METAL AND WHITENESS
‘Music brings people together,’ as the common saying goes. In reality however, it often seems to do so by sticking to the different groups we find in society. For example, when one ventures into a metal music concert, chances are that the audience members are overwhelmingly white (and very often also male), while a quick expedition into a hip-hop concert would probably confront one with a much more ethno-racially diverse audience. This poses a paradox: music unites, yet music divides. Our taste in music is not – like our racial or sexual features – biologically determined, so what causes taste in music to correlate with ethno-racial traits? This paradox is a central puzzle in my work.
A second paradox is provided by turning to the specific groups which are bounded together within certain musical genres. Previous research has convincingly demonstrated that the formation of musical taste has social consequences. There are plenty of examples of this: Ascription to a ‘black’ identity is fostered by maintaining a preference for soul or rap music. Salsa music is used to connect with an overall ‘Latin-American’ identity, particularly beyond South-America itself. Similarly, klezmer is attributed substantial powers in its ability to unite people ascribing to a Jewish ethnicity. However, while the linkages between these music genres and ethno-racial groups are clear to everyone involved, many music genres such as country, EDM or metal music do not seem to carry an explicit ethno-racial connotation. As such, they are ‘unmarked’ from an ethno-racial viewpoint. Does this mean that they are also disconnected from particular ethno-racial groups?
The short answer to this question is ‘no’. These genres are predominantly populated by whites, but this connection is rarely made explicit as it remains ‘invisible’ to most involved. As dominant members of most Western societies, whites are often left ‘unmarked’ as opposed to non-whites. This effectively makes whiteness a symbolically dominant but ‘hidden’ ethnicity, as members are often unaware of the implications of not being ‘marked’ as white. As such, a genre dominated by whites – such as metal music – can carry connotations of whiteness, which implicitly help ascribe to such an identity. In other words, whiteness is rarely actively constructed or maintained intentionally. Hence, the second puzzle in my work is to disentangle the (re)production of an ethno-racial identity which is paradoxically, to an extent, verbally unacknowledged by its principal conveyors.
Songs to keep in your ear