November 26, 2012

Ask a Metalhead: Metalheads and Race

Ask a Metalhead, Tr00 Metal Life

metalheads against racism

Dear Steff Metal,

I’m a black guy who likes metal and I have been listening to it since I was 12 years old. When people ask me what music I listen to, I tell them I listen to Metal and most of them are shocked and ask why do I listen to that kind of music. They usually think that all black people listen to Rap/Hip Hop instead of Metal. So I was wondering what do you think about black people listening to Metal music. Also, have you ever hung out with black people who are into metal in your life?
Thanks for writing (back in August!) and I’m sorry for not publishing this sooner (I wrote a draft back in Sept, and got busy buying land and forgot about it). I think this is an interesting topic and would be keen to hear others opinions.
I’m sorry to hear that people are STILL claiming metal is music for white people. It’s as silly as saying that hip hop music is only for black people. Sure, it’s got a lot of elements of what I guess you call “black culture” in it, but how many nightclubs populated by white trendies dance away to that stuff? Hip hop is fun, catchy, and takes people away to a fantasy world in much the same way metal does. Although the experiences of the band members themselves are often unique, the appeal is relatively universal. Ditto with metal.
I should probably prefix these rambling thoughts by saying that I am caucasian, but I am from New Zealand, so our experiences of race and culture will differ somewhat for those of people in other countries.

metalheads against racism

I know back in the early days of metal it was considered music for white, blue-collar men. The majority of the early bands came from this group, and so they wrote music that, naturally, spoke to their own experience and appealed to other white, blue-collar males. There never used to be that many black fans, in the same way there never used to be many gay fans, or many female fans, simply because the music didn’t speak to their experiences. But over the years the music has grown and matured, and now there a metal bands in every country of the world, writing songs on a variety of topics and playing for audiences containing hundreds of different faces and nationalities. Metal is definitely not just music for white people.
But it can be difficult to explain that to an outsider, especially given the fact that within the scene there are a lot of sub-groups with clearly racist views. I kinda figure, with any music scene, you’ve got to take the good with the bad, and much of metal music I find offensive, unpleasant or boring, just as you probably do, too. No genre is ever going to contain ONLY bands you deem decent. And I don’t personally, believe that liking metal music means you condone things that other metalheads say or the messages that certain bands promote.
But try explaining that to non-metalheads! The truth is, if people don’t get it, it’s unlikely anything you say will change their minds. Most people will assume that liking a certain genre means you agree with everything they say. To use an opposing example, my sister is a huge hip hop fan. She’s as white as a lily, but she loves hip hop and rap and all that. She likes some songs by some bands that say horribly offensive shit about women, that talk about shooting white people for the hell of it, etc. Does that mean she thinks women are only whores or that she should be shooting white people? No, it just means she enjoys the music. It means she can like some hip hop music while discarding tha which doesn’t work for her.
As for me, the race and/or skin colour of fellow metalheads is not something I notice, probably in part due to the fact that I’m colour-blind, and in part due to the fact that it’s not something I really care about. “If you like metal, you’re my friend,” applies to everybody, regardless or race, sex, age, gender, political opinion or socio-economic status. I think whatever skin colour you have, if you like metal, that’s cool, if you don’t, that’s cool too. I’m definitely a “the more, the merrier”, when it comes to the metal scene. While I guess my group of friends are predominantly white, there are a few people from different backgrounds – Indian, Indonesian, Chinese, etc, and they’re all treated the same as everyone else. I’ve never seen any racism in our local scene (doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, just that I haven’t seen it), and I don’t know any metalhead who, say, wouldn’t attend a show just because they might be the only person with their racial background there.
There are a lot of books and essays and blogs that discuss this topic a lot better than I could, so I encourage you to hunt them out. Here are a couple of links to get you started:
Black Girl Into Heavy Metal blog: Hasn’t updated since September, but previous posts have some interesting content.

Does Race Matter in Metal?

Metalheads Against Racism. A loose association of metalheads and bands who are against racism in the scene and promote an inclusive message.

There are a lot of these message on Youtube if you look for them.

Readers – I’d love to hear your thoughts on people of different races listening to metal? Do you think metal is still “white man’s music”? Have you ever experienced similar prejudice to the OP for your musical tastes? What, if anything, do you think can be done to help keep our scene interesting and culturally diverse? Do you WANT it to be interesting and culturally diverse?

4 Comments on “Ask a Metalhead: Metalheads and Race

Joshua Russell
December 31, 2012 at 9:53 pm

Get out of politics

December 12, 2012 at 2:43 am

I have often wondered why a race/group of people are attracted to certain musical styles. Humans listen to music for many reasons and music “speaks” to our souls in a certain way and I assume that our upbringing and environment will have some say in what we choose to listen to.
So then maybe various racial genetics and cultural lifestyles mean that we see ,hear and judge all the music we come across according to what we have been influenced by as we age.
I am starting to get confused and a bit tangled here , someone else may have a better way of putting it.
Is it a matter of people liking to group everyone into a type without letting people be individuals or does the soul of the music speak to different races according to their genetic makeup?
When I started looking into my family background I was suprised to find that certain styles of music from around the world appealed to me deeply and it related to where some of my ancestors came from.
I didnt know any thing about most of them, not even that they were part of me.
SO I have been reading up about world music so as to gain a better understanding of what makes music from different areas and races different.
I find that metal composed by different races around the world often has a sound unique to their area. I love hearing their folk roots coming thru but metal is the style. I like reading band reviews to try and understand what sort of people are they and how their views reflect the sound that they make.
SO what do people of all races get out of metal? IS it the words, the type of music, or the bands behaviour/personalities on stage?
I think everyone can listen to whatever has meaning for them personaly. Maybe a lot of labeling of who listens to what is no different to clothes ,careers/jobs/schooling choices. There will always be far too many people who insist that everyone follows certain “rules” and they are the people who think that young white males are the only ones that should listening to metal. And that it is just a passing phase….

November 26, 2012 at 5:14 pm

I agree, Steff: If you like metal, you’re cool, and if you don’t like it, I may look at you funny for a second, but you’re still cool. I have very few friends into metal, being from the Bible Belt in the US. So I either accept people for being different, or I have no friends–of any race or creed. People need to be more accepting, and less egotistic/elitist. (Oh, wait, that is the Metalhead’s mark–being elitist–isn’t it?)

November 26, 2012 at 2:00 pm

I’m against racism also and I don’t think that nationality or colour of skin affects much on what a person is like.
But then again, there is some facts that can’t be denied, like that most well-known metal bands’ members are white. I’m not saying there aren’t any black people playing in a metal band, but I just can’t remember any right now. Much like the biggest part of well-known rappers are black. Of course there are exceptions because I know there is white rappers too. I’m not saying any of this matters to me, actually I haven’t tought about it much before reading this article.
This just might be the reason some people think metal is for white people, because when you look from outside at the metal scene and the biggest metal bands like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Mercyful Fate etc you don’t see much black members in them.

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