Being a POC in the Metal Scene

By Guest Contributor Laina Dawes, adapted from a post at Writing For Fighting

A little over three years ago, it was suggested that instead of the documentary I wanted to produce on Black women in the metal scene, that I write a book. With no filmmaking experience and no one responding to my pitches, it seemed like a good idea. As I had already published a number of articles on the subject, the first thing I did was to talk to as many people as I could.

Because there are not many Black women out there into the extreme musical scenes, and while as a lifelong fan and music journalist I had an idea of what I would like to read about in a book, I wanted to get the opinions of others to flesh out a cohesive non-fiction book of ideas that I thought that everyone – regardless of whether they were into metal, hardcore and/or punk, would find something that they could relate to.

The subject ideas came pretty easily. Issues of sexism and racism immediately came to mind, but I needed some….well, at the time, ‘validation’ wasn’t the word that came to mind, but I needed to hear other experiences in the scene and hoped that they would somehow resemble mine. The twenty or so people I interviewed during my research phase (men and women industry workers and fans of various ethnicities) helped me solidify my ideas and eventually gave me the confidence to buckle down and start putting a proposal together.

As I write this, the manuscript is at the publishers and I’m completing the final touches, but I recently realized that there is a huge difference in actually writing about some of the social dynamics that involve being Black in an environment in which ‘fitting in’ takes more of a concerted effort, versus experiencing sometimes troublesome situations in real life. As a journalist, I am used to focusing my attentions on the subject matter at hand, versus my experiences shaping the writing. So while I could yes, add my own experiences in the book as an aside to the issues that my interviewees experienced, When similar situations happened in real life, I still found myself scratching my head, just as frustrated as though I had never thought something possible could ever happen.

A little while ago, I checked Facebook during my lunch work break, and a colleague through my metal journalism work had posted something stupid on his page. He starts off with “I’m not into Black chicks, but …” and then goes one to laud someone he saw on a TV show. Then he wrote “I would even allow her to take me out.”

I commented on his status update that I thought he was a douchebag.

Now, this dude is a person of color, and I’ve hung out in person with him a few times, and I quite liked him as a friend…… but through previous interactions, I did think that as a POC, he seemed to be trying very hard to make people forget that he wasn’t.

Initially I did feel a bit bad for thinking of him as someone who seemed to feel uncomfortable with his ethnicity, but as someone who has been accused as being an ‘Uncle Tom,’ because of the music I listen to and for what I do as a journalist, I was sensitive about labeling someone else as that.

What bothered me about the statement was “I’m not into black chicks, but….”

But what?

Why say that, unless if you felt that some people who were going to read it would think less of you if you found a Black woman attractive? I swear, for some guys it’s like admitting that you find a Black woman attractive is like admitting that you have Herpes.

And I didn’t like this: I would even allow her to take me out.

Well, he was mad at me for my comment. First, he texted me, and then responded via FB, asking me why I called him that. He then went on to say that – and I didn’t mention this, HE did – that he wasn’t a racist and that he was not going to apologize. “I’ve been attracted to only white girls since I was four or five.” But it wasn’t that, that was the problem – if he wants to date white girls, so what? I responded that I didn’t think what he said was racist, but just ignorant. He seemed very conscious that if he had just mentioned that so-and-so was attractive, that people might have a problem with the fact that the woman is Black.

Well then his white friends – mostly female – started to comment. Some went after me personally, alluded to the fact that I was fat and a “big bitch” and said that I was going to ‘beat him up’ (which was interesting, because I do not have a picture of me up on my page) and said they only liked white girls, and some other racialized language. Then someone got smart and removed me from the response thread, but they went on about Jews and Latinos, etc. Oh, but some of them were Jewish (or so they described themselves), so I guess that was okay! My “friend,” I guess so happy that he got some attention, egged them on.

When I got home from work, I promptly “de-friended” him. I’m going to at least two events in the US this year where I know he will be at (we have the same circle of friends/colleagues/music industry people), and my initial reaction was to never talk to him again.

For a minute I was having flashbacks to high school (shudder).

It wasn’t that he didn’t defend me – I guess he was angry that I called him on his shit. It was … hell, he seemed to go along with this other ‘friends’ on FB. We are were not close, but as a fellow POC, I thought he would be less of a f-cking asshole, but as I mentioned before I wasn’t shocked.

Just a bit disappointed.

And I do not want to associate with people who know ignorant-ass hipster racists like he does.

By the way he reacted to my ‘douchebag’ comment, I think he knew he was crossing a line with his statement. But instead of offering a rational explanation instead of “I like to fuck white girls and don’t call me a racist” he tried to make me the guilty party by even calling him on it. I think what bothered me was that he is of South Asian descent and privately, we had discussed being brown folks in the extreme music scene. I thought that perhaps he shouldn’t cave in to the stupid, ignorant behavior just so he can impress his friends.

