Rock Against Racism and Punk. How Music Stood Up Against Racism in the Britain of the 1970s (pp. 121-134)
Ylenia Díaz Fernández
Universidad de Oviedo
The 1970s in England was a dark decade which brought discontent to a great part of the English society as inflation, unemployment and the oil crisis scourged the lower classes after the vanishment of post-war prosperity. Along with these examples of economic recession and crisis, England also witnessed the rise and success of the National Front, an extreme-right political party that sided with racism, xenophobia and white supremacy among other principles. Racism was soon to surface in the music industry with the arrival of punk and its use of swastikas and other representations of fascism, even if those fascist symbols were initially used mainly as a desire to shock the audience. The racial tensions in England in the mid-70s, however, were taking their toll and right-wing extremists found in punk a place where they could freely manifest their hatred for non-white individuals. Other artists in the music industry, such as David Bowie or Eric Clapton, also shared racist discourses, which caused the movement Rock Against Racism (RAR) to start up in England with the purpose of using music as a weapon against racism and to raise awareness of the racial problems that were taking place in England at the time.
The aim of this paper is to show how music in the England of the 1970s stood up against racism and the alarming increase of National Front and racism by raising awareness of these problems among the masses, most specially among the younger generations. The paper will also focus on the way punk artists disassociated themselves from their fascist reputation (showing their support to RAR) and on the bonds that were established between the punk and reggae musical styles during this period in order to eliminate racism from the industry.
Keywords: England; 1970s; crisis; racism; fascism; xenophobia music; punk; Rock Against Racism; songs
Ylenia Díaz Fernández has a Degree in English Studies (2014-2018) by the University of Oviedo and a Master’s Degree in the teaching of Spanish as a foreign language by the same university. She wrote my degree project on Alan Turing and the Enigma machine and her M.A. project on the use of music and songs for the teaching of Spanish. During her degree she completed her practical sessions as an assistant to the research group LINGUO (Lingüística Inglesa de la Universidad de Oviedo), and did her practical sessions for the Master’s Degree as a teacher of Spanish to foreign adults in the NGO ACCEM. She has also collaborated as a volunteer in the organisation of the 30th conference of the Spanish Society for Medieval Language and Literature (SELIM) and she is currently engaged in a Doctoral programme at the University of Oviedo, writing her PhD on the historical background of the Punk movement in England.
e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Barberis, Peter, McHugh, John, Tyldesley, Mike, Hendry, Helen. 2000. Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations.UK: Continuum.
BBC: On This Day. 1976: Notting Hill Carnival ends in riot. Web <http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/august/30/newsid_2511000/2511059.stm> [Accessed on May 19, 2020]
Buckley, David. 2005. Strange Fascination: David Bowie: The Definitive Story. UK: Virgin Books Ltd.
Goodyer, Ian. 2019. Crisis music: The cultural politics of Rock Against Racism. UK: Manchester University Press.
Keatley, Patrick. 1972. Britain could face influx of 80,000 Asians. Web <https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/1972/aug/05/fromthearchive> [Accessed on May 10, 2020]
Manzoor, Sarfraz. 2008. The year rock found the power to unite. Web <https://www.theguardian.com/music/2008/apr/20/popandrock.race> [Accessed on May 25, 2020]
Marcus, Greil. 1989. Lipstick Traces: a Secret History of the Twentieth Century. UK: Harvard University Press. Print.
Martín López, Tara. 2014. The Winter of Discontent. UK: Liverpool University Press.
Marzoni, Andrew. 2019. The Fairest Soul Brother in England. Web <https://thebaffler.com/latest/the-fairest-soul-brother-in-england-marzoni> [Accessed on May 24, 2020]
Naylor, Ben, Mugan, Chris, Brown Colin and Cripps, Charlotte 2008. Rock against racism: Remembering that gig that started it all. Web <https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/rock-against-racism-remembering-that-gig-that-started-it-all-815054.html> [Accessed on May 27, 2020]
Pettinge, Tejvan. 2017. The Economy of the 1970s. Web <https://econ.economicshelp.org/2010/02/economy-of-1970s.html> [Accessed on May 3, 2020]
Punk: Attitude. Dir. Don Letts. Perf. K.K. Barrett, Roberta Bayley, Jello Biafra. Capitol Entertainment, 2005. DVD.
Sandbrook, Dominic. 2011. State of Emergency: The Way We Were. UK: Penguin Books.
Sandbrook, Dominic. 2012. Seasons in the Sun: The Battle for Britain, 1974-1979. UK: Penguin Books.
Sorene, Paul. 2014. That David Bowie ‘Nazi Salute’ And Eric Clapton’s ‘Wogs’ Created Rock Against Racism. Web <https://flashbak.com/1976-david-bowie-nazi-salute-and-eric-claptons-wogs-created-rock-against-racism-5645/> [Accessed on May 22, 2020]
Telegraph Reporter. 2007. Web <https://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/3643826/Enoch-Powells-Rivers-of-Blood-speech.html> [Accessed on May 15, 2020]
Thatcher, Margaret. 1978. TV Interview for Granada World in Action (‘rather swamped’). Web <https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/103485> [Accessed on May 11, 2020]
Turner, Alwyn. 2013. Crisis? What Crisis?. UK: Aurum Press Ltd.
Worley, M. and Copsey, N. 2016. White Youth: The Far Right, Punk and British youth culture. JOMEC Journal, 9. pp. 2747.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.