The typical Riot Grrrl, as outlined in an infamous 1992 Newsweek article that defined the movement for the mainstream, was "young, white, suburban and middle class," and in her intro to The Riot Grrrl Collection, Le Tigre's Johanna Fateman confirms this descriptor. It wasn't all white she explains, but "how could girls--drawn from punk's predominantly white demographic, who relied on that scene's resources and aesthetics--forge a truly inclusive, revolutionary agenda?"In contrast to this ironclad narrative of the white Riot Grrrl, black women did participate in the movement. Few and far between, maybe, but they participated nonetheless, and they deserve more than to be swept under a rug of whiteness. What's more, despite Fateman's apologetic assertions that punk and the punk aesthetic are white culture, there were black women who imbibed with the spirit of punk in their bones outside the Riot Grrrl movement as well. These women carved their own feminist pathways into the hardcore scene, precisely because they were rendered invisible by the Riot Grrrl movement.
The typical Riot Grrrl, as outlined in an infamous 1992 Newsweek article that defined the movement for the mainstream, was 'young, white, suburban and middle class.'
In a later passage, a journal of her experience at the first Riot Grrrl convention in D.C., Bikceem again notes this lack of awareness of intersectionality within the scene:
White kids in general, regardless if they are punk or not, can get away with having green Mohawks and pierced lips 'cause no matter how much they deviated from the norms of society their whiteness always shows through. For instance, I'll go out somewhere with my friends who all look equally as weird as me, but say we get hassled by the cops for skating or something. That cop is going to remember my face a lot clearer than say one of my white girlfriends. I can just hear him now… 'Yeah there was this black girl w/pink [sic] hair and two other girls.'
It was disheartening to see how few of the stories in the annals of the Riot Grrrl Collection were by black women. The archive importantly preserves an alternative history of secret notes and public zines shared among girls--a narrative that never would have come from the perspective of power. But as I was looking at the history of Riot Grrrl in front of me I was left wondering: Where was the alternative to the alternative?
They had a workshop on racism and I heard it wasn't too effective, but really how could it have been if it was filled up with mostly all white girls. One girl I spoke to after the meetings said the Asian girls were blaming all the white girls for racism and that she 'just couldn't handle that.' Ever heard of the word Guilt???… The overall experience of the Riot Grrrl convention showed me a lot of different things and I'm sorry to say most of them were not very good ones… Don't get me wrong I am totally for revolution grrrl now… but maybe it shouldn't just be limited to white, middle-class, punk rock grrrls 'cuz there's no denyin' [sic] that's what it is.
Somewhere among the grafs remembering 'revolution grrrl now!' the history of Riot Grrrl is inevitably written as 'predominately white.'
Coleman grew up as one of the few black girls in her suburban high school in Kentucky--the only black girl amongst her punk outcast friends who listened to Blondie and The Clash-and she had ideas of New York as being full of artists, punks, and weirdos like her after seeing the film The Smithereens. "I just knew that I had to move to New York and find other artists like me," Coleman told me over coffee. "I knew I couldn't be the only one. I was tired of being the only one."
Riot Grrrl felt really playful, and I wasn't playing.
The Riot Grrrl box may have been decidedly off-limits in the eyes of Brown and other black women who couldn't see themselves in the movement, but as Davis points out, these women shirked boxes, created their own wave, and reclaimed rock for black women. After all, rock music is black music. While the Sista Grrrls didn't see themselves in Riot Grrrl or in the men they had been playing with in bands, they saw themselves in each other. "I got what Riot Grrrl was about. I didn't think it was exclusive, but it didn't feel inclusive to me," said Brown. "I didn't see myself or my story, and so that's why Sista Grrrl came about later on--out of other women of color that I knew who were punk rock and navigated that scene and had similar feelings about it. Sista Grrrl was my response to Riot Grrrl because it just felt super white."
On one hand, it's actually kind of liberating to not be what this standard of womanhood is, Davis said. That standard put a lot of women in boxes. Black women were never allowed in the box.