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What are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman's Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal

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3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  206 Ratings  ·  35 Reviews
What Are You Doing Here? investigates how black women musicians and fans navigate the metal, hardcore, and punk music genres that are regularly thought of as inclusive spaces and centered on a community spirit, but fail to block out the race and gender issues that exist in the outside world.

“The first time I heard rock music it was really exciting. I felt that this new mus
...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published December 10th 2012 by Bazillion Points (first published November 7th 2012)
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Community Reviews

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TheFountainPenDiva
Sometimes I think this that world wants to hurt me/But if I'm going down it's with my fist in the air... "Bang" by Benedictum.

This wasn't a book. It was an experience. It was like author Laina Dawes was living in my head and decided to write a book about being that rare bird--a black female metalhead. The same passion for the music, the same looks of puzzlement and/or disdain from those who don't understand or accept individuality, the same sense of making a space in a world where few of us are
...more
Sumayyah
As someone who has spent most of her life as the "weird kid" in many, many different places, I must first thank Laina Dawes for writing this book. "What Are You Doing Here?" offers a glimpse of what it is like to be a Black, female metalhead in this (very often) racist and sexist sphere of music. Including information gleaned from interviews and personal experiences, this book also includes historical tidbits about the music industry, as well as facts about the punk and metal scene that you ...more
Cynthia Dagnal-Myron
Feb 11, 2013 Cynthia Dagnal-Myron rated it it was amazing
Before I "met" Laina, I was unaware of all the young "sistahs" who had grown up as I had--feeling like an outcast for being more devoted to rock than R & B. When she contacted me to talk about my experiences as the first black rock critic to work for a "major metropolitan daily," (The Chicago Sun Times), I felt as if I was listening to myself in a way.

But I was listening to, and soon to read, the story of a young woman of today. And though Black women--Black people--are still not fully acce
...more
Alison
Feb 09, 2013 Alison rated it it was amazing
Must-read for casual and serious scholars of rock, punk, metal, gender and race studies. Dawes surveys a wide array of music fans, performers, scholars and others and adds in her own honest and often painful experiences as a black female metal fan, shining a light on one aspect of the metal scene that is rarely discussed and often unfairly misunderstood and made invisible. The book also runs through the historical relevance of blues, rock, punk and metal and the black artists that influenced ...more
John
Feb 19, 2013 John rated it liked it
Shelves: 25-books-in-2013
When I set a goal of reading only books about the black experience in America this month, I knew What Are You Doing Here? would be a great way to kick things off. Combining one thing I know a lot about (heavy music) and something I am almost completely ignorant about (the lifestyle of African American women), I was elated at the prospect of seeing through the eyes of a 'triple minority' in my own subculture. And at turns, Laina Dawes sheds brilliant light on a regrettably small slice of the ...more
Remi
Jan 25, 2013 Remi rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned
The only problem I had with this book was the lack of proofreading. It took me out of the book more than few times, focusing (even for a second) on the typos. Other than that, great book. Felt like I was reading about my kin. I was one of few people listening to rock music (mainstream, indie, metal, etc) and getting a lot of flack from my peers about the type of music I was (and still am) into. Granted I'm no metalhead, I could definitely relate to the author and many of the people she ...more
Chip
Feb 08, 2014 Chip rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
I wanted to go 4.5 out of 5, but could not get it to do it.
Dan Pepper
Mar 23, 2016 Dan Pepper rated it liked it
A fascinating perspective on what something was like. Random white guy me could figure out that Dawes would get various sorts of crap from white people, because everything from condescension to overzealous liberalism to screamed slurs, is predictable by anyone who's every read or listened to a black person talking about their experiences. I was surprised to hear other thing about her experiences and those of the women she interviewed as a black women metalheads, such as how much crap she gets ...more
Megan Kennedy
May 05, 2014 Megan Kennedy rated it really liked it
As a female heavy metal fan, I can attest that it is a wholly different experience than being a dude in the same scene. What I didn’t realize before reading this well-researched and surprisingly objective book was how much more marginalized I’d be feeling as a female minority. Author Laina Dawes weaves not only her own lifelong experiences as a fan, photographer and journalist, but the experiences of countless others into this documentary tale about the unique difficulty minority fans and ...more
Joe
Jan 15, 2014 Joe rated it really liked it
I found the subject and the information provided most compelling and fascinating. Given what the book has to say about how hard it is for African Americans who like or play heavy metal to be taken seriously, I am pleasantly surprised that this book got published. I wonder how difficult it was for Ms. Dawes to find a publisher willing to take on this topic, and to take it seriously? I think the interest is definitely out there for such a book, but I can't help wondering how the publishers felt ...more
Jenni
Mar 22, 2016 Jenni rated it really liked it
I know what it's like to be an "outsider" fan, so this was an interesting look at what a different intersection of women faces in the scene. The book was definitely interesting, although the editing left something to be desired.
Oliver Ho
Mar 23, 2015 Oliver Ho rated it liked it
A very good examination of a fascinating subject. I would definitely read more about it, and the book has also given me a list of music to seek out.

