Sunday, December 28, 2008
( I am NOT Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey NOR am I connected to her in any way. I discuss naming it after her in the "notes" post)
(As far as the anti-bigotry part of this blog, I decided at some point early on that I wanted to work around the edges of battling bigotry, offering ideas and information that most people are unaware of but which might help them here and there with anti-bigotry work. So that’s why there are a lot of posts that seem a little weird, including this one)
I'll be honest, I'm not much of a Slayer fan (Slayer being one of the world's top 4 speed/thrash metal (as far as I can tell, speed and thrash are the same thing) bands, known for their dark and often satanic lyrics). I LOVE "War Ensemble," "Seasons In The Abyss," and "Skeletons of Society"; I used to listen to the Seasons in The Abyss album pretty often, I bought and listened once to Divine Intervention, and I like "Disorder." (I frequently listen to, today, those four songs, and might possibly listen to more of their stuff).
So, I can't really expect Slayer to care what I think, but I'm going to write this anyway, maybe I'll convince some of their more dedicated fans who will then contact Slayer. Also, although I'm only a little bit of a Slayer fan, I'm a huge thrash fan and am concerned about racism in Metal (when Ice-T wrote the lyrics to Body Count's "There Goes The Neighborhood," I don't think he was imagining racism in that scene, and although that was a long time ago, I have good reason to believe that it's still a serious problem) . Anyway, here's what I need to say about Slayer.
There have been accusations against Slayer of racism and/or anti-semitism. A very tiny but significant minority of their fans are Nazt skinheads.
My theory is that there's a very small chance Slayer is racist. And even if I was 100% certain they're not racist, they need to do A LOT to balance out the stuff they've done which has probably fueled racism among their fans. (based on what I know about bigots doing things that you wouldn't normally think they'd do, all of the information I have falls a bit short of making me 100% certain that Slayer are not racist at all- they probably have a greatly exaggerated sense of how common anti-white racism is and probably are more interested in making money than making it clear to their fans that racism is wrong (I'd say any band that attracts Nazi skinheads at their shows should make it very clear that the Nazis are not welcome- that's what Black Flag did and it probably makes it less likely that the Nazis will recruit from among the band's fans); The odds are very high that all Slayer needs is an attitude adjustment). (UPDATE 5/18/11 Also, Fugazi, at least some of the time, would refuse to play at a concert if there were Nazi skinheads in the audience)
First a series of minor things on each side of this argument.
SLAYER IS RACIST
1. Probably some very tiny minority of their fans are Nazi skinheads.
2. Apparently in response to the criticism they recieved as a result of "Angel of Death," they temporarily adopted a symbol some have said is based on the Nazi "Eagle Atop Swastika," and Jeff Hanneman placed some SS stickers on his guitar.
3. Although I can't figure out what it is, they seem to have some connection to "Death's Head Music." The Death's Head is a symbol of the SS unit primarily responsible for Holocaust.
4. Their official fan club (and a lot of unofficial fan stuff refers to this as well) is called the "Slaytanic Wehrmacht." The Wehrmacht was the non-SS military of Nazi Germany. But there are two big problems with this. First, the Waffen-SS (the military part of the SS) was under the same national command offices that the Wehrmacht was, you could almost say they were part of the Wehrmacht. And if it wasn't for the Wehrmacht, the Nazis would have been defeated earlier and millions of people who died in the Holocaust wouldn't have. So FUCK the Wehrmacht.
SLAYER IS ANTI-RACIST
1. For about 1-2 years they were signed to Def Jam, a record label primarily about black rap music. The co-founder of that label, who is Jewish, produced most of their albums.
2. Tom Araya is Chilean and Dave Lombardo is Cuban. I'm not sure that proves it, as some of Chile is White and 65% of Cuba is white. Plus, the Nazi Low Riders, a white supremacist group, was known (according to the Southern Poverty Law Center) to include Latinos. On a related note, 1-2 members may be Jewish, but that's not too impressive either- it's not like there aren't racist Jews.
