Black voices on racism in punk: a reflection on emo nite’s panel

Written by Priscilla Hernandez and Holly Alvarado

On June 8th, Emo Nite LA hosted an open panel of Black voices to stimulate the conversation surrounding how race plays a significant role in the Punk and Alternative scenes. Given the social climate, it is important to address the race issues that are prevalent in the communities we are personally a part of and spaces we thought to be exempt. The almost two-hour discussion was hosted via Zoom and broadcasted on the Emo Nite Twitch channel. The conversation was monitored by music photographer Courtney Coles, accompanied by music journalist Hanif Abdurraqib, Jason Aalon from the Los Angeles punk project Fever 333, Sky Acord from the metalcore group Issues, Aaron Brown from Emo Nite, and lastly Jordan Calhoun from the Los Angeles pop punk trio Heart Like War. The conversation swiftly plunged into a few questions regarding racism in the music industry, leading to an earnest conversation on the vast impact of the anti-racism movement as a country⁠—or in better terms, the world.

Upon addressing our country’s current willingness to stand against injustice due to the unfortunate death of George Floyd, the panel discussed the ways in which the community of misfits have ironically excluded their own. The panelists passionately examined the ways in which they have felt like outsiders in a scene that the Black community had cultivated in the first place. 

“I wanted to first ask everyone how they’re doing. How’s your head, how’s your heart, have you laughed, and have you cried? What’s keeping you grounded through all this mayhem,” Courtney asked starting the dialogue off. 

“I’ve been taking a break from my phone,” Sky says.

“Yeah that’s the thing, we’re all getting a bunch of texts and calls from friends that are usually from our white friends. They always text you asking if everything is okay or if you’re good, because I was getting a gang of them,” Jason intensely states while laughing. “I was getting so overwhelmed, but not by the text messages or calls themselves but I was overwhelmed by the matter at hand that I couldn’t even reply. And then I started to feel fucked up and the emotional labor was getting bit on me.”

This led to another interesting question that moderator Courtney touched on, “What do you think makes this particular moment so much different than the last uprisings we’ve had in the last six or so years? What about this moment makes you feel that things are changing or how we have been doing things?” 

“Honestly the fact that white people even care. I’m sure many of us that are people of color or black people especially, are getting texts from our white friends to check in on us which is really sweet. But this isn’t new to us, you know I see this stuff on the news and it’s the same outrage that I feel every time. And I see it all the time, it’s not hard for me to relate to it because of the reason that the latest hashtag is a hashtag instead of a beautiful human,” Hanif states.

“Well let me just say, when we came to punk rock and we think the community is going to let us in, we were like ‘hell yeah, let us bring our own flavor.’ But then we get silenced, we get called this and that, and then we’re getting told we’re acting too much. That in itself is not alternative to me. That is not punk rock, that’s not what I came here for,”  Jason earnestly states.

Furthermore it’s evident that the panelists overall were being fully receptive to questions, raw conversations that needed to be addressed and acknowledgment for the fact that Emo Nite provided a safe space to allow Black creatives to speak their mind without limitation, which truthfully does not happen often enough as it should given the amount of so-called “music and entertainment” platforms provide, or at least try to. This makes you wonder what the long term support will look like during these pivotal times with high standard outlets. Is it just to save face during a time that’s deemed as the start of a revolution or to hide the factors of not being an honest ally to begin with? 

The panelists also discussed financial losses from the racial system, the black influence within music and why it always seems to be stripped from the community that birthed it. Courtney continues the conversation by asking, “With that said, in what ways can the industry as a whole move forward from here on out with what’s currently happening since George Floyd’s death?”

“The way that music is taught in America is flawed and the way that black people will have to exist in these scenes in particular,” Hanif adds. “In some ways it’s having us be removed from the roots of our blackness in order to be acceptable. I’ve been at these shows and so much of the language around what is being presented to people which is largely white audiences, is stripping people of the historical roots of the sound.” 

“I feel like there’s a cycle of genres where it usually comes from Black roots and gets popular with Black artists. Then white artists will piggyback off of it, will get mainstream and then the genre as a whole becomes white music,” Sky says right after. 

“The white industry took black music, profited off of it and made sure that they had a line that was cyclical of black people that wanted what you showed them on the front end and then they gave them that and took everything on the back end. They keep us from understanding what it means to have assets and build equity,” Jason shared. 

Courtney, who is the moderator for the whole discussion, also chimed in with her personal stories from the female viewpoint of what it’s like to work in the music industry⁠—especially being the only Black female creative in most music spaces. 

“When I first started coming up it was just me at shows. It became this thing where I only saw dudes in the pit. I remember seeing one female photographer and it was Lisa Johnson. I remember stopping her and asking her how I could get on the other side of the barricade to finally take closer photos…she said to just keep doing what you’re doing and photograph your friends because eventually your friends will be on the stage. And that’s what I did. But being the only girl, let alone the only black girl at these shows, I felt out of place but I didn’t let that stop me from going. Because I found a home in punk-rock and emo, it became all I knew and I wanted to give back to the community. But the only way I could do that was through pictures,” Courtney states. 

As the conversation concluded, Jordan ended the dialogue with something that every panelist could come to an agreement on. 

“Allies, it’s okay to see us as Black. I am proud of being Black, and like Jason said, I do feel like a superhero,” he shared. “I’m Black and I’m punk. Just remember, it’s okay to see your friends in the scene as Black, because we are and we’re proud.” 

In high spirits and with hope, the panel had not only discussed the issues surrounding the music community but also shared their confidence that this movement would reach beyond the scene and that black voices would be heard. It was profound to hear the struggles each one personally opened up with regarding the communities that had been so open and accepting to others. As members of artistic communities, we have the influence to create spaces that are safe for those that share the same passions and spaces we are proud to be a part of. We must recognize our Black creators and honor the roots from the music we love so dearly, from this point forward.

Check out this playlist with Black artists who revolutionized the punk and hardcore scenes as well as the musicians of Emo Nite’s panel:

 

Watch the full panel here:

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