Interview: Laina Dawes on Being a Black Woman and a Fan of Heavy Metal

“In black communities, music is so integral in terms of a storytelling mechanism. Back in the blues era, African-American women were actually able to talk about their hardships and sorrows through music, and be very personal. [The same is true of] hip-hop because it’s also obviously a black-centric music form. When I was in my 20s and hip-hop was coming out, a lot of black people felt that if you listened to hip-hop, that means that you’re really black, that you’re proud of yourself, that you know who you are. So when black people listen to ‘white-centric’ music — which is rock ‘n’ roll, country, heavy metal, punk, hardcore — it’s seen that they are somehow not proud of who they are.” – Laina Dawes, NPR interview.

This interview touches on a long overdue subject for discussion and the above quote outlines exactly why.  It’s bad enough that there are still people in the metal scene who won’t accept anyone who isn’t white, but this whole thing of questioning someones ethnic pride based on their taste of music is just as ludicrous.

In the early 2000’s, I was at an outdoor multi-band festival where I saw Stone Temple Pilots for the first time ever.  (Yes, I know they aren’t metal, stay with me on this one) They had all of Foxboro Stadium in the palm of their hands as they rocked through a set of hits.  There was an energetic and friendly vibe in the audience.  I did my best to stay on my feet in the constant tide shifts of bodies in the crowd, trying hard to avoid being sucked into the whirlpools of the mosh pits while singing my heart out to the songs I first listened to as a confused and lonely teenager.

Stone Temple Pilots closed their set with “Plush”.  That was the first song I heard on the radio and decided I would get the album with my own money.  To my right I saw a black man about my age, there were one or two people sardine-packed between us.  We were both singing along, and when our eyes met, we both knew what this song, this band, this whole night meant to us.  We both closed our eyes and sang the last chorus of “Plush”, and without looking, high-fived each other.

When I got home, exhausted and sweat-drenched with tender, raw vocal chords, I thought of that black man.  Did he have as much fun the whole day?  Did any of the white kids give him grief or ask him what he was doing at a show featuring metal and alternative rock bands?  Would his own friends and family back home ask him the same exact thing?

I was already familiar with the dilemma of being a rap music fan and having white rock fans give me grief over listening to “that stuff“, sometimes even saying “Dude, you’re white!“.  However, the guy I high-fived most likely dealt with a much uglier uphill battle: white people telling him he didn’t belong there and black people accusing him of being a “traitor” or an “uncle Tom” or an “Oreo“.

I have a number of poems where I mention or pay tribute to both genres (“Light The City”, “Between Streetlights And Stars”, “Witness”, etc.).  I did that on purpose to challenge the reader/audience, to tell them, “Yeah, I listen to both, get over it!”

Every now and then when I hear “Plush”, I think of that fellow STP fan I high-fived all those years ago, and hope he stayed brave and went to many, many rock and metal shows after that; the slack-jaws and suspicious eyes of others be damned.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s