Kadiatou Keita

It was hard growing up punk on a budget. Punk then emo because my middle school pubescent rage turned into awkward angst once I started high school. It’s a strange sentiment because ideally, being part of the punk subculture was never supposed to be something one could or couldn’t afford. After emigrating to the states, I grew up in the Bronx, New York. It was arguably the best and worst place to be Black and punk in the early 2000s. It was great because of all the subsidized clothing stores, which provided a variety of cheap, oddly sized, hand-me-down pieces one could style. If I looked hard enough on construction sites or for the remnants of stolen bike pieces on parking poles, I could score cool bike chains and metal pieces. I would hang those metal chains randomly on my clothes. The Bronx is predominantly Black and brown. Punk was always marketed as a “white people activity,” and being a third culture kid was already enough to isolate me. Wearing my mom’s hairline filler around my eyes as black eyeshadow was another level of “We’re definitely not hanging out with you.”

Luckily for me, I was shameless about it. I once swiped a thick silver metal bike chain off the street while accompanying my aunt grocery shopping. She walked on the opposite sidewalk and ignored me the entire time, but I felt good. I stepped heavily just to feel the chain bounce against my hip. I was comfortable in this adopted identity. An identity that was once for the imposter, the outcast in society. I didn’t know how deep punk runs in Blackness. What I did know was that I obviously stood out, and I had control over it.

 My punk was Black. It said, “Screw the monolith image made in the media and be plenty like the many different Black people that exist.” Black and punk because it was meant for you. I wore the chain constantly until it mysteriously disappeared in the wash. It was either my younger sister or my aunt; they hated being seen with me wearing that chain. There was a huge Latinx and Hispanic Goth community, but my mom raised me Guinean, which meant no over-consumption of “American ideals.” I couldn’t participate in the late-night parties and drives they would organize. I couldn’t sneak out like the radical teens in the movies and craft spells in dark clothing like the young witches in “The Craft.” I tell myself I wasn’t a fan of standing under bridges at strange times of night, so I don’t feel I missed out. I was sated with the snippets of punk or rock musicians I would find on SoundCloud or sketchy MP3 apps. 

Despite being concerned, my mom and aunt supported my antics. If I was upset, they watched me patiently hide in closets and clothing crates. We were displaced often, and the six of us lived in a one-room apartment, so there was never a place to be upset alone. Privacy was the one thing I saw in those movies and punk magazines that I couldn’t relate to. Punk in the movies preached about breaking free from norms, decorating your own space with what you want and expressing yourself. I wonder how strange I might’ve looked to them — crying in a basket of clothes with a lid on, crying about the brackets among brackets of expectations both in my old and new culture.

My family was thankful though. My mom says when I came to the states, I kept everything inside. I never complained even when things turned for the worse. She said I didn’t eat or talk; I just pulled my hair out. They knew I was doing better when I started to express myself — no matter how strangely. The emotions were the one thing I got right. I would listen to Green Day, AFI, Muse, Slipknot to scream and lament despite still learning the language. I would cry with My Chemical Romance and Black Veil Brides. I still listen to a lot of my favorite bands when I feel like an imposter, especially now, attending a predominantly white institution. I am reminded that while I am an impostor, I am not worse off. I will occupy a space not meant for me and express myself loudly because I deserve it. Last Halloween, I dressed up as my middle-school self decked out in Slipknot merch and wore all the things I wanted to wear — things I couldn’t when I was young.

These are the first punk songs I listened to that I remember:

One Ok Rock “Kanzen Kankaku Dreamer”: They are so talented, and their lyrics are so moving. This might have been the first rock song I ever listened to. These are some of the Japanese translated lyrics.

A seemingly weak but strong self! This is my own judgment! Got nothing to say!

If you can think of something else quick, hurry up and spill!

I’m called a “Complete Awareness Dreamer!”

Anti-Flag – Underground Network (2001): Embodied most of what punk believed in. I was too new to the country to get all the references, but it was great to listen to.

Evanescence “Bring me to Life”: “Wake me up inside and save me” these lyrics are memes now, but I related to everything. Aesthetically you can listen to this to feel like a dark forest fairy. 

Skillet “Awake and Alive” the harmonies by John and Kenosha get you so pumped up.

I’ll do what I want ’cause this is my life/…Stand my ground and never back down

I know what I believe inside/ I’m awake and I’m alive

Three Days Grace “I hate Everything”: I used this to get over the disappointment of my family situation.

But I still don’t miss you yet/ Only when I stop to think about it

I hate Everything about you/ Why do I love you?

MadVillian: “MadVilliany” This is not punk, but it’s an honorable mention. I would play this on repeat on Soundcloud (My Middle school banned YouTube on their computers and I didn’t have an iPod so good enough)

Skillet “Monster”: At the 2:17second mark they put a voice converter when he sings the lyrics “Feel Like a Monster” and I rewind 3 times just to feel the effect. It made me feel dangerous and powerful. I would listen to this on my way to middle school with my mom’s hairline filler dye around my eyes.

Avril Lavigne “Sk8ter Boi”: Anything by Avril made me feel pretty. Everyone wanted to be Avril in 2008. I could never straighten my hair or add any color to it, but I could color my nails black with sharpie.

Nirvana “Smells like Teen Spirit” and “Lithium”: These are punk rock albums (They were a grunge band), but I can listen to them for hours.

AFI – The Art of Drowning (2000): Anything on this album is amazing.

Kadiatou Keita | kadiatou.keita@yale.edu