“I wanted to find other black women like me: metal, hardcore and punk fans and musicians … who put aside the cultural baggage that dictates that we must listen to certain musical styles, and simply enjoy the music that influenced us—not just as black women, but as individuals who grew up in an era when (thanks to technology) a large variety of music is accessible and available to everyone. I found many black women and have shared their stories, but I also realize there is still a lot of work to be done.” – Laina Dawes
Most metalheads consider themselves to be open-minded. But in the genre’s history, the assimilation of women—particularly those of a different ethnic background—has always been a struggle.
In What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman’s Life And Liberation in Heavy Metal, music/cultural critic and hardcore metal devotee Laina Dawes paints a vivid, honest and courageous picture of not only growing up in the 1980s as one of the few black women in rural Ontario, Canada, but also as one of the only female metalheads. Talk about being an outsider among outsiders.
Dawes provides a first-hand account of navigating through the metal, hardcore and punk scenes, along with stories and interviews from dozens of other black women headbangers such as Straight Line Stitch’s Alexis Brown, Skunk Anansie’s Skin and Judas Priestess’ Militia Vox. The book pairs vulnerability and humanity alongside razor sharp intelligence, wit and the powerful presence of determination and strength that only a fierce feminine being can provide.
What is truly enjoyable about this short yet thought-provoking book is the array of topics that Dawes is able to touch on. Using both humorous and heartbreaking anecdotes, she discusses metal’s overlooked roots in black music; the complex nerve bundle of racial codes, sexism and gender in rock music; and how black metal fans are often the first to reject metal fans whom are also black. It details her struggle to break through these barriers simply to participate in the music that’s always spoken to her. She recalls several examples, including one where she was body-checked and verbally assaulted by a skinhead at a South By Southwest venue, a poignant picture of how much past racial tensions still consume parts of the present.
Any female metalhead that reads What Are You Doing Here? will surely be able to relate on that premise alone. And it makes any reader come to terms with the fact that there is still a lot of work to be done towards actually making metal a genre that welcomes any sort of outsider. Which is scary and sobering—since that’s the main reason so many of us gravitate towards it to begin with.