The Black and Brown Punk Show Collective is a Chicago-based group that exists as a way for people of color, queer and trans punx to network and keep the punk scene diverse and safe. Since 2010, they have been booking shows, dance parties, readings, festivals, fundraisers and more. "We envision a successful integrated punk scene that thrives on its diversity, autonomy and unique communities," the collective writes on their website. "We believe that both black and brown communities have a shared sense of struggle within the city, and we work to educate and unify both demographics." Monika is one member of the collective, who was originally scheduled to help lead a workshop at Smash it Dead Fest titled "Deconstructing Anti-Blackness". Unfortunately due to some travel issues they weren't able to make it, but regardless, we still wanted to print this interview to highlight the important work Black and Brown Punk Shows is doing in Chicago as well as the importance of these discussions in general.
Can you introduce yourself and explain how you got involved with Smash it Dead?
My name is Monika. I'm a founding member of the Black and Brown Punk Show Collective started here in Chicago in 2010, inspired by Anarchist People of Color. We throw shows that promote safe spaces for queer and trans folks of color within the Chicago cultural space, that can range from punk to dance and more. We raise funds through a festival we have every year for grassroots and DIY organizations. One of the collective's co-founders Dante and I were asked to do the workshop because we did the same workshop at Fed Up Fest last year and it was well received.
Can you explain some of what the workshop covers?
The topic of discussion is anti-blackness, and how it has played out within our subcultural scene. Anti-blackness is a different form of racism in that it is kind of elusive when it comes to defining it. It boils down to a lot of social interactions that we have had within the punk scene here in Chicago that are a little more passive in action. It is different from the textbook definition of racism. Sure, you can be anti-racist, but you can also be intolerable of the way that person chooses to exist. Whether it be language, social interactions, morality. The ideology of passivity, respectability - stems from white, assimilationist, cultural expectation. A significant amount of white and non black people of color don't seem to understand how their behavior can play out against black people. Black culture (African diaspora) is the antithesis of everything that is Western, white and 'normal', and it has been demonized, ridiculed and criminalized. These classifications are spread and 'normalized' through mainstream media, politics and everyday societal interactions. Considering the fact that the Midwest is so segregated, and so few options are available to allow these conversations to happen, it's no wonder that anti-blackness is prevalent, even in radical spaces. We hold this workshop with hopes of exposing the elephant in the room - that is often ignored because it exposes another product of white supremacist, colonialist ideology. It is a difficult topic to talk about. It requires vulnerability, and courage to admit flaws and ignorance. But it is necessary, especially when it comes to ally ship, autonomy and communal sustainability.
Does this work feel particularly urgent right now at the present moment?
Our work is imperative because we are at a critical time in the history of this country. The uprising of Ferguson, the Charleston shooting, the deaths of numerous Black cis and Trans womyn, the growth of ultra conservative right wing politics, the tragic results of Reganomics - it's all coming at once. It's very important that we start thinking of proper ways of ally-ship, autonomy and solidarity between our communities. It can really make it or break it. Neutrality is not an option. It's important to break out beyond our own subcultural realms. A lot of black people are needing support right now. They may not be punks, they may not be 'anarchists', but it's really important right now to define resistance, ally ship , and how white, non black POC and black folks can relate to each other without assimilation, academia, Eurocentrism, and heteronormativity being the standard.
Why is it particularly important for workshops like this to happen in spaces like Smash It Dead Fest and Fed Up Fest?
Because we are so few in numbers -- black people in the punk/alternative/anarchist scene -- it's very important that we speak up against it. I feel like whenever this topic is brought up, it can feel alienating if we don't have definitions for it. And it can be really frustrating, and people end up just leaving the scene. We're trying to actually make it a safer space to bring black people into the punk scene with that understanding.
How was the workshop at Fed Up Fest?
The Fed Up Fest workshop was good, not great. We had a strong turn out. It was primarily white, but we did have a pretty strong contingent of non-black people of color, and a couple of black people, to give responses. We encouraged people to say what was on their minds and wanted it to be a safe space for those questions to be asked. I feel like that's important because a lot of people might be feel embarrassed to actually admit some things, but we are totally open to people asking these questions because I feel like that's the only way we will hash out the dirty details, to actually make real progress. To look at these uncomfortable situations and try to dissect them rather than ignore them. Because if we ignore them, that's where the problems keep replicating.
Was there a specific moment when you started feeling that these sort of workshops were necessary?
It mostly just came out of our experiences trying to organize within a primarily white scene. We just felt like because of the difficulties we've experienced and the lack of delegation that's actually happened, it was necessary upon us to actually build this workshop as a way to reach out to other people in hopes of building strong lines of solidarity. So when we encounter these roadblocks, we can actually make a clear road for kids doing this work in the future.
What do you hope people coming to these workshops walk away with?
I definitely hope people walk away with a hope of actually taking the time out to be observant to their social interactions with black people specifically. Not just assuming because they have some kind of radical or political bands that they are completely absolved from replicating anti-blackness in their lives. The truth is, social conditioning leaves a lot of stuff internalized and subconsciously in our lives that we cast out. I just want people to keep the dialogue going and to constantly check each other on these types of behavior, and completely understanding it, and making safer spaces, and reaching out to different groups of people with that understanding.