At that moment, I didn’t give a shit what he had to do to make himself feel worthy. I’m not going to save him or condone his actions. But dissing other POC’s and Jewish folks is a no-no.

This incident got me thinking about my book. I have to admit that when I was in the research phase I was looking for women who were into the metal and punk scenes who were “conscious.” They had to be Black and proud of it, and were not using the music and/or culture to be accepted by whites – the majority in the scene. Sure, there were a couple of women who did not want to be interviewed (one who is a prominent member of the backup band for a very well-known singer), and I just had to accept that for them, perhaps talking about their experiences as Black women in the hard rock/metal scene might jeopardize the reputation that they had worked so hard to gain.

The “thesis” of my book is that the extreme music scenes can actually serve as a place to be liberated from the racialized stereotypes that exist in our world. That people can pursue what they like and who they are as individuals, instead of adhering to a racialized notion that says that you have to listen to a certain type of music in order to be authentically (insert ethno-culture here).

Luckily for me finding women like that was almost effortless. They knew what other people thought of them, and were proud to be seen as Black women who were simply involved in the scenes because it was important to them as individuals: Nothing less and nothing more. The women I have met during the research and writing process of this book are stronger, more confident and way more amazing than I’ll ever be. They are not out to get white folk’s approval by being in the scene; they are not in it to troll for white boys (but I have to admit: this particular situation got me reconsidering my undying lust for High on Fire’s Matt Pike and Metallica’s Robert Trujillo – hell, he’s Latino so I guess that’s okay, right?), or trying to feed some inferiority complex. I have to admit that after this incident, part of me thought, well because I have mad crushes on white / Latino boys in the scene, what does that say about me?

While a number of women I interviewed were in, or predominately have been in relationships with non-Black men, what they said was that it was more important to them that they partner up with someone who shared their interests – these women, for the most part, were “ride or die” fans: music journalists, photographers, industry workers and/or active participants. So for my former friend to state that he was only into white women, it wasn’t a big deal. But the way that he relayed that information, the insinuation that white women were somehow “better” (and then the validation of that through his white female friends) was troubling.

In 2009, I interviewed a well-known Black metal musician during a trip to New York who was in a pretty popular metal band. My mouth dropped open in shock when he stated that in his experiences with his band, that white women hated Black women.

“What do you mean? Like in general?” I asked. We were talking about “the scene” and experiences he had on the road. He believed that Black women were widely regarded as a threat.

Admittedly I know that it is hard to be accepted as a Black woman in the scene – so I do not try to be accepted – you like me or you don’t, and I’m not going to bend over backwards for anyone. I have met some amazing people, but because I have had a rather tenuous past in the trust department, I know to keep them at arms’ length. Some I consider friends; most I do not. They fulfill the social part of me that loves going to shows, drinking, leering at young boys and hanging out with like-minded metal fans, but only a few I have trusted enough to reveal parts of myself that exists outside of the metal scene.

On the other hand, I also have friends – mostly Black – who hate the music/scene I am into and do not understand why I do the things I do. After all, I’ve been verbally assaulted, I have almost gotten into physical fights with people (women) for trying to get physical with me, and last year, pulled a tendon in my ankle when someone kicked me when I was taking pictures at a show. But I think that my friends begrudgingly accept that it is part of me, but I also know that they talk about me behind my back. It’s hard, but it’s fair, I guess.

I do not like to be judged. And trust me, I get enough judgment every goddamned day as soon as I leave my apartment, so why the hell am I going to take it from people whose names I actually know? But in this scene as a 41 year-old Black woman, unfortunately, judgment is part and parcel of what I do: but like anything in life, you have to live through the judgment to keep on pursuing what you feel passionate about – it makes you stronger.

So about my former “friend”: in hindsight, what happened was actually a good thing. He reminded me of what garbage is out there, to not get too comfortable with people and to keep my guard up. If I ever do talk to him again – which is unlikely – I might concede and tell him that he is better than who he was/is on Facebook. He can be proud to be who he is, and he doesn’t have to throw others under the racist bus to make him more appeasing to others.

I understand where he is coming from, because after being a metal fan since I was about 8 and being involved in the metal scene for a long time (and always being the only – if not one out of two or three brown faces in the crowd), I have felt what I think he feels, and even to this day, people’s perceptions of me still bother me a bit. I also understand that he probably doesn’t realize that there is a problem with his need for approval and acceptance but he is smart enough to overcome his insecurities. But he has to understand, if people can say racist shit to you about other POC’s, what the hell do you think they are saying about you behind your back?

All images courtesy of Writing Is Fighting