3. Two members were briefly in a band with Rocky George of Suicidal Tendencies.
4. One band member, at one point, had a Dead Kennedys sticker on his guitar (probably not a lot of racist DK fans out there).
5. When I became curious about this, I did a search for "slayer" and "racist." The first thing to come up was a discussion thread on Stormfront.org. Although I think it's mostly American, it's the world's leading White Supremacist web forum. Tons of Nazi skinheads love Slayer. The discussion was started by someone asking if Slayer was racist, about 1/3 of them thought Slayer might be racist and another 1/3 initially thought Slayer was racist, but they probably changed their minds when other posters mention the song with Ice-T.
6. In general their lyrics fail to take a position on horrible things, so their two songs about the Nazis ("SS-3" about Reinhard Heydrich of the SS and "Angel of Death" about Joseph Mangele, Concentration Camp doctor) unsurprisingly are not explicit condemnations of their subjects. This used to be in the RACIST category, but new information makes me certain that they're anti-, see the second set of updates at the bottom. (There's also a third song "Behind The Crooked Cross" which, I discuss below)
The two big things:
1) On an album they did which was mostly a bunch of punk covers, they did "Guilty Of Being White," by Minor Threat. As far as I can tell, when that was written Minor Threat were anti-racist and nowhere near as tainted by the sort of stuff I mention in the first category above. The vocalist who wrote the song was inspired by apparently being beaten by black kids at his mostly black school; apparently he had good reason to think (or maybe KNOW) that it was racist. Also, unlike with Slayer, I feel comfortable assuming that at Minor Threat shows and in interviews the vocalist Ian MacKaye, made anti-racist statements (I'm basing this on the politics of Fugazi, on a report that during the Minor Threat era MacKaye was a big fan of Bad Brains, he was close to Henry Rollins, and I found a pro-SHARP (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice) video on youtube that had music from 4 Minor Threat songs (no, I'm not familiar with Minor Threat, for all I know they have several anti-racist songs)).
Slayer's version changed the last line from the song title to "Guilty of being right." It's not real clear, but they seem to have admitted that, although they were just trying to be controversial, yes, it was supposed to be interpreted as racist.
(UPDATE 3/6/12 this is replacing an earlier paragraph on the same subject, which was pretty low quality)Even without that lyrical twist at the end, there would still be a problem with this. I'll probably do another post on this later, but let me say, sure, there's anti-White racism. But it's safe to say there's tons more people who reflect one or another shade of white supremacy. A few years ago I looked at FBI figures on hate crimes for the preceding 10-15 years. At first I just looked at murders, then I looked at the numbers for hate crimes in general. I found that according to the FBI, for every anti-White incident, there were about six incidents motivated by white supremacy. I had heard that there are a lot of hate crimes unreported to the FBI, so I made it seven. I have had trouble figuring out what percentage of the population is White (this is complicated by the fact that I’m pretty sure there are a lot of white people classified as “Hispanic/Latino” and when I last looked at this it would have been the 2000 Census data), but I’d say around 75%, making people of color around 25%. I then did some math involving those figures, but I can’t remember what I did. I DID conclude that shades of white supremacy were about twice as common among white people as anti-white racism was among people of color (that is, if 50% of whites are racist, 25% of people of color are racist). I have since learned that the Department of Justice believes that for every hate crime that is included in the FBI’s figures, there are 20-30 more that aren’t. I don’t know how they came to that, but it makes sense. There are two main reasons for believing this- 1) Many, MANY law enforcement agencies do not send hate crime figures to the FBI. Undoubtedly, such areas would be very racist, and there would be a lot of racist crimes; 2) There must be a HUGE number of homophobic crimes unreported partly because there are so many gay and bi-sexual people who are more or less still in the closet, and because you take what I wrote in #1 above and change “racist” to “homophobic.” I can’t remember how I did the math earlier, but it makes me think that racism is about 10-20 times more common among white people than anti-White racism is among people of color. (I have mixed feelings about this, but I am right now defining racism as a belief- I am certainly not talking about how oppressed people are (the gap on that is more or less infinite, since the ways in which anti-white racism is exercised do not add up to white people being oppressed at all), just how widespread a belief is, compared to another belief, as indicated by actions that pretty much anyone, white or non-white, can take). When there isn't an appropriate amount of hostility towards white supremacy to balance it out, discusing anti-white racism can easily lead white people to think that anti-white racism is a greater problem than it is, which can lead a lot of white people to become racist.
