Finally, let’s get to the punk rock part of my title line (none too soon,amirite?)!
In the documentary American Hardcore, Ian Mackaye talks about how he wrote the song as an anti-racist song after attending high school in Washington DC, as it was a black majority school and he felt he was unfairly judged by the color of his skin. In keeping with person focused ideas, I believe he really did feel victimized. However, as I was singing the song in the shower (don’t judge) I realized I have a huuuuuge problem with the lyrics to that song.
I work in Detroit with a majority black staff and majority black clientele. I went to school for my master’s in Chicago, where we talked a great deal about systemic racism. I worked in community mental health in Chicago too, and the amount of poverty south of 14th street is sick. For those of you too lazy to click the link (I’M LOOKING AT YOU!) systemic racism is less like screaming the n-word at a black person and more like calling some neighborhoods “bad” or “ghetto” and being scared to go there without considering those people that have to (usually) stay there and are probably just as scared. Because they’re brown and that’s where brown people belong right?
So my problem with “Guilty” is it’s total lack of awareness of two things: the systemic racism Minor Threat (a group of young white males) acknowledges, and the lack of understanding how they benefit from these systems that are still in place.
Here are the full song lyrics:
For something I didn’t do
But I don’t know who
You blame me for slavery
A hundred years before I was born
GUILTY OF BEING WHITE
I’m a convict
(guilty)Of a racist crime
(guilty)I’ve only served
(guilty)19 years of my time
GUILTY OF BEING WHITE
See what I mean? I doubt his classmates blamed him for slavery (but who knows); it seems more likely to me they resented his automatic sense of entitlement (“I shouldn’t be bullied”), his increased access to resources and advancement, the fact he was less likely to go to jail or prison than his black male counterparts ((.056%) vs (.105%)…the list goes on. Instead of recognizing his benefits from this system and owning them, he blames his “oppressors” who have found him guilty.