How much prejudice is there in metal?

by Jay H. Gorania

I was beyond stoked to see the complete original Black Sabbath line-up in Dallas (with Pantera opening, no less!) in 1999. Just prior to Sabbath’s set, the female half of a middle-aged couple showed their racist inclination for no apparent reason in the midst of a pleasant conversation. Looking me up and down, obviously noticing my dark complexion, she said, “You’re what they call a transplant.” I believe what she meant was “immigrant” or “foreigner.” I’m not overly sensitive, so it didn’t really bother me.

When the four metal Gods took stage and kicked into their evil hymns, I went berserk, banging my head like a madman. Apparently my behavior was too outlandish for the couple that seemed more at home at a bar with a juke box filled with Lynyrd Skynyrd, the man pulling the woman tightly to his chest as if to protect her. “You’re a weird (F-word) (N-word),” he exclaimed before they quickly walked away.

I can only assume that it’s because I’m physically larger than the average North American male that this is the only time I can recall facing racism in metal. But even though metalheads pride themselves for being outsiders, the underground metal “scene” is in many ways subject to the same norms and patterns of behavior underlying mainstream society. I assume that if I wasn’t bigger than your average dude, I might experience more prejudice. I hope I’m mistaken.

There are obviously pockets of prejudice, naturally, as it is an underground movement that stands at odds with regular society (facilitating the National Socialist Black Metal movement, for instance). Yet that isn’t very prominent. I can’t help but wonder, though: Do visible minorities, of any sort, face prejudice on a regular basis? Dear reader, I’d appreciate your feedback.

  • Jared

    “Apparently my behavior was too outlandish for the couple that seemed more at home at a bar with a juke box filled with Skynyrd…”
    This put a smirk on face due to the context of your blog. Not outrightly prejudice but pretty damn judgemental.
    I’ve never seen racism in person but assume the ratio is no different than the rest of society. There is tons of prejudice between metal genres however.

  • Jay H. Gorania

    Yes, I do make assumptions about people based on my experiences in life. I’d be lying if I said otherwise. It’s fair to say that’s prejudicial, I’d say. But I pride myself for treating people fairly on a one-on-one basis. And there’s a world of difference between harboring a view on anything in life, or on any group, and allowing that to dictate how you treat a specific person you’re dealing with.

    Additionally, I’m not sure where my blog indicated that I’m a perfect human being that’s completely free of that which I’m obviously critical toward.

  • Jon

    As someone who doesn’t experience such prejudice, being one of many pasty white guys with long hair at a metal show, I can only say that the number of stories I am hearing that are similar to this one continues to grow. Maybe we’re all just suddenly discovering the percentage of the metal community (as an inevitable cross-section of a larger society) that thinks and says the sort of things you’ve recently experienced. However, if you look at the country in general, bitterness, passive aggressiveness, and resentment toward “transplants” does seem to be becoming increasingly noticeable (at least to those of us who are privileged enough to have not potentially experienced some sort of similar prejudice every day from birth). In the metal community, if there’s a rise in more overt prejudice, perhaps it is just a microcosm of what it is in the general population. Regardless, your piece is food for thought and a reminder that it’s not just something that “isn’t my problem” just because it doesn’t happen to me.

  • http://www.lainad.typepad.com Lainad

    You’re completely right, Jon, I think that the overall climate of the country (ies – let’s not forget Canada) has permeated the metal scene. Also I think the popularity of hip-hop and the resentment that lower-class black, white, Latino and Asian men and women have the opportunity to financially surpass white artists also breeds resentment. As a black woman, I’ve previously written about my experiences on Hellbound, and since then have still encountered hostility, as the metal scene is viewed by some as a ‘white man’s’ domain, somewhere they can escape the tensions from the outside world. However, when some see people of colour at shows, that ‘outside’ resentment causes them to lose their shit.

    I think that talking about race and racism in general is extremely difficult because the majority of people in the metal scene are white men/ women, do not experience it, and therefore dismiss it because it is not THEIR lived experience. Think before you speak. Not everybody shares the same life experiences as you, but on the other hand we all have to be a bit more patient and instead of shutting people down and start a dialogue. It is with understanding that perhaps we can get the metal community back to what it should be – a community of like-minded people who all share a passion for a socially and politically maligned music genre.

  • ksp

    shit jay, you’re a ‘transplanted weird fucking nigger’? who knew? all this time i was making fun of you because you’re batshit crazy… ;)

    pasty white guys with long hair at shows be forewarned: any time you see a two or more brown people congregating, we’re probably talking shit about all the pasty white guys with long hair in the room. or not. maybe we’re just gabbing about the new cattle decapitation album like everybody else should be.

  • Jay H. Gorania

    You’re a silly rabbit, Kevin. I’ll see you and other minorities and majorities at MDF, and I’m most likely going to be in Austin for Chaos, too.

    And I haven’t heard the new Cattle Decapitation, but the new albums from Napalm Death, Goatwhore and Cannibal Corpse are all incredible. (Incredible: an overused word by pole-smoking, ass-kissing writers who love everything including hyperbole. I hate writers. Anyway, regarding these 3 albums, incredible is a fitting description).

    In conclusion, I hate writers.

  • ksp

    writers hate you.

  • Jay H. Gorania

    :)

  • http://www.gruesomeviews.com Gruesome Greg

    Not that I’m suggesting that racism is otherwise non-existent, but it’s worth noting that Black Sabbath (and other big name arena bands) don’t necessarily bring out a “true metal” crowd. As you said yourself, those folks looked more at home holding up their lighters to “Free Bird.”

    And hey, have you seen any of the footage from Birmingham? Kids were pogoing to “Iron Man,” for fuck’s sake! :(

    Peace,

    Greg

  • http://www.kingdomofnoise.blogspot.com MetalMatt

    I haven’t seen any prejudice at the shows I go to. There was an African-Canadian kid that was pretty prominent in the local scene and his background didn’t matter. But honestly, it’s a pretty white-male crowd around here with a few other ethnicities thrown in. And I’ve seen nothing discriminatory at all. Plenty of ladies at local shows too. And they get nothing but respect from us guys. They rock harder than most of us.
    I am sure it’s a different story in the larger cities but I hope that in today’s climate people are able to look past sex, age, colour, size or pastiness.