Abdurraqib, Hanif’s “They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us”
(Note: In an effort to be transparent, I wrote this book discussion because I was paid to do so. If you are looking for real book discussions, you can see them in my book reviews section. This book will appear there shortly.)
Hanif Abdurraqib’s essay narrative “I Wasn’t Brought Here, I Was Born: Surviving Punk Rock Long Enough To Find Afropunk” is from the book They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us. This short narrative brings to light the issues of race within the punk rock music scene, revealing a variety of contradictory aspects of the music culture most notably the rebel image.
Hanif reveals himself as a fan of punk rock, citing bands and different venues as he correlates these elements with incidents that make him question the authenticity of the rebel image of punk. This question of authenticity forms the conflict of the narrative, which is intrinsic to Hanif. This conflict goes unnoticed by the many fans of punk rock that Hanif describes as they do not see the contradiction in the inclusive rebel image with incidents of white male dominated scenes where even amongst the marginalized people of color and women are marginalized.
The narrative follows the classic story telling structure of introduction, complications, climax, and conclusion as Hanif winds his story through several events which start with the realization of the racial issue, going from an attendee to a witness of the violence and racism, ultimately climaxing in a black kid falling unconscious in a sea of uncaring white people ignoring his dangerous plight. Hanif concludes the story, not rejecting the shows, but limiting attendance, and alluding to the need to perhaps be at these shows for the sake of other persons of color.
There are several themes in this story but the author presses the idea of hypocrisy and bigotry in the concept of punk rock, which highlights a struggle to overcome racism in an opaque form of rebellion. Seeing this contradiction in thought and action readily shows the reader the message of racism’s deep roots unescapable even in a scene of people who are rejected and reject society.
Hanif likely told his story in this way in order to use the emotional force of his experiences to support the argument that racism transcends identity and roles even in the most rebellious of communities. Using this personal narrative approach, Hanif creates visual imagery to bolster the story’s theme with visual elements like “a monochromatic sea crashed against itself” to describe the hypocrisy of a white band singing don’t call me white (Abdurraqib, 2017). This is a powerful rhetoric that provides the reader a clear insight to the bigotry and racism problem that permeates all cultures.
For those who remember the rise and fall of the punk scene of the seventies and eighties, this essay demands reading, providing an deeper insight into an unsustainable music and culture.
Abdurraqib, H. (2017). They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us. Two Dollar Radio; Kindle edition.
Vincent Triola. Thu, May 13, 2021. “I Wasn’t Brought Here, I Was Born: Surviving Punk Rock Long Enough To Find Afropunk” Retrieved from https://vincenttriola.com/blogs/ten-years-of-academic-writing/i-wasn-t-brought-here-i-was-born-surviving-punk-rock-long-enough-to-find-afropunk