There's also, the racist twist of the lyrics and some of the other things I've mentioned. So, Slayer ought to do AT LEAST seven things of equal significance to challenge white supremacy. As far as I can tell they have done 1.5.
2) Slayer recorded a song (a medley of three songs by The Exploited) called "Disorder" with Ice-T. Some of the lyrics were altered to apply to American politics in the early 1990s, and some of it was anti-racist. It's made very clear that they're referring to the Rodney King Riots of 1992, when they sing "Injustice drives you crazy, it drove LA insane."
But it was on a soundtrack. There were probably MANY Slayer fans who didn't even hear about it, but did hear Slayer's cover of "Guilty of Being White."
So Slayer really ought to do more to balance out their condemnation of anti-white racism with stuff of similar significance that rejects white supremacy. It seems quite possible that a number of Slayer fans (thousands in America throughout Slayer's history) have become racist or had their racism strengthened by Slayer. With that in mind and the fact that Nazi skinheads often interact with Slayer fans at concerts and possibly in other forums, it's quite possible that in America during Slayer's history something like 500 people have become Nazi skinheads partly because of Slayer. (I should point out that the stuff in the "RACIST" column is more visible to Slayer fans than the stuff in the "ANTI-RACIST" column). (UPDATE 1/10/09 That Stormfront.org discussion I mentioned I had read about 2 months before I wrote this post. I just looked at again. Although about 75% of the posts on this question indicated that Slayer is NOT racist, about 5 posts indicated that Slayer HAS influenced people to become racist)
Slayer, I imagine, might not be around much longer. They should do some stuff to balance out the (likely) damage they've done. They could do explicitly anti-racist songs, more collaborations with rappers (especially those who are people of color), do benefit concerts for anti-racist organizations, make explicit, detailed anti-racist statements that go well beyond simple denials of racism, do tours with groups that are mostly/completely people of color, (they did do one tour with Suicidal Tendencies, that counts as half, so that's why I say they've done 3 of the seven things they ought to do) etc.
I'd also like to say that if it were JUST a small amount of controversial imagery and their lyrics occassionally made it very clear they're anti-racist, that'd be fine. I haven't thrown myself into their stuff yet, but I am pretty sure that most Sacred Reich lyrics are progressive (certainly "One Nation," "Surf Nicaragua," and "Blue Suit, Brownshirt" are). I've got no problem with their name, especially because it's hilarious considering the politics in their lyrics.
That's about it. A note for all the Slayer fans who will hopefully read this. First, if you know of stuff I haven't mentioned, please let me know. If you're going to point to Slayer's denials of being racist, don't waste your time or my time. That'll barely affect my theory that there's a small chance they're racist, and it barely does anything to discourage racism among their fans.
1) It seems that the OFFICIAL fan club is called Slatanic Wehrmacht, without the y.
2) Although I more or less knew this earlier, I left out 1-2 bits of evidence that they aren't racist. Kerry King did a guitar solo, specifically for the Beastie Boys song "No Sleep Till Brooklyn," and I could swear I read about a member of Slayer doing vocals on a BB song. Anyway, the Kerry King thing seems pretty well confirmed, and if so that seriously erodes the claim that they're racist because A: it was a BB rap song, and B: the BBs are Jewish- a major part of the arguement that Slayer are racist is the accusation that "Angel of Death" is pro-Holocaust, but that seems very unlikely. (Also, King appeared in the video for that song, and did guitar work on "Fight For Your Right")
3) The URL for the Stormfront.org discussion is here.