Here are some of the passages I highlighted:

silent yet thick tension centered around being in a social space where your presence is considered an anomaly—still

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Throughout my preteen and early adult years I learned that women—particularly black women—are not supposed to show anger, through words or actions. Not only is anger an unattractive quality
...more
Osvaldo
Mar 20, 2013 Osvaldo rated it it was ok
I was really excited when I first heard about this book. While I am not into metal or punk scenes, I am very interested in how people of color navigate various popular sub-cultures where they are either under-represented, or wherein representations of people like them within the form of entertainment are uncommon or rife with stereotypes and/or misconceptions. An exploration of what a musical scene like heavy metal might offer a black woman and her experiences, both positive and negative, in the ...more
Finooola
May 29, 2013 Finooola rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was an eye opener for me. I was expecting it to be about white racists in the metal scene. Even though I would not be the victim of those people and would only come into conflict with them if I chose to (calling them on a dodgy tshirt, for example) I still feel like I know plenty about them. They were dealt with of course, but what the book focused on in more detail - something which I know absolutely nothing about - was the massive bafflement, resistance and even outright hostility, ...more
Kristin
I was really looking forward to this book, I grew up in the punk and hardcore so the subject matter really spoke to me. Unfortunately the editing was terrible, it wasn't just the occasional typo, there were words repeated and sentences that changed from passive to active part way through so that they made no sense; this happened so often that I felt like every other page had some egregious error in proofreading.

The writing was mediocre, no real style or flair, not especially articulate and the
...more
Sarah Tipper
Aug 09, 2016 Sarah Tipper rated it really liked it
I personally can’t know what it’s like to be a black woman going to metal shows in North America, because I’m not one and I don’t live there. However, I can get a good idea of the experiences of this group of women from Laina Dawes who writes with an academic air about her own experiences and those of other women who filled in her questionnaires or spoke to her. Dawes makes the point that in order to have a reasoned argument you need to do so calmly and in the right tone. Because of this there ...more
Avid
Aug 12, 2014 Avid rated it it was amazing
I am an African-American who does not have Rapp music or Hip Hop in her collection. I am into Judas Priest, Metallica, God Smack, Alice n Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Kitaro (New Age-Meditation). I am also a big SyFy fan. I spend time with my friends in Panera Bread taking about Harry Potter and the latest Marvel movie or the latest book. "Nuff" said.

Another reason I read this book because I wanted to know more about the author. I came across an NPR interview with her and was fascinated.

The one
...more
Stef
Sep 19, 2013 Stef rated it liked it
Like most black female music lovers I was so grateful that this book exists and a black female voice could be added to the list of music critics and authors. The book tackles the issues of racism and the loneliness many black women face in the white dominated scenes of metal and punk. It did teach me a lot about the metal world but it did have a lot of faults which couldn't be overlooked. There were several grammatical and editorial mistakes throughout the book and there were times where Dawes ...more
April
This book was inspiring but at the same time heavy--most autobiographies that focus on race, class and gender are. Laina Dawes, by being a metal fan is really battling upstream since the fanbase and the concert scene can often be problematic and downright oppressive (overtly so). I commend her for persevering in a community that does not always welcome women of color. Her recounted experiences of passive-agressive, implicit and explicit racism made me cringe, but I wasn't surprised. I'm glad ...more
John Rushing
Jun 04, 2013 John Rushing rated it it was amazing
when i first heard about this book i was eager to read it. one of the things i love about hardcore music was the sense of community. alas, that is pretty much a thing of the past. Scott Vogel from Terror once said, "i never fit in and when i went to a hardcore show i saw a bunch of kids who didn't fit in and we all didn't fit in together."

