Laina Dawes never satisfyingly explains the origins of her musical tastes in What Are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman's Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal, but then again, who ever can?
Demography isn't cultural destiny. I may be a Jew, but that doesn't mean that I have to listen to klezmer. And in fact, my musical tastes encompass country, folk, gospel, soul, electronica, metal ... everything and anything. It's almost as if I'm an omnivorous white hipster—just like all those other Jews, from Alan Lomax to Paul Simon to Robert Zimmerman.
The point being that while ethnicity, race, and religion don't determine what you do, they are part of the narrative of your life. There is no algorithm by which people's history, class, or race turns them into who they are—but still, who you are is in part a result of your history, class and race. Untangling the self from its community and history can, therefore, be a maddening, impossible, fascinating, exhilarating task.
This kind of untangling is certainly the impetus for Laina Dawes in her recent book, What Are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman's Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal. As the title suggests, Dawes has a compellingly idiosyncratic tale to tell about cultural identity and personal passion. A black Canadian woman, Dawes is obsessed with heavy metal—a genre, particularly in its more extreme manifestations, that is not known for its appeal to either women or blacks, much less both at the same time. Exploring why she finds this music compelling, then, seems like it might be a way to illuminate race, gender, and metal, as well as a way to help explain how we are and are not more than the sum of our cultural signifiers.