White Minority

February 16th, 2008  |  Published in Disaster

Rawny had said that he wanted to play a classic hardcore cover with Disaster, but I don’t want to just play one because people will get rowdy and sing along. So, the idea of playing a cover kind of got put on the back burner. Randomly, I thought about the song White Minority, by Black Flag, which I think was originally intended as an ironic mockery of white power paranoia. For me, I think that punk was, and remains such a white, middle class pursuit, that the idea of of a white minority does seem very paranoid. The title of the song makes me think about a future where globalization has the unexpected effect of bringing about a movement and mixing of people and culture that makes a purely white minority a reality.  A more careful reading of the lyrics makes me see it as an anthem about trying to define an identity that is seperate from what one views as the prevailing cultural norms for one’s race and class.  This is, and has always been, one of the primary functions of Punk music.  And, while suburban, white culture and the history that lead to its creation can definitely be seen as oppressive and a target for critique, simply manufacturing a seperate identity doesn’t succeed in challenging the culture with which punks want to disassociate.  The title itself also makes me think about another likely outcome, where in the US, as in punk, people become a ‘white minority’, assimilated into the prevailing culture, not fully entitled, but entitled enough to leave those unable or unwilling to assimilate left to fight each other to escape being identified as being the most powerless class of people.

Were gonna be a white minority
We wont listen to the majority
Were gonna feel inferiority
Were gonna be white minority

White pride
Youre an american
Im gonna hide
Anywhere I can

Gonna be a white minority
We dont believe theres a possibility
Well you just wait and see
Were gonna be white minority

White pride
Youre an american
White pride
Anywhere I can?

Gonna be a white minority
Theres gonna be large cavity
Within my new territory
Were all gonna die

I also found this really interesting journal article titled L. A.’s “White Minority”: Punk and the Contradictions of Self-Marginalization on JSTOR. I can’t read it all until I can use an IU network connection, but I think it will give me some good context for performing the song with a reimagined meaning.

Update:

Thanks to the person who sent me the PDF of the article from JSTOR. The general sentiment of the article can be seen in this passage:

This circles us back to Black Flag’s song, seeing how punk’s strategy is to flip the binary of majority/minority. Minority status is the privileged element for this group as they valorize it into a condition to be appropriated. This recognizes the structural racism in American society, yet it does so by essentializing the nonwhite Other into a victim role-romanticizing nonwhites into all that is simultaneously threatening and threatened.

This is an act George Lipsitz criticizes as “the frequent invocation of people of color as sources of inspiration or forgiveness for whites, and the white fascination with certain notions of primitive authenticity among communities of color, [which] all testify to the
white investment in images that whites themselves have created about people of color” (Possessive, 118). What aims to be a critique of repression in L.A. punk ends up an agent of it, for its rejection of the dominant culture relies on adopting the stereotypes of inferior, violent, and criminal nonwhites.

It was a hard article to read because the critique of punk seems to be applicable not to late 70’s/early 80’s L.A. punk, but to the current D.I.Y. punk movement. It also makes me think about how punk seems to lack an internal language or discourse with which to make this critique internally.

Update:

Actually, on second thought, I don’t think that the critique can be applied to the current D.I.Y. punk movement in exactly the same way. While the current punk subculture does self-identify with a marginalized Other and romanticizes the lives of the economically marginalized or racial minorities, it does not neccessarily attempt to do so by embracing a lifestyle that interprets negative stereotypes about marginalized groups. Instead, D.I.Y. punk subculture romanticizes poverty or racial oppression in such a way that trivializes the reality of race and class in US culture. There is a hopefulness that suggests that one can be happier or more spiritually or even intellectually full living a life that exists without many of the elements of white suburban culture.  The experience of white, middle-class young people who choose an identity that they see as putting them in the same space as many low-income or racially opressed people is read by the punks as an authentic experience of class and race which alienates people from non-white, non-middle-class backgrounds from the punk movement and misses an opportunity for white, middle-class youth to explore constructive possibilities for applying their race or class privilege.

I thought about this a lot in reconsidering academia for myself and a perceivable backlash against formal study in the D.I.Y. community. A punk lifestyle is often articulated as a more authentic, more liberated alternative to attending college.

I think I wrote recently about seeing an awesome exhibition titled Who We Are. The exhibition is a documentation of writing from participants in the Prison University Project, a California program that offers some men incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison the opportunity to participate in higher-education coursework and obtain a college degree. I thought some of the writing was very good, and it was clear that the program and the college-level coursework was something that was empowering to the men who took part in the project. The contradiction of the experience articulated by these men and the by many punks who escew higher education is so apparant and frustrating. It seems to suggest a lack of imagination on the part of middle-class youth to envision college as only a means to perpetuate racial or class norms instead of an experience that might transcend the boundaries of those expectations.

Actually, the article goes on to address this:

This pursuit of authenticity, no matter how sincere, is as insulting a gesture as playacting when compared to those who cannot escape. That they would freely opt to live like oppressed groups formed by historical and social conditions they cannot claim says much about the political dedication of some punks, but it also speaks to how people of their social status understand their relationship to the notion of freedom. As Grossberg proposes, mobility and access can be configured spatially, for where one is placed on the map of the social totality “define[sl the forms of empowerment or agency . . . available to particular groups” (“Identity and Cultural Studies,” 102). Such places are constituted in a way that can offer either emancipation or further repression-a large number of punks enjoy the former. The crushing realities of racial and/or economic subjugation are trivialized in their search for autonomy. They become mere adornments for differentiation to be discarded when no longer useful to the new subjectivity-just one more brand in the supermarket of identities.

As an aside, I wish I could find a link about it at hand, but I remember an act in a This American Life story that documented the difficulties that an African-American boy from Washington DC faced when he tried to cross boundaries of class and race the other way around and attend a prestigious University. Again, I think the difference in the permeability of cultural membranes from different directions is something that is ignored by punk politics.

Reading further …

Acquiring symbolic capital is how the appropriation of otherness “pays,” and it becomes the imperializing gesture in punk’s tactic of escape. Representing themselves as the same tears down the barriers of difference but as a by-product of self-aggrandizement.

and

By treating them as an exploitable object enabling punks to achieve their own desires, this re-othering allows the center to continue speaking for the Other. By eliding the heterogeneous hopes existing in the sub-urban, they silence the marginal subject’s own viewpoint on marginality.