this book made me examine my attitudes about race and gender. it also made me re-think making assumptions about people based on appearance.

it's a fascinating
...more
Scott Woods
Mar 31, 2016 Scott Woods rated it it was ok
While there were a few anecdotes worth noting, I found it mostly redundant in nature, and pretty predictable. "Hey, these rebellious white people turned out to be not so rebellious when it comes to race matters." Saw that coming a mile away. At the same time, it's a book I think should exist alongside other work in its vein. So if you read a lot of material about race and social issues, there are zero surprises here. If you don't, or if you read a lot of music stuff and little else, this could ...more
Krishna
Aug 10, 2014 Krishna rated it really liked it
Having had experienced most if not all of the crazy interactions Dawes describes in her book, I felt almost like she was writing about myself. WAYDH definitely brings to light some of the issues regarding racism in white male dominated spaces like that of rock and roll and provides, sometimes funny, truths that make you wonder "why don't people know this by now?" My only complaint would be that the book is at times repetitive, but I assume it was done to drive an otherwise misunderstood point ...more
Corin
May 16, 2016 Corin rated it liked it
The subject matter was very interesting to me, as a black woman on the fringes of alternative music and the sister of a black female metalhead, but the writing style - very rambling and at times unfocused - made it hard for me to really get into and enjoy all the truths that the book was telling. But it was nice and refreshing to hear a perspective in music that, while common, is rarely heard.
Ian
Apr 18, 2013 Ian rated it really liked it
a little repetitive but it hits home the fact that all people should be welcome at concerts and music events, sadly this is not the case. I wish more people would like music for the music and not the stereotypes but Laina Dawes finds unfortunately society seems to dictate what you can and cannot like. I wish there were more Laina Dawes around. Up the Irons! and rock and roll!
Greg Schell
Aug 15, 2013 Greg Schell rated it liked it
I liked the premise, but as the book wore on I wore out. Since the book is mostly interviews with black women in the heavy metal scene, it reads like a research paper. That would have been fine if the interviews would have been edited to reduce the length of the book and to eliminate repetition of opinions/views.
Emily
Apr 20, 2016 Emily rated it it was ok
A spotty effort. The passion was there, but the material just wasn't. Hopefully the stigma described in this book facing black women who enjoy metal will recede, and more scholarship and personal accounts can be garnered to flesh this work out.
Christina
Aug 04, 2014 Christina rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book for the perspective it gave me and hearing the viewpoints from a variety of black women in the metal/hard rock scene. I personally would have liked it better had the author included more of her personal experiences.
Gisèle
Jun 22, 2016 Gisèle rated it it was amazing
Thoughts while reading:
- Does this author know me? All I've read so far: I've thought it, I've done it, it happened to me...
- Just savoring this one and reading passages twice because I like them so much...
Lord Beardsley
Apr 14, 2013 Lord Beardsley rated it really liked it
Shelves: read2013
A wonderful exploration of the gender and racial politics that go into cultural freedom of expression.
Sean
Feb 20, 2015 Sean rated it really liked it
A first person account of being black and female in space traditionally thought of as the domain of white boys.
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Laina Dawes is a music and cultural critic and opinion writer from Toronto, Canada. She is an active public speaker and contributor to CBC Radio, current affairs columnist for Afrotoronto.com, and contributing Editor (for race, ethnicity and culture) for Blogher.org.
More about Laina Dawes...

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“I believe there will always be women who choose to actively embody racial and sexual stereotypes for their own material gain. Those idividuals will reap the benefits, whilke making it hardwe for other women to be seen as legitimate musicians.” 0 likes
“I believe there will always be women who choose to actively embody racial and sexual stereotypes for their own material gain. Those idividuals will reap the benefits, whilke making it harder for other women to be seen as legitimate musicians.” 0 likes
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