MB

  2. Hi Lindsay,

    I’m the ethnomusicologist who wrote the Indonesia article. I’m also the one who told the editors of WR about Blackfire and (unsuccessfully) tried to find something they could include in the collection about Native punk. I did not decide to include my piece in the WR anthology but I will say that I believe Nikpour’s and other’s outrage over its being included is misguided. The working-class street punks who organized and attended the show I describe in the article could not speak English and did not publish their own zines. Even their fellow punks in more central locations in Jakarta didn’t know about their scene. To know about their motivations, aspirations, and attitudes regarding punk rock, it’s not enough to read a translation of some song lyrics. You need to know Indonesian politics, history, and culture well enough to understand the context in which those lyrics, that song, makes sense. The ultimate bigotry is not to care about such things, to simply seek validation of punk’s greatness and its color-blindness in the figure of the punk in the developing world and nothing more.

    Initially I was sympathetic to Nikpour’s scathing review, but I much prefer your more measured, thoughtful one, which I just discovered tonight. WR is imperfect, as all such efforts are. But there’s something disingenuous about viciously attacking a sincere but flawed effort to address racism in the pages of the same publication that sympathetically features the words of Ron Paul. And ultimately it’s the quantity and quality of scholarship on punk that suffers when works are mercilessly torn into and then everyone else meekly falls in line behind the attacker. Who is going to dare to come forward now to write about Native punk? (Not me, but my next book is going to have a chapter on Native metal.)

    Thanks for listening,


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