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A Black Woman in Metal: Author Laina Dawes Examines Being an Outsider Among Outsiders

Skunk Anansie photo by AFP

As a genre, metal is commonly considered music for outsiders. In the ending of his film “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey,” Canada’s most famous metal nerd Sam Dunn says as much, musing that “metal confronts what we’d rather ignore… It celebrates what we often deny.”

However, take a look around you at any metal show and you’ll mostly see a sea of white, male faces — a fact that’s often ignored in most discussions.

And although this has begun to change in recent years with the growing presence of female metal musicians in bands like Kylesa and Royal Thunder, it’s easy to take the accepting nature of metal for granted. When women of color enter the mix, they often face hidden and overt currents of misogyny and racism, as well as a lack of understanding from their own communities, families and friends.

As a black female metalhead, Laina Dawes — a marquee attraction at SXSW 2013 — who understands the myriad complications of her own fandom, and in her new book “What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal,” the Toronto journalist explores a two-fold conundrum: What does metal mean to black women? And what does it mean when you’re made to feel like an outsider within a scene ostensibly geared towards outsiders?

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