Column: Racism, lack of accountability are ruining the metal community

While metal stars and members of the community have spoken out against racism in the past, there have never been any concrete attempts to remove this cancerous cell from the metal community. (J. Stephen Conn/Flickr)

Followers of metal music are typically hardened individuals. This might have something to do with the fact that a lot of metal songs are about death and darkness; yet the whole community was left a little speechless by the actions of one Phil Anselmo at Dimebash 2016 (a metal show and charity event dedicated to Dimebag Darrell, the late guitar player for Pantera).

For those who don’t know, Anselmo is the ex-lead singer for American-heavy metal band, Pantera. Phil Anselmo ended Dimebash 2016 by doing a Nazi salute and shouting “white power.”

After a few days of being criticized by members of the metal community, Phil Anselmo posted an apology saying that he was not trying to offend anyone, attempting to offer an explanation for his actions. 

This apology means very little when looking at the bigger picture of Anselmo’s life and career. Several times throughout his career, Phil Anselmo has been seen singing on stage while clutching the Confederate Flag, after having previously shouted white power statements during a concert in 1995. In the metal community, an apology seems to be all it takes to get back into people’s good graces, but the tendency to maintain a short memory doesn’t sit well with me.

As a lifelong fan of metal music, I was shocked, but not overly surprised when reports of Anselmo’s actions broke. Looking through the comment sections of many articles posted in regards to Anselmo’s statements proved to be a mistake. There were, of course, many people calling out Anselmo for being a racist and ruining Dimebag Darrell’s legacy.

However, individuals telling others to thicken up their skin complimented those comments, and others still saying that they have been called worse in life. These comments boil down to an attitude of, “what do a few comments by some drunk singer mean to anyone?”

There were also those who denied that there was anything wrong with what Phil Anselmo said, going as far as to say that his words were taken out of context. After all, how could the great metal star, the front man of the storied Pantera, ever do something wrong?

It’s people like this who are ruining the metal community and are keeping it from growing beyond the current fan base.

As a brown-skinned, Indian kid from Mystic, Connecticut, I am a far cry from the average metal fan. One of the things that attracted me to the metal community was the supposed openness and acceptance of a diverse fan base. For a long time (and even now), the community acted as a gathering place where the outcasts of society could come together, and for a lack of a better phrase, “rock-out.”

This openness, however, has allowed many groups – specifically white power groups – to grow in number within the metal community. Personal experience has unfortunately proven that racism is prevalent in crowds at many metal shows. It was shocking to me in the beginning that such a thing would occur in such a supposedly open and diverse group, but eventually the feeling of shock went numb through continued experience.

While metal stars and members of the community have spoken out against racism in the past, there have never been any concrete attempts to remove this cancerous cell from the metal community. There has never been any kind of punishment for a musician or member of the community acting in this manner.

Given the lessons of past occurrences, it will be less than a month before this “incident” with Phil Anselmo is forgotten. Nobody is going to remove him from a tour and kick him out of a band. The lack of accountability by members of the metal community is making it hard for the metal community to grow and maintain an image of openness and acceptance.

As I said, I’ve been a part of the metal community for a long time and do not have any plans to leave anytime soon. There are fantastic memories but also some unfortunate and painful experiences, mostly related to the sort of racism Anselmo spouted. If this lack of accountability is not addressed and fixed, many of the loyal fans and lover of metal music may not be part of the community much longer.


Amar Batra is a contributor to the Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at amar.batra@uconn.edu. He tweets at @amar_batra19.