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What Are You Doing Here

Laina Dawes is a writer, photographer, and heavy metal fan that lives in Toronto, Ontario. Dawes brings a critical lens to the punk, metal, and hardcore scenes with her book: “What Are You Doing Here: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal”.

Heavy Metal is known for its alliance among members and fans, providing a place for the disenfranchised. What happens when you are a black woman in a white male dominated scene? Dawes unravels the racism and sexism barely discussed in an underground subculture. What happens when the scene is dug deeper, unearthing the layers of heavy, dark, somber, speed? What if you are a minority amongst the outsiders?

Laina Dawes grew up a black woman in a white family and neighborhood. Adopted in a rural setting, steeped in racial and gender inequality, heavy music helped Laina release pain experienced from being silenced and alienated. As a teenager she learned that black women should not show anger. In a society that normalizes women to be passive and agreeable, black women’s anger brings to the forefront a past of exclusion and stereotyping meant to limit social and economic equality.

During high school, Laina’s white male peers didn’t think twice about her love of metal. It was her black friends and extended family that disapproved of her obsession with heavy music. It was assumed that she denied her blackness by not listening to a type of music that should represent her culture. Expectations of how Laina should behave, look, and act were hard to live up to. The heavy metal music scene best represented her emotions and experiences, but not without its setbacks.

Laina spoke with fellow black women involved in the heavy music scene for the book. They are leaders of bands, players, fans, and journalists. Some have been verbally and even physically assaulted at shows. Though metal is known for the mosh pit, and a communal type of aggression, Laina expresses the injustice of race-based verbal and physical assaults at shows. Typically, white female fans have not experienced such violence. In fact, they note an almost patronizing chivalry at shows, even ones assumed to be dangerous like death metal.

Laina Dawes and her peers still attend shows, buy the merchandise, and work in the scene. If anything, metal is known for its members never backing down from a fight. With all its pitfalls, metal is still the genre that allows the most freedom for expression, emotions that women, especially black women, are expected to hide. Heavy metal is dysfunctional and violent, welcoming and unifying, and filled with contradictions. “What Are You Doing Here: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal” is a powerful, eye opening musical journey that has more adversity and accomplishments on its horizon.