So. Hi. I’m a metalhead. Metal is ……. like a really difficult scene for a lot of reasons. There’s a lot of misogyny, there’s a lot of ableism/saneism, there’s a lot of homophobia, but most noticeably there is just a shitload of racism in a shitload of metal (for the purposes of this explanation I’m using the umbrella term “racism/racist” to mean anti-PoC, xenophobic, and antisemitic). And some of this is the sort of quiet exclusionary “why aren’t there any PoC on the festival lineup” grossness that does need to be addressed, but a lot of it is actual straight-up white supremacy with honest-to-god dangerous people who see themselves as noble soldiers in a race war that they are absolutely willing to perpetuate at a show or a festival or on the street outside a club.
One of the problems with violent white supremacists is that they can be pretty good at hiding their violent white supremacy. I like to do a good solid internet search on a band before I start listening to their stuff so I don’t end up with a “you’re so awesome in some ways, why do you have to be so Phil Anselmo in other ways, fuck you Phil” sort of situation.
So here’s a basic rundown of the shit that racist assholes will do to let OTHER racists know that they’re racist too without having to come out and specifically say it:
- “14″ is short for “14 words” which is a white supremacist slogan that boils down to “make white babies and protect them from non-whites”
- “88″ - “H” is the eighth letter of the alphabet, 88 is an abbreviation for Heil Hitler.
- “SS” - Literally Nazi soldiers.
- There’s a band out there called SS1488. These folks are clearly racist motherfuckers but they can kind of get away with it because most people don’t make a point of knowing that “SS” “14″ and “88″ are individual racist things (the SS thing seems pretty obvious tho) or that all together it’s essentially a shorthand for “we would literally like to kill all non-whites”.
Your average person on the street has no reason to know this shit, doesn’t want to know this shit, would be sad if they had to acknowledge that we’ve allowed white supremacy to fester to such an extent that there are not one but two numbers traditionally associated with *luck* that have been claimed by racist fucks.
And there is shit like that ALL OVER THE PLACE in the metal scene. Why do I give you a wide berth when you tell me you’re a in Celtic-folk-metal band who sing songs about the Norse pantheon? Because racist fucks have pedistalized ancient Celts as white pride figures, folk is having a revival moment because of traditionalist supremacists, and the Norse pantheon has been claimed for a LONG damn time by fucking neo-nazis. And you know what? Celtic music is rad. Folk music is rad. The Norse gods have cool stories. But there are a shitload of bands out there called “Celtic _______” who are blatantly racist. There are a shitload of bands called “Odin this” or “Thor’s Whatever” or “Unpronounceable eight-legged Loki’s child horse” or “Frigg” that are full of fucking Nazis. I think bagpipes sound awesome but they’re a traditional instrument of white people so the fucking racists want to play those instead of something that might be tainted by a mingled cultural history (also racists I have bad news for you about all instruments, you should probably stop playing them just to be safe).
Hey. Hey fellow white people. Y’know how for years we’ve been wishy-washy about “well it’s just a hairstyle, I don’t see how Kim Kardashian’s braids are cultural appropriation” or some shit like that? Well guess what. Fucking racists are appropriating your culture*.
You know how people are like “lol, Hillary thinks Pepe is racist, how out of touch”? Guess what. Pepe is racist. Not all the time! Just like the number 14 isn’t racist, triskeles aren’t racist, shamrocks aren’t racist. These things are only racist SOME of the time. Nice four-leaf-clover tattoo, Shannon! It’s great but did you think about the possible Aryan Brotherhood connection before you got it? Oh, you’re pagan, Megan? Like pagan as in maybe kind of a kitchen witch agnostic or pagan as in preserving white bloodlines for Odin? It’s kind of hard to tell these days. Hey, sweet triskele pendant, Ryan. Is that because you’re kinky or because you think your race is superior to all others? Joe, I think your pitbull rescue is great but I’m telling you that you need to rethink the logo for your your group in Pennsylvania.
