Challenging Racism in Alt/Punk: Emo Nite Celebrates Black Voices

Rachael Sanders

On June 8th, 2020, exactly two weeks after George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Emo Nite hosted its second talk in years to encourage and celebrate black discussion in the alt/punk community. It lasted about two hours, and I listened to the whole dang thing a *few* times. Being in a position of privilege, there was a TON to gather from this panel. We rocked out, we raged, and we came together for one awesome talk. Here’s a big ol’ list of hot topics in the conversation and a summary of panelist discussion.


Climate in  the Scene


On top of experiencing prejudice and racism on a daily basis as people, alt rock and punk rockers of color are experiencing prejudice WITHIN the subculture. Which is totally not alt, not anarchist, and not punk. The obligation as alt rockers is to challenge the majority and to challenge the system. Jason Aalon calls us all out saying, “You signed a contract!” In this respect, we are not as “alternative” as we claim to be. This is the second talk about racism in the punk/alternative scene hosted by Emo Nite…ever.

Jordan Calhoun at Whiskey A Go-Go. Instragram @brianna.seamster , @marina.buedel + @shotsbysarine


Creativity Amidst Activism


As a working creative, Hanif Abdurraqib is having trouble finding a comfortable space to create or put out products. According to the livestream, he feels there’s a more pressing demand for activism rather than creative endeavors. Others, including Aaron Brown and Jordan Calhoun, feel differently. They believe this is a joyful and energetic space for creativity and activism. They feel inspired to speak out in activism as well as art. I think we can all heckin’ agree that if you’re angry, punk and alt rock is a safe place to express those feelings fully. OPEN UP THE PIT, am I right??



“Being black is the most punk thing you could possibly do. “




Give Voice to Black Communities


Jason Aalon pushes for large platforms to take more risks to allow more POC to have a voice. Aalon asks what positive changes would happen if white communities sacrificed their own privilege to offer a voice to the minority. Jordan Calhoun agrees saying some mediums and punk platforms are censoring these politics in their chat rooms. *sips tea* Oh buddy, why would they do that? Calhoun argues it is to “keep the peace,” but really they’re maintaining a majority favoring system. 



What it Means to be Black and Punk


Aaron Brown brings up an *excellent* point that I had never thought of before. I paraphrase: It is the most punk rock thing to be black. We automatically get it. Hanif Abdurraqib, a now retired mosher, talks about the spiritual experience of concentrated rage in the pit. He notes the catharsis of what it means to have that rage as a black man, and to have a medium to express it fully. Abdurraqib has a lot of advice on how to make the scene a more progressive place for black youth entering the scene. He stresses looking out for your brothers and sisters in the pit, especially protecting the trans black people or girls in the pit, who may be subject to more aggressive blows. (F*%# Nazi’s, am I right?)

Photo from instagram @fever333


True Progression in the Music Industry


Right now, there’s a demand for black representation in the punk scene. That’s a must, obviously, but panelists stress the importance of back end industry folk as well. There is an increasing demand for black managers, journalists, photographers, and artists looking out for black people in the scene.  


Hanif Abdurraqib gives advice to young artists in the scene. He gets a lot of complaints from his fellow community about racist white jerks at shows. They want to write pieces and stories on these racists, but Abqurraqib implores youth that this is white-centric thinking. For example: giving white punks your anger gives them power! Try instead, giving voice to your own roots and focusing on the success of black punk culture. This gives the power back to black music journalists and artists in the scene, while still fighting “the man.” 


credit @nifmuhammad


Educate Yourself on Black Music History


Black music history is the BASIS for education in the punk/alt scene. HEAR YE: Little Richard as the forefather of all punks. Did you know that? I sure didn’t. The whitewashing of black music culture or “elvis-ing” in the music industry is extremely prevalent. One tool we can use to actively be anti-racist is to know where modern music comes from! Jason Aalon says that, historically, black people are a cultural asset and should be valued and educated as such. To get deeper into the subculture issue, Salon stresses that black punks should be proud of their black heritage and their subculture even when  they get “busted” for wearing “skinny jeans and hot topic” in the hood. Take the panic out of manic, and be proud of who you are holistically.



Modern Racism in Punk


Ok, so let’s be real for a minute. I’m pretty sure there have been skinheads crawling around the alt/punk community for a while. Unfortunately, it was not mentioned directly in the discussion, though their racism is an example of direct prejudice in the scene. When asked about specific racism, Sky Acord mentioned he has not seen direct racism, but rather more complacency and silence. How is it that Emo Nite has only had one other discussion like this before on their livestream? Calhoun comments that his white friends must whitewash him in order to embrace him as a friend saying, “oh, you’re not black, you’re white! You’re like us!” BIG OOF. Luckily, he has the agency to say, “I am a black punk, and I love that.” An incredibly powerful statement. You shouldn’t have to whitewash me to accept me.


So…Why is This Movement so Different?


At the beginning of the discussion, Courtney Coles asked the panel why this BLM movement was different than the one in 2015. While most panelists agree that their feelings about racism hasn’t changed, what has is white people’s participation. Sky Acord notes that it feels like white people are paying attention and social media is being used as a powerful weapon against racism. 


The panel then unanimously agreed that Emo Nite took a big risk in offering their huge medium for the discussion. Big thank you to Emo Nite for hosting this sick convo about race in punk rock. Emo Nite, on the other hand, has been super active! They’re raising funds and encouraging people to speak out. *shifty eyes toward other mediums* More still needs to be done, of course, but rock on! Let’s make a difference.



Jason Aalon, musician and front man of Fever 333 

Hanif Abdurraqib, writer, poet and music critic

Sky Acord, bassist for genre bending metalcore band, Issues 

Aaron Brown of Emo Nite and “man of many hats. Most of them beanies” 

Jordan Calhoun, bassist for Heart Like War


Courtney Coles, photographer known for her project To the Front