"Punk Like Me" with Robby Simon
Photos and Words by Robby Simon
Model: Onyee Ijebuonwu
At what age did you start skating and what attracted you to it?
I started skating when I was about 10 or 11. Growing up I had a neighbor named Carlos, he and his family were Mexican and we pretty much represented the "diversity" on our country street, and he introduced me to skating through videos and Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2. I thought he was the coolest person ever. I grew up in Hiram, Ga. My family moved there because they saw an opportunity to get our family out of the hood and into a little more stability. I never fit in, I always liked what the black kids around me called "White Sh*t". I loved both Punk and skating because it seemed like they were having fun and being rebellious which was what I wanted to be. Rebellious against what I was told I had to be. I was taught to assimilate to the dominant side of "White Culture" to basically be safe, where I lived they had Nazi parties and KKK rallies not far from my house, so my mom just wanted me to be safe, and to not be looked at like a stereotype or statistic, but I wanted to be like these skaters and punks/hardcore kids. A subculture of social rebellion. The music and lifestyle was a personification of the angst I held inside.
Were there other POC skaters in your neighborhood?
Other than myself and Carlos, no there were not a lot of POC into that stuff in the early 00's. There were not a whole lot of POC around where I was until I started high-school— where I grew up it was segregated into people who fell into the category of Black, then White, and then all us other kids.
With skate culture comes community. Would you say it was easy for you to form that community once you started?
I would say; "Yes and No." In inner city Atlanta it is really welcoming to anyone finding the hardcore community and skate communities, which really converge because the two go hand-in-hand. You can't have one without the other. But out where I was, which was an hour outside of Atlanta, it was easy to spot a kid who skated or listened to heavy music, because they were obviously a little different. I was picked on and bullied for being into that stuff by White people and Black people. I felt like I was always on the defense. Especially being the only black person into those things in a group, you can easily become a "token". Which I was guilty of being because I wanted acceptance so badly. I would have to smile and laugh at the Black-jokes, and harsh remarks, from even my close friends at times. I just ignored it, because at that age and where I was, this was where I fit in best. As I got older I would meet more black people who looked like me, into what I was into and were just were themselves, and into this subculture. It helped to really ground me and not be as insecure in those spaces.
Many don't know how Black people were integral to the foundation of Rock and Roll and Punk Rock. Was that something you've always known or learned later? How did this knowledge impact you?
I learned about Black people and their involvement in Punk, Skating, and Hardcore, even me listening and making connections. Watching Bad Brains videos and being like "Wow, these are all black dudes shredding punk music" from there I learned about bands like Death and Pure Hell. Then of course I would find skaters like Kareem Campbell, and Terry Kennedy, also Pharrell Williams too helped make punk and skating and bringing it into Black-Culture. Learning how Punk/Hardcore kids stood against racial prejudice militantly was really cool to me. I remember watching videos of Nazi-Punks getting beat down at shows, and flyers for shows taking stands against racial prejudice.