“You have to be confident,” speaker Laina Dawes said during her presentation about black women in heavy metal Thursday, Oct. 24. “I learned that the hard way.”
Dawes is a freelance journalist, concert photographer and writer who constantly challenges society about issues of race and culture. As a heavy metal enthusiast for years, she has been asked the off-putting question at her favorite head-banging shows: “What are you doing here?”
Her response is nothing short of impressive. Dawes researched and wrote a book — What Are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal — that looks at how heavy music serves as a medium for black women to express individuality. She spoke to a crowd of about 80 UD students and faculty about her experiences in the heavy metal scene and shared stories about collecting research for her book.
Adopted by a white Canadian family, Dawes said she built up anger and aggression toward the racism she experienced in high school, as well as frustration with her identity. She found a release through heavy metal.
“I couldn’t vocalize my feelings, but no one wanted to hear. Without Judas Priest, I don’t know where I’d be today,” she joked. “[With heavy metal] I used aggressive music to express my emotions in a healthy way.”
When looking for people to interview for What Are You Doing Here?, Dawes said she wanted to talk to women who were black and proud of their culture in a white-dominated music scene, in spite of stereotypes, parental disapproval and even dangerous threats.
“I spoke to very courageous women,” she said.
After a particularly rattling experience early in her career, when she was belittled and threatened while on assignment for a magazine at a heavy metal music festival, Dawes said her persona changed.
“I challenged people who got in my face,” she said. “I have every right to be here. Music is for enjoyment. We all have the right to enjoy it.”
Despite some unfortunate situations in the past, Dawes still feels welcomed in the heavy metal music scene. She said that going to a show is like going home for her.
“I’m treated as an individual,” Dawes said, “Not just a black woman.”
For more information on Dawes, visit lainad.typepad.com.