When I came across this article on the Racialicious website regarding Laina’ Dawes new book about being a black woman often rejected or looked at sideways for liking heavy metal music, it reminded me of two things: 1. Baratunde Thurston’s book, How To Be Black, a humorous instructional manual style telling of how to fit the stereotypes prescribed for Black people (yes, by white people) with chapters like, How To Speak For All Black People, and How To Be The Black Friend. Baratunde also tells about how he did things growing up that black people weren’t thought of as doing. His mother took him camping, taught him how to swim, and brought him to the health food co-op, where they were the only black family that shopped there.
2. When I lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma for several years, I ran a community arts workshop at an after-school leadership program in the Greenwood neighborhood, formerly known as “Black Wall Street.” Quick history lesson: Greenwood had an affluent black community that got rich on oil and entrepreneurship. Yet, in 1921, the Tulsa Race Riot destroyed the neighborhood, which the black community re-built, only to be taken apart again in the 1970’s with urban renewal. Now the once, much larger neighborhood, consists of just Greenwood Avenue which is dotted with small businesses, and at its focal point, The Greenwood Cultural Center, which strives to preserve the history and cultural heritage of Greenwood, and houses the after-school girls program I led the workshop at .
The leadership program was attended by fifteen middle-school age black girls. At one of the sessions, we sat around a table discussing our project, and the program’s coordinator asked the girls to pick partners for the creation of silhouette portraits that were part of the visual arts/creative writing project I was facilitating. One of the girls, who I had gotten to know as quite creative and someone who seemed to “drum to her own beat,” was absent that day. The program coordinator asked, “Who will partner with Lori (name changed)?”
All the girls hesitated to respond, until one finally spoke up.
“Lori’s just different. She listens to rock and roll music, she dresses different, and she doesn’t believe in God!”
There were gasps, and they were not for Lori liking rock and roll. Tulsa was part of the Bible Belt, and Lori’s last trait, not believing in God, was too much for the other girls to bear. Being Jewish, and oftentimes feeling so apart from the conservative Christian leanings of the Midwest, I silently chuckled at all the things the group thought that was wrong about Lori–that a black girl couldn’t like rock and roll, dress like a rock and roller, or God forbid, not believe in God.
And, there you have it. Things black people are or aren’t supposed to like or be like.
Please read on for the Racialicious post on Laina Dawes new book, What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal.
Excerpt: “Why You Listening To That White Sh-t?”
Writing this book, I found other black women who had felt rejected by friends, family members, or their communities because of their musical preferences.
At one point, I distributed a mass questionnaire, and nearly three-quarters of the replies described negative reactions to listening to heavy metal.
Many of the replies were predictable: “Many people say the style of music I like isn’t really music, it’s just loud noise. Or that I’m not black because I like rock or punk music.”
Others were encouraging: “Especially when I say I like rock, they think it’s like devil or white music. I find it hilarious. I revel in my musical tastes and find audio joy wherever I can.”
Some were unfortunate: “When I was younger, I was criticized for listening to ‘white’ music and told I was weird and [that] there was something wrong with me for being a black girl listening to rock ’n’ roll … [Then] I learned that black folks actually created it.”
And many stories were downright infuriating: “Especially when I was in my teens and twenties, comments from some family and friends if I was listening to rock or punk music were like: ‘Why you listening to that white sh-t?’ I once dated a white guy who grew up in a black neighborhood, and was trying to be ‘down,’ and he yelled at me for listening to Led Zeppelin: ‘Don’t you listen to any black music? Why do you listen to that white music for?’ — the funniest thing I ever heard. Now that I’m in my forties, I don’t tend to associate with anyone who is so narrow-minded about me or my tastes in life.’
From “What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman’s Life And Liberation In Heavy Metal” by Laina Dawes [Courtesy Bazillion Points Books, 2012. ]