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Identity « Ectomag

Identity

We were standing outside waiting for Behexan to set up when it happened. I’m still not 100% on what was going on when it happened. One minute we were just talking and suddenly out of the corner of my eye I see Alix raise his shirt. His brownish, pink nipple peeking out surrounded by wily nest of black nipple hair. Never one to miss out on an opportunity to point out the weird and make fun of Alix’s nipple, I put on my best RuPaul/drag queen hood voice and said “Alix! Girl put your nipple away! I know you’re always down to do some strange for some change but you should wait until after the show.” It was a stupid joke, but we were drunk enough that almost anything would have been funny. Alix swore that I would be begging for his hairy nipple to keep me warm come winter.

Amidst the laughter, I could hear a tall blonde guy standing next to me chiming with his own jokes in his best “you go girl” voice. Complete with a finger snap and a neck wiggle twist that looked like he was about to have a seizure. I didn’t feel any malice from the guy, but the incident has been with me for the past few weeks. Should I have been offended and called him out  for his caricature of black women? Was it best just to let it go? Is this my fault for using faux ghetto banter to make the joke? Does making faux ghetto jokes in front of mostly white men make me a bad black woman? I’m a 20 year vet of the Metal scene and I still haven’t learned how to navigate the nuance between my Blackness and Metal.

Compared to other ladies of color in the scene I’ve had it ridiculously easy. My stories of overt racism and violence in the scene are few and far between. There are probably a few reasons for that; the roundabout way I came to metal, having a group of amazing friends and living in the liberal, tolerant city of Los Angeles definately helped me avoid a lot of the nastiness that can sometimes accompany being a woman of color in Metal. I was bitten by the metal bug around second grade. Because I was so young, my burgeoning interest was contained to Headbangers Ball on the weekends and catching a few minutes in a local record shop on the way home from school. In high school I may have been old enough to go to shows but I never dared. The Arizona scene in the 90s was a pit of Skinheads, White Supremacists, and Nazis. Back then, my going to a show  would have been like going to a Klan rally and offering sweet tea. So I stayed away. My interest in Metal grew and become more extreme thanks to the Pen Pal pages of Metalhammer, Kerrang, and any fan zines I could get my hands on. My record collection grew thanks to tape exchanges. And despite exchanging hundreds of letters and tapes with people all over the world, I don’t think I ever told anyone what I looked like. Coming out as a Black, Black Metal fan felt like I was inviting danger. Add to that the unwanted stigma of being a young black woman with an interest that isn’t “Black Community Approved”, it seemed better to keep my love of Metal to myself. Tucked safely underneath my mattress. I had my Metal coming out after moving to LA in college. I met a ton of Latin folks in the Goth, Metal, Punk, Fetish and Rock en Espanol scenes. These were the people that took me to my first Metal shows. LA’s thriving latin Rock scene eased me into acceptance. Yes, I still got the occasional WTF faces when I walked into a room, but having a brown face at a Metal show wasn’t completely unheard  of here. For the first time, being a Metalhead in  public felt safe. I sweated out press and curl, ruined perms and blinded people with my weaves as I banged my head with abandon.

And here we are, almost 20 years later and I still have these awkward moments where I don’t know if I should call someone out for being a racist dick bag or let it ride. I was rocking out at an Alestrom show when I tall blonde woman–dressed in the epitome of pirate metal sexy–tapped me on the shoulder. Her eyes were ice blue. Her mouth a narrow pink slit. I stopped cold. All I could think was this is it, this is the day my luck has run out and I am going to have to push this bitch over the railing for saying some bullshit. She grabbed my hand, pulled me close and screamed “It’s so cool that you’re Black and you’re into this!” I had a good buzz going and decided to interpret this statement in my mind as her drunken way of saying “I am so glad that the scene has gotten to the point the people of color feel welcome at a show hurrah diversity!” But it could just as easily have gone another way. Even though that moment ended up being a non issue,  in the harsh light of day I found myself turning the incident over and over in my mind. Should I have been offended? Instead of replying with a smile and a high five, should I told her I could be into anything I damn well pleased? Does the fact that I am giving this relatively minor incident so much thought mean that I have been completely sucked in by the easily offended PC machine? I don’t have an solid answer for any of these questions, but I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

The only thing worse than not knowing how to react when people say possibly say racist shit, is feeling like a bad Black person because I don’t have a really good “racist dick at a show” story like most of my friends do. No one should ever be bashed at show or in the scene, but it sometimes feels like having a horrible racist story is a rite of passage for people of color in the scene. Spending part of my growing up in the devil’s asshole known as Arizona, I have my fair share of racist stories to tell, but none of them are Metal related. I suppose I should count myself lucky; some of my friends have horrible stories of people getting in their faces, getting violent, spitting at them and all kinds of vile shit. If you don’t count all of those years I spent hiding Mayhem, Slayer and Darkthrone tapes under my mattress back in the day, being into Metal has been a part of my life without being an issue in my life. But because I haven’t had a horrible Metal experience talking about my experiences in the scene doesn’t seem as if it carries any weight. How can I talk about what it’s like to be a Black woman in Metal when nothing has ever happened because I’m a Black woman in Metal.

Like everything else in life, race and Metal are complicated things. I don’t know if anyone can interpret these  things correctly all of the time. In the end we do the best  we can and hope nothing get weird.

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