What are You Doing Here?
A Black Woman's Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal
Bazillion Points 2012
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in Gender StudiesNew Books in MusicNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network April 25, 2013 Matt Smith Lehrman
Extreme metal, punk, and hardcore. Slayer. Sick of it All. Cro-Mags. Decapitated. Behemoth. Musically aggressive rock bands with growling vocals and lyrics about annihilation, death, and dismemberment. A genre of music that, even more than more mainstream music genres, seems to be the province of (straight) white males. But wait. In What are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal (Bazillion Points, 2012), Laina Dawes examines an overlooked and numerically small segment of the extreme music scene: black women. Putting her sociological training to good use, Dawes presents a macro structural cultural analysis of race in North America (Dawes is Canadian) and how this plays out in the micro-arenas of high school community and heavy metal shows. Using in-depth interviews with a number of black women punk and metal artists including Skin, Sandra St. Victor, Militia Vox, Diamond Rowe, Urith Myree, Tamar-Kali, Ashley Greenwood, Yvonne Ducksworth, Camille Douglas, Alexis Brown, and others, Dawes highlights the self and societal contradictions of being black, female, and a fan of extreme music. Most significantly, the black friends of these women accuse them of not being black enough and their white metal friends (and strangers, for that matter) are dumbfounded about what a black woman might find interesting in this world of white males. The answer to both, writes Dawes, is easy: Metal fandom allows these women to be themselves, to be individuals, to escape the narrow confines of prescribed gender and race roles in North American society.
Laina Dawes is a music and cultural critic and opinion writer, an active public speaker, and a contributor to CBC Radio. She is also a current affairs columnist for Afrotoronto.com and contributing editor for Blogher.com.