I've been thinking about what happened to Solange (http://pitchfork.com/news/68197-solange-discusses-hostility-in-predominately-white-spaces-after-kraftwerk-concert-incident/) a lot since it happened. I posted about it on Facebook, and haven't talked about it since, but I've been thinking about it. I am a black person who spends the majority of my time in white spaces. And while I don't live my life feeling uncomfortable, I know EXACTLY what Solange is talking about. Please believe me, this was not an isolated incident that she experienced. This is just part of our lives.
I remember being about 8 years old and being obsessed with No Doubt. Rock radio in general. My older brother warned me, "don't be one of those weird black girls who listens to Green Day and stuff". I became one of those weird black girls who listened to Green Day. I don't think he was trying to clip my wings, I think he was being a protective, albeit misguided, older brother. He knew it wasn't going to be easy for me. Being a weird black kid at a predominately white school was hell; I've already blogged about that (SPHS + WOC = ? http://www.lambertraa.com/blog/2016/1/27/sphs-woc-). This is not that, but that's part of this.
I go a lot of shows. A LOT. Everyone who knows me, knows this. My first show was the 2003 Honda Civic Tour with Good Charlotte and New Found Glory headlining. My mom took me, because she felt I was too young to go to Hollywood with one of my friends no supervision. This was not my mom's scene, so she was a little curious. She looked around after we had been there for a few minutes, "We're the only black people here." She paused, "You're unique, Jordan. That's cool." We had a great time that night, my mom walked about liking New Found Glory a lot. She got an insight into the person I was becoming; I got to see my favorite bands and bond with her. It was a really good night. However, I was learning that not everyone would find my uniqueness as cool as my mother did. And, this night would set a precedent. This wasn't the only time I'd be the only black person at a show.
AFI is my favorite fucking band of all time. I live and breathe by Davey Havok. If it was the holy quadriology and not trinity it would be the father, the son, the holy spirit, and Davey Havok in my eyes. The first time I saw AFI live was in support of Decemberunderground; my friends and I drove five hours to Bakersfield to see them. We were in the pit, before they started, and someone said "What the hell is that black girl doing here?" Of all the things I expected to happen at that show, that wasn't one of them. I deflated. I loved AFI. I had been listening to AFI for five years. I was literally a card carrying member of their fan club. This was my first chance to see them live. I had been dreaming of this show for ages. I belonged there. And here was this yokel, questioning me, because of the color of my skin. My white best friend, didn't skip a beat. "What the fuck did you just say about my friend?" We were with a crowd of 20 Despair Faction (AFI fan club) members. They all knew me from the message board, they all rallied around me and made that bigot know he wasn't welcome in our pit. Hours later, when Davey Havok was godwalking through the crowd and his basically standing on my head, I wasn't thinking about what had just happened. But, it's something I never forgot. It stung. This wasn't the last time something like that happened.
I have been to several shows where been one of few, if not the only, black persons there. I have been to several shows where I've been called out for it. While the landscape of the scene has changed and it is far more inclusive now; I've been through my share of shit. I saw Marilyn Manson three times on the same tour; the second time a white male asked me if I knew who Marilyn Manson was and if I was at the right show. I took my nephew to see Black Veil Brides and Falling In Reverse. It was his first show and his favorite bands were playing. We were the only black people there, and I could tell it bothered him when he noticed and pointed it out. I reassured him it didn't matter, we were there for the music and that was all that mattered. And thank God, Set It Off opened, and Dan Clermont, their guitarist is magical black man. I pointed out Dan, and told my nephew again, this is our scene, too. I punched a guy in the face during a Thrice set at a festival, and it was one of the most affirming moments of my life. You will not push me during this set, you will not try and get in front of me, you will not take my space; I fucking belong here, this is my scene. I planned to meet with friends at Taste of Chaos, and we tried to plan a meeting spot. "I'll be hiding from the sun", a friend said. "I'll be one of six black people", I laughed. "You think there will be that many there?" It's funny, but it's not. I met the vocalist for Old Wounds at Warped in their merch tent, we had a great time talking and I promised I'd be at their next LA show, "I'll be looking for you", he said. "I'll be the only black girl there." He sighed, "I hope not!". We laughed, but the scene isn't a space readily accesible to people of color. It's far more welcoming than other places; I've been to country concerts and almost left, because people were flying the confederate flag as they tailgated.