The solution to this, by the way, is not to double down and go “well if everyone thinks my tattoo/dog/pendant/instrument is a racist symbol I might as well go hang out with the racists,” it’s to eject the racist fucks from your scene as hard as you possibly can without violating the Geneva convention.
Now look. I know this is difficult. And I know that there isn’t any unilateral rule that makes this easy. Kiss and the Melvins are two bands with Jewish founding members that use SS lightning bolts in their logos; Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice is a thing. Reclamation can and does happen, it’s good and important when it does, but we can’t pretend that every band with an iron cross on their shirts is saying “fuck nazis” because that’s provably false. There are lots of NON racist reasons that people have shamrocks and triskeles and celtic crosses and runes on their clothes or skin or whatever, but there are lots of bad reasons too, and it’s important to figure out whether you’re hanging out with a bunch of cool folks who dig heavy folk or if you’re hanging out with a bunch of people who like heavy folk and want to intimidate black neighbors into moving to a different area.
We KNOW metal has an issue with racism. I don’t know if it thrives in the subculture because there’s already a culture of toxic masculinity that allows it to fester, I don’t know if it’s because metal is so *edgy* that we allow racism to pass because it’s already a harsh space, I don’t know if it’s because metal spaces tend to be largely made up of people who are young or blue collar or less educated and want to listen to music as an escape instead of taking time to curate the scene, but whatever the reason we’ve enough room for the racists that they feel as comfortable throwing sieg heils as they do throwing horns.
And I’m sick of it (sick of the misogyny, homophobia, ableism/saneism too but those are topics for other days). So below I’m posting a couple of really helpful links. This is the Anti-Defamation League Hate on Display database of hate symbols (which also makes a point of which symbols are defined by context and which are unambiguously hate symbols like the swastika). This is the Anti-Defamation League list of Bigots who Rock - extremist or racist bands from Argentina to Wales.
And I’m not going to give you some bullshit about “now you have no excuse, if you still listen to racists you are a racist” because I get it, it’s hard to dig into the media you consume and see that something you loved is harmful. It’s exhausting to feel like you have to police your preferences and a lot of people end up throwing their hands up and saying “well fuck it, can’t I enjoy anything? at least the racists aren’t telling me to burn my records, maybe I’ll go hang out with them.” I’m not saying that you have to police your preferences, I accept that at some level almost every form of media is problematic, and I don’t think anyone has the ability to be a perfect consumer OR a perfect creator whose art is always free from the taint of internalized cultural norms that happen to be racist/sexist/transphobic.
But if you find out a band is racist I will ask that you stop giving them money in the form of tees or tickets or album sales (if you still want to listen to violent racists please at least steal their music, but like ideally don’t listen at all because seriously those folks are usually shit). If you’re at show be friendly with metalheads of color and make a point to keep people from hassling them or harassing them . If you run shows don’t book known white supremacist bands and don’t let white supremacist iconography into the venue. Everyone please listen to more bands of color and support them in the scene (also you should be doing that anyway, Brujeria’s shit was tighter fifteen years ago than most white supremacist black-metal-celt-wannabes have ever been).
I know nobody is perfect and nothing is perfect and the world is a shithole, but for fuck’s sake, can we try not having facists, white supremacists, and nazis at our shows and in our scene for a while? I think it would probably be super cool if we tried that.
*this is probably also a good time to consider the issue of wider appropriation in the form of locs and mohawks; if we are concerned about nazi fucks and white supremacists the fact that people who claim not to be racist in the subculture are open to or defensive of appropriation from marginalized cultures probably isn’t doing anything to discourage white supremacists.
My brother got an yggdrasil and mjolnir tattoo and I was like ugh just cover that up around skinheads, okay? Be careful people don’t think you’re a virulent racist. And he’s not, just a regular run-of-the-mill i don’t see color type who misses his norwegian dead dad.