Decolonization, decolonial excess, and punk: reflections on the cultural politics of race and coloniality in North Atlantic punk

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This article explores the decolonial foundations at the beginning of punk in the United States and England during the 1970s and 80s. More precisely, it investigates the work of Bad Brains and John Lydon (both during his time with the Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd.) to see how they staked out a particular decolonial position from within punk. This article's argument is triple. First, I argue that Bad Brains struggled with the tension of placing their identity as Black men formed through a decolonial engagement with Rastafari and reggae into dialogue with a punk community dominated by white, middle-class musicians. The case of Bad Brains demonstrates both how decoloniality formed a part of punk's foundations and how white members of punk rejected this mode of thought. Second, the patriarchal masculinity underlying Bad Brains's mode of Rastafari–one that was explicitly homophobic and misogynistic–demonstrates how discourses of decolonization themselves can serve to further the oppression of colonized subjects. In other words, some forms of decolonial agency exceeded the representational capacity of Bad Brains's discourse of decolonization, becoming in effect what I call a decolonial excess. Third, I argue that John Lydon attempted to construct a vision of punk decoloniality based on such a decolonial excess. What emerges with this discourse, however, is that Lydon failed to fully recognize the relationship between such a decolonial excess and the politics of decolonization. As such, if this article on the one hand examines the historical problem of the decolonial foundations of punk in Washington DC and London, on the other hand it illuminates the tension between national decolonization and decolonial excess.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)519-542
Number of pages24
JournalCultural Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Bad Brains
  • Punk
  • Sex Pistols
  • decoloniality
  • decolonization
  • subalternity


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