This isn't a concert issue. This is an America issue. But, that should be obivous. My mom and I go to a lot of museums, it's kind of our thing. We get a lot of odd looks. We got called 'colored' by a security gaurd at the Norton Simon, who was radioing his boss about our 'suspicious behavior'. The first time I got followed around a store, I was 10 years old in a high end beauty supply store, shopping with my mother. We didn't look like belonged in that shop, in that neighborhood. Honestly, I can't even go to Trader Joe's without a white person asking me if I know how to cook those brussel sprouts and offering me their shitty ass recipe on the spot, or asking me how if I buy flowers often. They aren't being a friendly. I know someone is going to come into my comments and say they're being friendly. There's a tone of voice, a demeanor, the way they say it. You know when you're being talked down to. You know when it's because you're black. I was racially profiled at Disneyland of all places. I got accused of stealing, because I'm young, I'm black, and the woman thought I couldn't afford the high end Disney luggage I had used for my stay at the Disneyland hotel; so I must have been trying to shoplift it from the giftshop. How do I know this? Because my white best friend walked right past her, also carrying souvenirs out in the open, and she didn't get anything but a, "Have a magical day".
The only bright spot I can think of in all of this, is the excitment of seeing another black person in a white space. You may not know this if you're not a POC, but POC get really excited to see other POC in public, in white spaces. We are not alone. We are not tokens. This is a place for us, too. At Warped 2016, a black kid I didn't know became my best friend for five minutes, because we were two of four black people screaming the lyrics to New Found Glory and dancing our hearts out. Twice, my mom and I have been at museum exhibits, and gotten told special museum secrets by security gaurds, because they were so happy to see other black people there. My family was stopped at the Renaissance Faire by a black performer, who was very happy to see people from "her land", at the faire. I held a long conversation about the price of bread with a woman at Trader Joe's, because the same rude white woman had almost ran her cart into the both of us. The only black performer at Medieval Times gave his flowers to my mom, because he was happy to see us in the front row. We are here, we exist, our presence is valid.
I'm not writing this to bitch and moan and complain about how hard it is to be black. I love being me. Part of being me is being black. I wouldn't change that for the world. But, I feel more and more it's my job as a black person, and a black person with a platform (even if it's a small one like this blog), to use my platform and affirm and validate the voices and struggle of my brothers and sisters. Because, it feels like no one believes us. Everyone wants to discount. People want to say the world has gotten to sensitive, too politically correct, all lives matter; instead of saying, something isn't right here. Let's do better.
The instances I referred to at shows have lessened the older I've gotten. I've made way more friends and am usually known when I go out. The scene has become more inclusive. I like to believe it's because of people like me, who were passionate about the music they loved, and wouldn't let their discomfort at being in a white space stop them. We have to keep doing this. We can't be shy. We have to be brave, and bold, and passionate. We have to knock on doors and bang them down. We have to let other people know I belong here, and you do too. And, if something like what happened to Solange happens to us, we have to talk about it. We have to affirm each other's voices.
I think I'm done. The next post I'm planning will also be show focused, but it's going to be more lighthearted.
Until then. I'm gonna close this out with some of my favorite concert photos I've taken. There's a lot of Davey.
EDITED TO ADD: Dude. I feel like this post is now even more relevant today RE: Tim Burton's ignorant ass comments about the lack of diversity in his films. He was probably blind sided by the question, but his answer was really stupid. As a HUGE fan of his work, it was totally disheartening and reminded me of how "bad" I felt being a black person who was into his creepy aesthetic, because I never saw myself fitting into that world, because there was literally no one who looked like me. TO DO: Make film shorts about a creepy black girl, aka black Vampira.