interview with nia diaspora


Osa: First of all, I just wanna tell you that you're a really smart writer and that your ideas about race feel really well-thought-out and sincere.

Nia: Wow, thank you. “Shotgun Seamstress” was totally a lifesaver for me too. Now that I’m not involved with punk anymore I still value that kind of writing. It validates what I feel or felt at the time, and reminds me I’m not crazy.

Osa: I'm glad that someone out there gets it and could relate. I really want to talk to you about your uninvolvement with punk because you still write zines which I think is a way of participating in punk. What do you think?

Nia: [laughs] I don’t really think of zines as being inherently married to punk subculture. I mean, punk is probably how I got into writing them, but I don’t write for a punk audience. I guess I am trying to use the medium to subvert it.

Osa: Come on! You're at a punk house right now hanging out with a girl that we both just randomly happen to know through punk... Just admit it you're still kinda punk!

Nia: [laughs] BUSTED! Well, I don’t feel punk. I feel really alienated in punk spaces. Lo Mas Alla, where Luisa and some of my other friends live, feels kind of different. Most of the people who live there may still have love for punk culture, but they also view punk with a critical lens. At some point, most of them have told me they are growing out of punk. I could try and defend it further but it feels silly. I am staying with punks at a punk house. Fact. Am I a punk? No.

Osa: Yeah, well the point I’m trying to make is half-silly and half-serious. I do feel strongly about the fact that people of color end up relinquishing so much to white people just because white people take up all that space. I mean, how many times have you talked to another black girl who's like, "I'm not a feminist because I feel like feminism is for white women"? And I’m thinking that feminism is an important tool, just like punk is for me, and I’m definitely not going to let white people define what it means to be punk or feminist. I’m going to use those words, those tools, in ways that benefit me.

Nia: I feel that, but defending punk and feminism can be a lot of work, and a lot of the criticism I’ve heard of both is valid. I guess trying to hold space for POCs in punk is exhausting, not because they're not already there taking up (some) space, but because being the only POC in a room is fucking exhausting in my experience. I wanted to retreat to spaces where I didn’t feel like I had to fight for visibility or have to call people on their shit all the time, and for me punk was not that. Not that I was the lone voice of reason or the lone POC, but often enough, it felt like it. I have nothing but respect for women of color who hold it down in punk rock and call shit out, and make records and write zines, but it's not for me anymore. Or at least I’m a lot pickier about the ways I engage with it and the situations I put myself in. You feel me?

Osa: Yeah I do. I think that's why it's so important to have this conversation because I can see how we're coming at it from such different perspectives even though both are valid. I totally relate to feeling drained to the bone by being in predominantly white "progressive" spaces. And it wasn't just punk. Going to college for women's studies with all those well-meeting white liberal feminists almost gave me an aneurysm. At the same time, for me, it’s not about defending punk or feminism. I just am those things in my daily life. I feel like I did give up fighting for visibility and correcting ignorance and oppressive dynamics in punk scenes. But that just meant that I spent more time hanging out with the brown kids and cultivating those relationships.

Nia: Word. It seems like some punk scenes have more brown kids that others.

Osa: Totally. Or if they’re not there, you seek them out just like I sought you out. I feel like somehow I was lucky enough to meet other black punk kids who made me feel like I could have it all and not give up anything, and that had little to do with confronting white people.

Nia: That's awesome, but for me punk felt like an obstacle between me and forging community with people like me, that is queer folks of color. Not that it was required, but it just didn’t make sense. Having become politicized largely in punk communities was something that marked me as different from a lot of activist folks of color I wanted to build with, that marked me as "white", and as coming from a type of activism that didn't have an analysis around power and privilege when it comes to race, gender, class and queer and trans issues, which my experiences in punk communities affirmed. Or at least if it had that analysis, it wasn't practiced. I also realized how dogmatic I had become as an anarcho-punk, and how rooted some of the ideas that pervaded the scenes I was part of about what made a good activist were in privilege; white privilege, class privilege, privileges associated with not having to provide for a family. I go more in depth on that in "The First 7-Inch."

Osa: So what was your transition out of punk like? Did you have to move or say goodbye to old friends? Was it drastic or gradual?

Nia: I guess the drastic part of it was going through a shitty break-up and breaking ties with the anarcho-punk activist circles I had been part of in Boston. My involvement and my disillusionment with punk began long before that, but the break-up inspired me to leave Boston, which opened up a lot of doors for me to create the kind of community I wanted. I went traveling and sort of unwittingly ended up on the punk-house circuit, not really knowing how to break away from it (or who else but punks were going to take a stranger into their homes.) Almost all the people that lived in these houses that hosted me were white, and involved in the kinds of activist communities I was already starting to feel alienated by. It wasn't until I got to Denver, where I actually did stay at a punk house, but with punks (and non-punks) of color who seemed to be part of a much less segregated scene. In Denver, for the first time I didn't feel like I had to prove I was a POC. I said I was mixed and nobody took my light skin as an invitation to question my authenticity. I felt like there I could be friends with punks, but not be married to the scene and the bullshit that came with it, and my association with punks wouldn't make my identification as a queer person of color suspect. But again, those weren't the kind of spaces I wanted to be in or felt particularly comfortable in, despite that I met punks I felt like I could trust on queer issues and issues of race (mostly, but not exclusively, queer punks and punks of color.)

Osa: What does your new community look like and elements of punk did you bring with you?

