Society allows white guys to utilize this music to get their aggressions out, act like He-Man and go crazy. The same benefits they get out of the music, black women not only get, but need even more. Black women need spaces in society where we can be free and express our individuality and be who we want to be.
– Laina Dawes, author, What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal
Writing this book, I found other black women who had felt rejected by friends, family members, or their communities because of their musical preferences.
At one point, I distributed a mass questionnaire, and nearly three-quarters of the replies described negative reactions to listening to heavy metal.
Many of the replies were predictable: “Many people say the style of music I like isn’t really music, it’s just loud noise. Or that I’m not black because I like rock or punk music.”
Others were encouraging: “Especially when I say I like rock, they think it’s like devil or white music. I find it hilarious. I revel in my musical tastes and find audio joy wherever I can.”
Some were unfortunate: “When I was younger, I was criticized for listening to ‘white’ music and told I was weird and [that] there was something wrong with me for being a black girl listening to rock ’n’ roll … [Then] I learned that black folks actually created it.”
And many stories were downright infuriating: “Especially when I was in my teens and twenties, comments from some family and friends if I was listening to rock or punk music were like: ‘Why you listening to that white sh-t?’ I once dated a white guy who grew up in a black neighborhood, and was trying to be ‘down,’ and he yelled at me for listening to Led Zeppelin: ‘Don’t you listen to any black music? Why do you listen to that white music for?’ — the funniest thing I ever heard. Now that I’m in my forties, I don’t tend to associate with anyone who is so narrow-minded about me or my tastes in life.’
From “What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman’s Life And Liberation In Heavy Metal” by Laina Dawes [Courtesy Bazillion Points Books, 2012. ]
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. Continue reading