Black Women, Heavy Metal & Racism

Not everyone got that some little black girl going to school in Elizabeth, NJ was so into heavy metal.
Publish date:
January 30, 2014
racism, Clutch Magazine, heavy metal

During the Grammys, there were three performances that stood out to me: Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragon, Daft Punk with Pharrell, Niles Rogers and Stevie Wonder, and Metallica.

Yes, Metallica.

In 8th grade…I was a headbanger…thank god pictures don’t exist from that time…my family thought I weird..but my friend Allison..

— Yesha (@YeshaCallahan) January 27, 2014

was this white girl..and we hung out 24/7…we had spiked belts…spiked hair…hilarious

— Yesha (@YeshaCallahan) January 27, 2014

What attracted me to metal was the energy that came from the music and the instruments. We used to sit and watch show after show, and even though we were only in the 8th grade, we couldn’t wait to be able to attend a live concert. Although Allison and I lost touch after 10th grade, I’m still grateful that she introduced me to the genre.

But not everyone got that some little black girl going to school in Elizabeth, NJ was so into heavy metal. And apparently still don’t:

@YeshaCallahan this explains why you didn’t know who Juicy J was, perfectly understood we’re good

Allison’s other white friends definitely didn’t. I guess I can say I never felt “real” racism until that 8th grade year when I ventured into metal music. Oh, the comments from other white people were hilarious. “Well shouldn’t you be listening to rap or something?”. “Hey Allison, um, who’s your friend?”.

Then there was “the” incident that really caused a huge blow-up. One of Allison’s white guy friends called me the “n” word as we were walking home from school. “I didn’t know n* listened to metal”. Before I could even respond, Allison ripped off her spiked belt, and gave him a beating he probably still hasn’t forgotten.

Laina Dawes, author of the book “What Are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman’s Life And Liberation In Heavy Metal” (Bazillion Points) knows all to well the racism one can experience as a black woman into metal music. On a recent episode of Canada’s “16×9″, titled “Black Metal”, Dawes spoke about the racism she experienced while being a metal-head and covering concerts.

“I went to cover METALLICA at [the Air Canada Centre] in 2009 and that was just totally insane,” Laina said. “I had guys making gorilla noises at me when I walked by. I had a couple people call me the ‘N’ word.”

From Blabbermouth:

Laina has loved metal since she was a girl, growing up with her white adopted family in Kingston, Ontario, Canada in the 1970s. ”I realized I was different from the time I was five,” she said. “The realization that you are only, the only black person, or only one of a few black people, you always feel like an outsider. So I always felt like I didn’t really belong there. … It was tough and I felt like I didn’t have anyone to talk to.”

Laina got into the aggressive sounds of rock bands like KISS and, later, the likes of JUDAS PRIEST. The music provided a release from her feelings of alienation.

“I’ve been quite honest about, if it wasn’t for metal I would have killed myself … because you need that outlet for your anger,” she said

“16×19″ also interviewed Militia of New York’s all-female JUDAS PRIEST tribute act JUDAS PRIESTESS. As one of the few black woman metal singers, Militia has been told by record execs that she isn’t “metal” and should try to conform to an image that would sell:

“You should be in heels, always,” she said. “Try to do the Tina [Turner] thing, she always wore wigs. So you should probably get a straight wig to cover … because if it’s too wild, if it’s too ethnic … people will turn away. And is it unfortunate? Yeah. Does it cost me work? Jobs? Experiences? Opportunities? Absolutely.”

Although I’ve only been to a handful of metal shows in my teens, thankfully I never had to experience slurs being thrown at me. But it’s sad to read that what happened to me in the early 90′s, may still be happening to black women today. In my adulthood, I can’t say that I’m still a fan of the genre, but I will still rock out when a favorite group comes on.

Reprinted with permission from Clutch.