How the roots of racism run deep in rock
Words by Jam Pascual
Illustration by MC Galang
The date is August 5, 1976, and the Birmingham Odeon is watching a rock legend embarrass the fuck out of himself. Eric Clapton is onstage, endorsing far-right nationalist and anti-immigration politician Enoch Powell, and spouting blatantly racist remarks against the foreigners in his audience.
“Stop Britain from becoming a black colony. Get the foreigners out. Get the w*gs out. Get the c**ns out. Keep Britain white […] the black w*gs and c**ns and Arabs and fucking Jamaicans don’t belong here, we don’t want them here. This is England, this is a white country, we don’t want any black w*gs and c**ns living here. We need to make clear to them they are not welcome. England is for white people, man […] This is Great Britain, a white country, what is happening to us, for fuck’s sake?”
History repeats itself. On October 30 during a Facebook live show stream, viewers watched MYMP guitarist and co-founder Chin Alcantara don blackface with the intention of dressing up as Jimi Hendrix as Halloween, while decrying the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, and parroting the usual neoliberal, milquetoast platitudes that well, actually, all lives matter, I’m not racist, and what I’m doing is completely okay. Alcantara would go on to release a follow-up video separate from the Facebook live show, in which he basically echoes the above statements while wiping off his makeup. And not that it excuses anything, but Clapton claims that he was on drugs and alcohol while making his 1976 tirade. Alcantara on the other hand was, as far as we know, entirely sober.
What MYMP accomplished that night was the honestly impressive cross-genre combo of ersatz bossa nova coffee shop BS and 1830s minstrelsy. There’s a whole bevy of counterarguments that we can scream while shaking Alcantara’s shoulders, and they’ve already been said. Painting your skin black isn’t costume play, it’s the dehumanization of another race. Alcantara has also made the reductive claim that BLM is merely propaganda that promotes unrest—rather, it treats social unrest as the sensible response to the issues that BLM aims to fight against: police brutality and white supremacy. Conversely, All Lives Matter is also propaganda that serves centrist interests and aims to diminish the goals of civil rights movements. So, Alcantara is also swayed by propaganda, as much as he’d like to think that he’s above it.
He also makes the excuse that he can’t be racist because his idols are Black. Hiding behind this reasoning is cowardly—I’ve seen the frattiest muscle-headed rats publicly profess their love for their favorite Black rappers and yell racist slurs in concerts and clubs. Alcantara is also in no position to say, with any ounce of sincerity, that all lives matter, when he is loyal to President Rodrigo Duterte, whose administration treats life as disposable at best.
Painting your skin black isn’t costume play, it’s the dehumanization of another race.
I could say all this and Chin Alcantara won’t change his mind. I don’t expect him to. Not many of his ilk ever do. Even if the holy ghost of Jimi Hendrix himself were to swoop down from heaven and smack him upside the head, he won’t budge.
The closest we have to such a comeuppance is this. Years before the Birmingham Odeon incident, Cream was performing at the Regency Street Polytechnic when they invited Jimi Hendrix to play onstage with them. Hendrix did his thing, ripping guitar god squeals and melting faces. Clapton left in the middle of the set. An article by The Guardian reads, “Clapton was furiously puffing on a cigarette and telling Chas [Chandler, bassist of the Animals]: ‘You never told me he was that fucking good’” seemingly in disbelief that a person of color had utterly out-rocked him.
Again, none of this is going to move Chin Alcantara to change his mind. He might even take it as flattery that I’m comparing him to Clapton, even though one made “Tears in Heaven,” (Editor’s note: or this) and all the other can do is eke out an insipid version of that overrated karaoke number. This isn’t even to diminish the worth of cover musicians—most of them to the admirable work of paying tribute to great songs and the artists that made them, no tasteless costumes required.
Racism is a mountain, and we’ll chop it down with the edge of our hands.
Still, it’s worth a little time and energy, I believe, to look upon the sorry state of rock and its once venerated geezers. Isn’t it peculiar that Eric Clapton owes so much of his standing in the world of rock to a cover of “I Shot the Sheriff,” a Bob Marley song about standing up to corrupt law enforcement? Isn’t it bizarre that MYMP’s highlight reel of covers owes a ton to black artists, not the least of which include Tracy Chapman and The Isley Brothers? The truth is it’s not weird at all. So much of rock is just musicians reaping carelessly what black artists have sown before them, without giving those people their political due. The rest of MYMP are complicit in this as well, for not talking Alcantara out of running his fool mouth while brazenly making a mockery of Hendrix’s likeness.
Clapton’s statements in 1976, along with a nation in crisis and a rock scene coming to terms with its demons, spurred the Rock Against Racism cultural movement in 1978. History repeats itself, and writing this, I’ve been watching friends in the music scene come down on this acoustic jackass with full force. Racism is a mountain, and we’ll chop it down with the edge of our hands.
Many years later, Clapton would go on to apologize for the things he said. Maybe someday, Alcantara will get around to renouncing the beliefs he’s chosen to double down on, despite common sense. Until then, the only good things we can say have come out of this whole debacle are the new acronyms. “Make Your Mother Pahiya,” “Make Your Mind Palit”—good stuff, folks.
Editor’s note: Here are some resources on how we can better educate themselves in racial bias and bigotry—racism. This includes readings on how to be anti-racist, the Black Lives Movement, blackface in Asia, and colorism in the Philippines. Read. But more importantly, listen.