BY ANNETTE EJIOFOR
Graphic by Corrina Chow
Punk is a subculture and art distinctively cultivated in part for women of colour (WoC). Tying activism with non-conventional sounds and rhythms, punk identifies closely with the struggles of WoC as both aim to create an understanding of social norms. In a city and subculture that prides itself on cultural and artistic diversity and inclusivity, Ottawa’s punk scene excludes those it is meant to represent—women of colour.
Beginning in the 1960s, before the advent of “punk rock”, was the distinctively alternative sound of garage musicians. Prior to the first established punk rock scene from New York City in the ‘70s, bands like the Sonics are credited with the creation of garage musicians. These were bands that played without musical or vocal instruction, with very limited to no skill. These bands usually did not study music formally and broke the structured rules. In a time where rules so desperately needed to be broken—inflation and unemployment, incompetent or corrupt political leadership, America’s deteriorating urban environments— punk was the aid. Punk was the not-so-rhythmic voice of the young, a bellowing echo of their frustrations towards the socio-economical and political status of the time. Although created to be the revolutionary voice, punk has found itself saturated by those harming the revolution.
A city flooded with festivals and events—most of them free—throughout the year, Ottawa devotes both its wallet and its efforts to the arts for the benefit and enjoyment of its citizens. Of course, which citizens get to enjoy the festivities comes into question. Which citizens are guaranteed safe spaces and the natural right of weight in their opinion and outcry, comes into question. Studying the treatment of WoC throughout the last few years, the Ottawa punk scene both excludes and further oppresses those individuals who so desperately need to be heard. Women of colour are silenced, leading Ottawa’s punk subculture to be filtered through white heteronormativity, unable to fulfill its original intent as an alternative voice, aiding in the revolution.
Women of colour face complicated pains as they combat sexism, misogyny, and racism, in every facet of their daily lives. These intersections extend to those who differ from the heteronormative and cisgender experiences, complicating layers for people of colour and people don’t identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. If the punk scene is meant to be a space where the normative rules of society are broken, and society’s rules are structurally set up against the benefit of women, people of colour, and non-cisgendered people, those voices should be the leading ones within the punk subculture.
From the unfortunate booking of the Portland band Black Pussy to the rally behind the name change of punk band Viet Cong, Ottawa has had its fair share of oppressive events and rhetorics, each time further harming WoC. While the punk subculture within Ottawa prides itself on its inclusivity within its exclusivity, it ends up excluding the main voices already exempt from most parts of daily life.
If we agree that punk music is the alternative voice, made and created to rage against the “system” and ill governments and policies, Ottawa punks need to leave the domination of white male and white female voices behind. Giving space to people of colour and people navigating outside of cisgenders welcomes the revolutionary voices punk music is supposed to care about. If Ottawa understands the need for art and culture, for the entertainment of everyone in the city, it must ensure that women of colour are included in that definition and mandate. If not, the punk scene is left consumed by the very powers and status quo intended to be fought. Why have punk without the revolution? It all becomes rather irrelevant.