Technically, I’m from the Deep South. However, I consider my hometown in Northwest Louisiana more of East Texas instead of the South. I grew up in Shreveport, a city with a long history of music, civil rights activism, and racial violence. There’s a statue of Leadbelly downtown. The Louisiana Hayride hosted artists such as George Jones, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at Galilee Baptist Church in 1958 to lend support to the United Christian Movement’s voter registration drive. There’s a history of racial violence in Shreveport and the Red River valley, stretching across the northern part of Louisiana, a history that impacts the region to this day and manifests itself in the fact that Shreveport and Caddo Parish have one of the highest incarceration and murder rates in the nation.
I came of age in the early 1990s, blaring a cassette tape of Nirvana’s In Utero on my Walkman as I rode my bike around the neighborhood. Around the same time, East Bay Punk exploded onto the airwaves with Rancid and Green Day. Those were my introduction to punk rock. I didn’t know about the Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, Ramones, Black Flag, or even Austin’s MDC. I didn’t know about the social protest nature of punk. For me, NOFX was nothing more than a joke band that I really enjoyed, and as for Bad Religion, well, my evangelical upbringing immediately turned me off to anything by them except for 1994’s Stranger Than Fiction. Simply put, punk, for me, was fast, loud, melodic, and embodied my teenage suburban angst.
When I thought about punk, I thought about California or the upper East Coast. I never thought about the South. I never thought about the history of resistance in the South, apart from the basic nine words we all learn about the Civil Rights Movement: “Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. ‘I Have a Dream.’” I didn’t know about the plethora of Black individuals from my own stomping grounds who embodied the punk ethos of resistance against white supremacy. I didn’t know Bill Russell and Huey P. Newton were born in Monroe, Louisiana, where I went to college. I didn’t know Fred Hampton’s family was from Louisiana and he’s buried near where my grandmother grew up in North Louisiana. I didn’t know about the Deacons of Defense and Justice, a precursor to The Black Panther Party, formed in 1964 in Jonesboro, Louisiana. I didn’t know all of this till later, after I had moved away.
I didn’t know, as a white kid, the social commentary at the core of punk, calling out the hypocrisies of the church, the government, and the social inequality of society. I didn’t know about white activists such as Lillian Smith from Georgia who spoke out vociferously against racial injustice from her mountain residence in the Appalachian foothills. From the 1920s till her death in 1966, she vehemently called upon whites to look inward and examine themselves, writing in 1943, we don’t need to refer to the problem as the “race problem” or the “Negro problem.” Instead, we need to do a “right-about-face and study the problem of the white man: the deep-rooted needs that have caused him to seek those strange, regressive satisfactions that are derived from worshiping his own skin color.”
I didn’t know about Durham, North Carolina’s Pauli Murray, a writer, lawyer, Civil Rights activist, and Episcopal Priest, who experienced gender dysphoria. Doctors refused to treat Murray for gender dysphoria, always pushing them to the side and neglecting them. However, Murray fought through their writing and activism. Murray led the first March on Washington event in New York City in remembrance of Odell Waller, a Black sharecropper executed by the state, in 1942. Murray saw the fight against white supremacy as an ongoing, generational fight, writing in her autobiography, “I discovered that joining others in the effort to overturn an entrenched system of injustice is often like running a relay. There were times when I didn’t even know the outcome of the race, other times when it was my privilege to break the ribbon at the finish line, and still others when I share an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and exhilaration even though my contribution had been made early in the contest, not at its culmination.”
Smith and Murray were friends, and Murray confided in Smith about their gender dysphoria. Smith, while having a life-long relationship with her partner Paula Snelling, never openly identified as lesbian, but she spoke openly about gender and identity, specifically in relation to issues of race. I never thought about the South as a space where punk exists, but today, I do. The history or resistance in the South embodies the aesthetics of punk, a rebellion against the hegemonic status quo, fighting for a better life for all. It’s no wonder that one of my favorite new punk bands hails from Murray’s hometown of Durham.
Browsing Epitaph’s webstore, I came across The Muslims’ Fuck These Fuckin’ Fascists, a 12-song, 22-minute blast of pure punk resistance. The Black and Brown, all-queer, Muslim three-piece pushes back against white supremacy, the rise of fascism, racial inequality, gender inequality, and islamophobia. Over the past year, I’ve driven around my home in the Appalachian foothills, on Muscogee and Cherokee land, passing the image of AR-15s on political signs, cars with bumper stickers that say, “Fuck BLM,” stores that exclusively sell Confederate Lost Cause memorabilia, houses that still have Trump 2020 signs stuck firmly into their yard, and trucks that fly Trump flags next to the Christian flag. I pass all of these, and I blare Sheih QADR singing, “Fuck these fuckin’ fascists, they can kiss our asses.”
The Muslims’ punk anthem echoes Bill Russell, Fred Hampton, Huey P. Newton, Lillian Smith, Pauli Murray, and countless others who called, at some point or for the entirety of their life, the South home. Each screamed, as we continue to scream today, “Fuck white supremacy.”
Ian Currer is a musician, writer, and academic born and raised in the South. Ian explores multiple intersections in their work, examining themself as well as the society they inhabit.