Nia: The communities I've built for myself since leaving punk consist mostly of queer folks of color and a handful or down white queers.  Most of them are activists and creative types, using art and music to challenge injustice. I guess the one "element of punk" that comes to mind is that I am still trying to subvert the media through my zines and through blogging, which have been really effective tools for community building with other women of color and mixed folks. Also, in the scene I was part of punk, anarchism and activism were closely linked. I was attracted to anarchism because to me, the abolition of hierarchy meant the abolition of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. So you could say that that fact that working towards the liberation of all my people constitutes an "element of punk," but I think that's giving punk too much credit. But hey, maybe all that empty rhetoric about "smashing patriarchy" at least put me on the right track, fanned the flames of my militancy and made activism look sexy. I'm also still vegan and still drug-free, although I don't call myself straightedge so much any more. I might not have gone vegan if not for punk and Food Not Bombs, though. Who knows?

Osa: Well, going back to your zine and you writing, I felt like your experiences as a mixed race person are just another example of how our society expects very specific things of blackness. Like that verycommon response you would get, "Well, you don't even LOOK black!"

Nia: I wouldn't argue with that.

Osa: Well, the fact of the matter is you're half-black, in your zine you say you identify as black, and in a different historical context, you wouldn't have been able to drink from the same water fountain as the person making that comment. What do you think about that?

Nia: I wouldn't argue with that either. I mean its not always white people saying that shit. But I’m not sure that's really the point.

Osa: You're right, it doesn't matter who's saying it. It’s just about the fact that it's all a construction. What it means to be "really black." Black people internalize it, other people of color buy into it… For instance, the belief that being weird, eccentric, queer, punk, feminist can make you "less black."

Nia: Yeah, "real blackness" is an elusive fucker as far as I can tell. That's very true. On the other hand, it's hard to feel "less Black"when you’ve never been allowed to be Black. My inclusion in communities of color has always felt somewhat conditional, as if I were just "passing" as a POC and my membership could be revoked at any time. So for me, the lightness of my skin was a much bigger obstacle than my queerness or feminism. Maybe if people were more willing to see me as Black I would be getting some of that other shit instead.

Osa:  So, we’re definitely coming from different perspectives on this, but I feel like in the end, we're both trying to expand all of these categories. I try and do it through talking about culture, music and art, trying to expand our own ideas on how black people can expressive ourselves. You do it through personal writing about your racial identity.

Nia: Sure. I think that zines are a powerful tool in creating visibility for people of color, in punk and out. I guess you could say I am trying to expand people's definitions and conceptions of blackness but ultimately I don’t see my writing as a demand for inclusion in black or POC spaces, punk spaces or anywhere else. I like to think that my writing aggressively calls out and confronts racism, but when you boil it down, it's really, "This is my experience. You should know that it exists. And I invite you to check your assumptions. Peace."

Osa: Yeah. I actually got interviewed by this zinester in the UK. She asked me a question about visibility and I told her I’m not interested in it.

Nia: What did you mean?

Osa: Well, I guess it just depends on what you mean by the word. To me, it means making your struggles, experiences & contributions visible to the dominant group, being white folks. But I try so hard in my zine to speak to other black people and people of color exclusively. Staying in punk requires that I quit wasting my energy talking to white people and that I nurture myself and other brown folks around me. So even though I know I have a white audience, they are just lucky enough to be eavesdropping in on a convo that I’m really having with other POCs.

Nia: That's true. I guess when I hear "visibility," I think, "acknowledgment that you exist.”

Osa: But it's only white people who need that reminder, you know?

Nia: Maybe. There are also isolated POCs who need to know they are not alone.

Osa: Very true. And this is for them. Any advice to brown kids who may be isolated in punk right now?

Nia: You deserve spaces where you can bring your whole self to the table, where you don't have to leave your culture, your brownness,mixedness, or your queerness at the door. If punk spaces are the kind of spaces where you can be your whole self and be embraced, good for you. If you don't find those spaces particularly accepting but demand inclusion, work to create safe space and hold punk accountable to it's allegedly anti-oppressive ideals, that's badass and I personally am grateful that you exist and are doing the work you do. And if punk isn't that space for you, is never going to be that space for you or you just run out of energy trying to make it that, keep looking. There are spaces you can be your whole self, and you deserve to not have to check parts of yourself at the door in order to experience community and acceptance. It's not an impossible dream and it shouldn't be a privilege. Don't settle. If you keep looking I think you'll find that it's worth the wait.

To find Nia's zines visit: and to read her blog go here: Look for her newest zine "Ungrateful Black-White Girl" also at Stranger Danger.


  1. I just want to say that I LOVE your blog. I'm a 25 year old black woman. I can greatly relate to Nia's feelings about leaving punk. Although for me it was the Goth scene. I had been apart of the goth scene for 8 or 9 years or so. Until I got tired of being thought of as "that black girl" by other Goths who claimed to be so "openminded" and so "different" from mainstream sensibilites. Funny enough, it was one of the reasons I returned to punk. As a teen I had started out in punk but goth came along and captured my gaze. I crave the energy and enthusiasm punk has. The rampant accepted mindset of apathy, vanity, and passive aggressiveness left me so frustrated with Goth I had to leave. I needed a place where it's okay to be openly passionate about something other than your expensive ookie spooky wardrobe and elite set of friends. Where it's okay NOT to look like you belong on a runway for Lip Service every single day. Punk is a refreshing breath of air away from all that. I know I could end up leavig punk too. But, that doesn't concern me as life is a journey not a destination. I intend to enjoy my journey while it lasts. :)


Post a Comment