Books

'What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman's Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal'

Photo of Tamar-Kali by Laina Dawes from What Are You Doing Here book.com

Laina Dawes deconstructs a raft of complex, interlinking issues, highlighting how black women must steer an often-perilous course through the metal and punk scenes to find the catharsis and freedom they seek in the genres.


Publisher: Bazillion Points
Author: Laina Dawes
Price: $16.95
Format: Paperback
Length: 224 pages
Book:What Are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman's Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal
Publication date: 2012-12

Laina Dawes's What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman's Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal is an important and gutsy debut from the Toronto, Canada-based journalist. The book, which follows Dawes's search for identity as a black woman in the metal, punk and hardcore scenes, investigates her "dual-outsider dilemma", in which communities toted as radical, open spaces exhibit the very same "race and gender issues that exist in the outside world." Dawes deconstructs a raft of complex, interlinking issues, highlighting how black women must steer an often-perilous course through the metal and punk scenes to find the catharsis and freedom they seek in the genres.

Part autobiography, part socio-cultural history, Dawes's narrative is fleshed out with interviews with academics and black female musicians and fans who speak about their positive and negative experiences in the metal and punk scenes. Racism, sexism, stereotypical assumptions and inaccurate portrayals are predominant themes throughout. However, black women finding "liberation in metal and hardcore," and expressing their individuality as "active participants in the metal and punk scenes," comprises an overriding arc.

Dawes describes her own search of selfhood in moving terms as she unpacks issues such as alienation, intimidation, and the indifference of metal and punk fans unaffected by intolerance. Her reflections on genres such as the blues, and cultures bound by themes of struggle and resilience, highlight the often-incomplete history of metal and punk. She documents erroneous representations of black women, and issues around sexuality and objectification, in a history of conflict, coercion and a wrestling back of control of their bodies.

Dawes's interweaving anecdotes speak volumes about her strength in seeking her rightful place in the metal scene. But she also speaks candidly of her fragility, and her weariness when encountering entrenched inequalities. Her resolve is tangible, and evident in the challenging nature of What Are You Doing Here?, where many of her arguments are confrontational, welcomingly so.

Her experiences are intensely personal, and her reflections are duly impassioned. The issues she raises are complicated by metal's bloodthirsty and provocative temper, and some metal fans may feel she is making generalizations that conflict with their own open-minded and unprejudiced views. But Dawes doesn't claim to speak for or about all, and the metal community is well aware of its dark side--where resistance to hearing or acknowledging perspectives such as Dawes's substantiates her argument.

Metal is a global, diverse and multicultural medium to which Dawes is adding her distinctive voice and interpretation. Pan-global issues such as racism and sexism, are far too easily shrugged off as isolated and insignificant incidents in the metal world--primarily because the bulk of its audience is white and male. Dawes's raising of such issues, backed by research and firsthand accounts, is crucial in keeping an often-avoided discussion on the boil. Her ability to illustrate the impact of privilege and prejudice upon black women, and the barriers they (and other marginalised ethnicities or sexualities) face in the metal and punk scenes is undeniable.

The degree of opposition Dawes has encountered by simply following her love of metal is disturbing. As a means to channel her frustrations, metal has often proven to be frustrating ("Why the hell am I putting myself through this bullshit?" she asks). She has, at times, had to deal with the objections of those closest to her--causing her to conceal her love of raucous noise--and she speaks openly about her complicated relationships with those who have questioned her involvement in the metal and punk scenes.

Still, as much as What Are You Doing Here? draws attention to problems Dawes and her interviewees have faced in the metal and punk communities, it's not a tirade against either. Their varying stories share a common thread, one where the two genres have provided space for them to channel their anger and exasperations. The purgative release and independence of such aggressive music is apparent, and while What Are You Doing Here? may seem like a complicated love story at times, and understandably so, the rewards of metal and punk are reaffirmed time and time again.

What Are You Doing Here? comes with a mass of emotional weight and considered analysis, and Dawes's tenacity in ensuring that the place of black women in the metal community is recognized and valued is palpable and inspiring. What Are You Doing Here? is essential reading for those who have never felt the blow of intolerance, and for those who have felt it far too often. At the heart of the book is a simple message: "As human beings, we have the right to do and be who we are." These are ideals, indecently, that metal and punk have long professed to extol.

Metal and punk don't always respond well to critical analysis, and Dawes's commitment to starting a long-overdue conversation is courageous. What Are You Doing Here? reaches out to black women, offering them support and encouragement, but its themes are universal--it is a potent reminder of the need to confront the inequalities that discourage any and all individuals from participating in whatever music scenes they desire.

7


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

Zadie Smith's 'Intimations' Essays Pandemic With Erudite Wit and Compassion

Zadie Smith's Intimations is an essay collection of gleaming, wry, and crisp prose that wears its erudition lightly but takes flight on both everyday and lofty matters.

Music

Phil Elverum Sings His Memoir on 'Microphones in 2020'

On his first studio album under the Microphones moniker since 2003, Phil Elverum shows he has been recording the same song since he was a teenager in the mid-1990s. Microphones in 2020 might be his apex as a songwriter.

Music

Washed Out's 'Purple Noon' Supplies Reassurance and Comfort

Washed Out's Purple Noon makes an argument against cynicism simply by existing and sounding as good as it does.

Music

'Eight Gates' Is Jason Molina's Stark, Haunting, Posthumous Artistic Statement

The ten songs on Eight Gates from the late Jason Molina are fascinating, despite – or perhaps because of – their raw, unfinished feel.

Film

Apocalypse '45 Uses Gloriously Restored Footage to Reveal the Ugliest Side of Our Nature

Erik Nelson's gorgeously restored Pacific War color footage in Apocalypse '45 makes a dramatic backdrop for his revealing interviews with veterans who survived the brutality of "a war without mercy".

Music

12 Brilliant Recent Jazz Albums That Shouldn't Be Missed

There is so much wonderful creative music these days that even an apartment-bound critic misses too much of it. Here is jazz from the last 18 months that shouldn't be missed.

Music

Blues Legend Bobby Rush Reinvigorates the Classic "Dust My Broom" (premiere)

Still going strong at 86, blues legend Bobby Rush presents "Dust My Broom" from an upcoming salute to Mississippi blues history, Rawer Than Raw, rendered in his inimitable style.

Music

Folk Rock's the Brevet Give a Glimmer of Hope With "Blue Coast" (premiere)

Dreamy bits of sunshine find their way through the clouds of dreams dashed and lives on the brink of despair on "Blue Coast" from soulful rockers the Brevet.

Music

Michael McArthur's "How to Fall in Love" Isn't a Roadmap (premiere)

In tune with classic 1970s folk, Michael McArthur weaves a spellbinding tale of personal growth and hope for the future with "How to Fall in Love".

Film

Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.

Music

The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.

Music

Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.

Music

Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.

Music

Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.

Film

The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.

Music

Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.

Music

Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.

Music

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.