What Do Hardcore, Ferguson, and the "Angry Black Woman" Trope All Have in Common?
"To be black and conscious in America, is to be in a constant state of rage."
Photo by Paul J. Richards
"To be black and conscious in America, is to be in a constant state of rage." - James Baldwin
A few nights ago, Darren Wilson, the cop who murdered Michael Brown in August, wasn't indicted to face trial on what he had done. I watched CNN with a heavy heart, crying off and on at the verdict that told us where we stand in America, that told us we can be murdered, and that they don't honestly care to bring justice to us; that everything they've sugarcoated for us throughout our early school years wasn't a distant memory, and is continuing right in front of our eyes. I've watched it time and time again, but it's indescribable; beyond a feeling, to say the least.
I went on social media and read debates between friends and family, and saw Black folk pouring their souls out desperately trying to burn into everyone's brains that Black lives do matter. Of course I noticed most of my white peers in the hardcore/metal community talking about it, too, expressing their abhorrence for an unjust system. Soon, what appeared to be genuine concern for what's heavily affecting the Black community turned into "No, all lives matter," with rants about how this isn't really a race issue at all, posts from my white friends about how they're happy to be apart of this "New Civil Rights Movement," bands seizing the moment to capitalize on our deep seated hurt with merch, and more allies telling Black people how they should feel. The people I thought were aware—who typically talked a big game—were attempting to tell us that this doesn't matter at all, or to strip the color out of this to fit their personal agendas, as if they couldn't stand by us in our struggle without connecting it to themselves first. I felt increasingly frustrated with how my allies were speaking over and for the Black community with certainty, and then later stating, "I admit I'm fairly ignorant on the matter." It was wild to see people you've been in contact with for years expressing the opinion that your life is valued at less than theirs, and attempting to make your voice small, as if you experiences were invalid. I questioned how they were ever in support of my own explicitly anti-bigotry band .
I cringed at how many of the hardcore kids that are indefinitely pissed off at something couldn't understand—regardless of who they believed was in the right in this particular case—that we're angry because another name is added to this incredibly long list of Black men, women and trans women that are killed by cops and vigilantes. I've talked with too many of my peers that aren't educated on these issues, but think that it's acceptable to write powerviolence songs about them because the imagery is cool. Maybe they've never noticed that we're actually still being lynched and dragged from the bumpers of trucks, or set on fire by our neighbors, or that police officers are actual members of the KKK and there isn't anything being done about it. They loved chanting, "We are Mike Brown" at the protest, inciting violence and standing in the front, but they love knowing they won't be the ones called animals more.
It's no secret that when it comes to extreme genres of music, they all have one similarity to their formulas: rage. Whether that anger is directed towards the government, social injustice, death, religion, or the heartless ex-partner they wrote an entire twelve track hardcore album about, these are accepted as normal topics. Everyone is right along with you, angry enough to listen and support your every move. It's wonderful...except when you're a Black woman who fronts one of these rage-fueled, aggressive bands.
You know, people joke all the time about the Angry Black Woman, but fail to realize why we're angry, and what or who we're actually angry at. Instead, everyone rolls with the stereotype that they've been fed and applies it anytime a Black woman dares to express herself. I couldn't tell you how many times white punks and metal nerds have said, "Kayla from Bleed the Pigs is too aggressive and angry. Why is she so tense all the time?"
Think about it.
My anger as a Black woman fronting an aggressive, politically charged hardcore/metal band with DIY punk ethics is somehow too much for them. White punks screaming about the same politics, the same fucked-up shit, and even about racial issues and injustices they don't even particularly face, are wholeheartedly accepted, never questioned, never told to tone down, and never told to relax. No matter how justified I am, or how down for the cause they are, they're put off by my very valid rage. Why is that? What is it about a Black girl doing the same shit white men do that makes them feel like it's too much? How am I the only one being labeled too aggressive in a genre that is all about aggression?
There have been countless instances throughout my years where I awkwardly smiled off a racist joke or rolled my eyes and chuckled at the dude who promoted my band as "sexy black chick-fronted." I've become desensitized to the most hateful and dangerous comments one could think of. I've watched our teachers, the authorities, and my peers completely shit on Black people publicly. I've had dozens and dozens of women of color tell me they stopped going to shows all together out of fear. Maybe, if my allies are truly listening, they're having a little epiphany right now."Oh shit, that's why Kayla didn't want to hang out at this super white spot. She didn't feel like being the token for the night. She's not given the same leeway to be as reckless as we are. I get it!" Maybe they're even cognizant enough to question why they tokenize me in the first place (I can dream, can't I?).
Photo of Kayla Phillips by Rosie Richeson
Unfortunately, many still don't get it. They won't believe my stories of police harassment until they're there to witness it, or until another white person can confirm it actually happened. They'll side with a cop. They'll feel uneasy with my anger and tell me I'm probably exaggerating. Then, they'll go give themselves an ACAB stick-and-poke, and turn up the MDC. I see them using, "Hands up, don't shoot" as if they understand the severity of those words, as if they lived that phrase before it even was one.
That's not real solidarity to me. Solidarity isn't white guilt and apologies for being white. No one is asking for that. Solidarity is awareness, and the ability to listen if you say you're going to. It's standing beside me or behind me, not in front of me. It's the ability to look at oneself and break down internalized issues, instead of tokenizing someone. It's realizing that not all spaces and conversations are about you personally. It's not shocking that my place in the scene is being used by people that haven't even listened to our music, but who just eat up the idea of how inclusive it looks to have a photoset of a black girl screaming into the mic on their blogs. In the same way Frida Kahlo's face is appropriated by white feminism while her words are not, this not-so-new wave of people are latching onto our identities and experiences and whitewashing every word for easy swallowing. We're used and ignored in the same breath. You want me to be here, but not too much. If I speak up and it's too real, I need to give you a lollipop afterwards, or you'll never learn, and you'll be too scared to talk to me again. These are ways of covering up our mouths with attempts to stifle and contain our liberation. In this subculture, that goes against what we're here for. Our voices and existence shouldn't be tolerated in your scene, it should be accepted. I shouldn't have to silence myself in order to have a place here. I shouldn't have to pretend that there are no issues.
The eye-rolling irony that I'm still cast aside as the Angry Black Woman in a scene that is made up of nothing but angry, pissed off, cast aside white men who sometimes use my own struggles for their own benefit isn't lost on me. People are wary of that which they do not know, and one of those things is an unapologetic Black girl voicing herself. So, yes, I'm angry as fuck about a lot of things. I carry it with me just to survive sometimes. You absolutely don't have to like the music I make, or what I sing about, but if you find yourself upset by my level of anger, and not the white guy saying something similar, I'm not going to be complacent and sugarcoat my frustration for you. It's unfortunate that my seemingly like-minded peers can't find it in themselves to actually look at the reasons why race continues to play a part in our daily lives due to its disproportionate presence and history, instead of trying to be louder than the ones affected by it.
Photo by Julian Guevara
The underlying issue in all of this, is that no matter what subculture we Black folk find ourselves in, as Javon Johnson said, "We are treated as problems well before we're treated as people."