I guess I should be the first to share some of my experiences with being a black woman who likes rock music. I first started listening to alternative music when I was 14 years old, back in 2002. I started with pop punk but was aghast to realize that I was considered a poser, so I began to dig deeper into punk culture and learned a lot about the originators and discovered a lot of cool classic bands along the way. I also began to get into metal and some goth music as well, but my bread and butter was punk rock.
The first two years of me being into all of this was really hard because my family didn’t like me being into it. Me being black and liking it was a huge factor in that, as they were the same way when I first started listening to the Backstreet Boys and being a HUGE pop fan in the late 90s. But I was also experiencing issues with mental health and questioning my religion too. So I guess they saw me being into this stuff as me turning my back on my culture AND as me contributing to my depression and general heathenism. They didn’t really understand music that seemed so aggressive and angry, and didn’t believe me when I told them it gave me peace, and calmed my crazy brain down. I say “seemed” angry and aggressive because the music I listened to then was kiddie time at the pool compared to some of the stuff I listen to now. Dying Fetus, anyone?
They’ve come to accept it with age and with me growing into a relatively stable adult, but back then they were all on the warpath and it was really hard for me to craft an identity in alternative culture when I was being so actively discouraged from doing it. My mom and grandma even did an attempted exorcism on me once, holding me down on the ground for about an hour and not letting me up until I said Jesus’ name. I basically fought my way up, all 98 lbs of me, because I was so mad that I didn’t care that they were bigger than me. I’ve actually never been that mad, either before or since. And I never said Jesus’ name. I did have to go to the psych ward for the 3rd time because this experience made me (understandably?) not want to get out of bed in the few days that followed, and even though my mom was critical of me seeking psychiatric help she was always really quick to throw me on the ward if I showed any sign of depression, but that’s another post.
Anyway, I feel that this period of life was detrimental to me because I think it’s really important to establish confidence in your identity as alternative if you’re going to be alternative and black. I think it helps you navigate the scene a little bit better, and know with more confidence that you belong there. When people stopped caring what I listened to, and I was able to start going to shows in 2009 and actually start interacting with this scene, it was really hard for me to feel like I could be comfortable. I felt all of this pressure to prove that I belonged there.
I’ve never been made explicitly to feel unwelcome when I’ve gone to shows and, if I do interact with people, they are at least polite if not friendly. But there is a sort of tension I feel when I go to shows, where it almost seems like people are just afraid to acknowledge my presence there. And, again, me feeling like I have to prove myself.
The only times where I haven’t felt this specific sort of tension is when I went to see either female-fronted or person-of-color led bands – when I saw Straight Line Stitch live, and when I went to a Punch show where Sin Orden (a Mexican-American band who does powerviolence completely in Spanish ITISAWESOME) also performed. It was memorable when Sin Orden did their set and their frontman gave an acknowledgment to “all of the people of color” in the audience. What’s cool about these types of bands being on stage is what it DOES to the audience, who it brings to the forefront. The floor was controlled by women and/or by people of color at both of these shows, so I felt at ease.
I don’t have any friends who share my interests. My boyfriend was into alternative culture in his day, but had more of an issue consolidating that with his black identity than I did and it’s not something he’s currently that into. I never felt like being into what I was into threatened my blackness. Even when I temporarily abandoned this culture and tried to be “more black” by listening to rap and R&B and being super Christian and all that shit, most of this was motivated by me growing tired of being abused over liking what I liked. In a weird way, I feel that being into alternative culture has deepened my sense and pride of my black identity, and I guess because I’ve really had to think about who I am. And acknowledge what I’m not.
For the most part, me being into this has been a solo endeavor. I fall in love with the music alone, I talk about the qualities of the music with myself, and I go to shows alone. I don’t feel that I look like I’m into what I’m into, so most people think I’m typical until that awkward moment happens when I’m asked what I listen to. I don’t really hide what I’m into, I just can’t honestly afford to look quite the way I want to look. So yeah, when I wear a band t-shirt or people ask me what music I like, it comes as a shock. It’s like, no matter how post-racial we claim we are, I will always shock people (black, white or otherwise) when I start naming all of these bands they’ve never even heard of. Or bands they HAVE heard of. When I complain of losing my hearing from this really loud really awesome show I went to last night. When I start naming BANDS at all.
So yeah. Despite the fact that I don’t have a huge social footing in this scene, rock music in some form or another (or in many forms, simultaneously) have been extremely important to me and has helped me shape who I am and what I want to be about and how I see the world. I can remember when I first got into it how everyone treated it as some phase I was going through that would weather away, but it’s been over a decade now that I’ve been into this. Over a decade. I connect to it in different ways as I get older and less angst-y, but I could never leave it behind. It’s been too big a part of me.
ETA (Oct 3 2014): It’s been awhile since this was written, over a year in fact, but most of it still rings very true. Brings to light how society consciously/unconsciously goes lengths to abuse, institutionalize, and push to the side people who don’t fit normative narratives or expectations. I didn’t intend to really bring that to light when writing this post, just to share what I’ve experienced in being a part of the alternative scene and identity, but that element is there. Maybe I’ll discuss it further someday.