4) I wonder if I wasted my time with this, but I became very interested in the question of whether or not Slayer is racist, and I think that if they turned anti-racist, that would help a lot. As I explain, there's a good argument for them to do so, to make up for the very likely damage they've done- the key is to put the right kind of preassure on them- if all you do is attack them over "Angel of Death," (a song that many have mis-interpreted as being pro-Nazi) that won't work; if you approach them based on what I've written on this blog, and the preassure from a minority of their fans and a lot of anti-racist organizations is overwhelming, they'll become anti-racist.
5) To be honest, the last 12 years I have paid almost no attention to new music at all. But I have very good reasons to still have an interest in this- I still listen to old Thrash, I used to be really into that scene (my favorite band in High School was Megadeth), I'm listening to more Slayer, I'm anti-racist, for lots of reasons I don't like Nazi Skinheads, etc. And although for all I know 1-2 bands Slayer has toured with are mostly/entirely people of color, or they've done something else to make up for the damage they've done, I'm confident they're still short of 7, which the absolute minimum. And I have plenty of reason to believe, besides common sense, that there's still a problem with racism among their fans.
1. A good source confirms that Jeff Hanneman is Jewish and is very interested in WWII and that would explain the two songs about the Nazis since he wrote them.
2. Apparently the song "Behind the Crooked Cross" is anti-nazi, although I can't imagine more than some small minority of their fans know that because I'm very interested in Nazism and I only just now learned that "Crooked Cross" is another term for swastika (if the video I found on YouTube, which makes it clear it is about WWII, is official, then that goes up to some very large majority, but I cannot find anything indicating it's official, so I assume at this point the video is unofficial, made by a fan).
UPDATE 10/21/12 I'm not sure why this took so long, but I finally figured I could do some internet searches to get some solid idea of how many Slayer fans know what the song is about. I did a google advanced search for the phrase "crooked cross is another term for swastika" and the word "Slayer." There were only two results- one was this post, one was a discussion on Irish Indymedia where I and a Slayer fan went at it, and s/he told me about the song. I did another (Google Advanced) search for "crooked cross is another word for swastika" and the word "Slayer." Nothing came up with that phrase, but there were 10 results with all those words: A) A wikipedia page about the swastika, which at this point doesn't contain the word "Slayer"; B) A page on what probably is a sort of high-traffic heavy metal site, a page on Slayer; C) Basically the same thing; D) a blogpost which doesn't do much more than explain that the crooked cross is the swastika, and briefly discusses the Slayer song; E) An anti-fascist discussion forum where the only person to mention this song is me; F) This post I'm typing right now; G) A music site I imagine has a lot of traffic, it says little or nothing that explicitly identfies the song as anti-Nazi; I got distracted and forgot to check the last three, and now they don't show up in the search anymore, but they didn't look like they touched on this song. I did another (Google Advanced) search, with ""crooked cross is the swastika" and "slayer." There were three results: A) A page with the lyrics for the song and a brief discussion about them, identifying them as anti-Nazi; B) the same web-site, and a very brief anti-Nazi description of the lyrics; C) This blog post.
3. I am now saying they have done 3 things to balance out "guilty of Being white" and counter the damage they've done (I'm not giving full credit to those three songs- they're not explicit enough). They still have to get up to 7, at the very least. I have made a couple changes to the material above.
Some of my sources for some of the more controversial claims:
Slayer's page on Wikipedia, and related pages for specific band members, songs, albums (I've looked at TONS of stuff on Wikipedia and have yet to find one thing that I know is innacurate, and a lot of what I've looked at includes info I was already aware of)
Slayer and Nazi Skinheads- well known that the latter love the former (multiple sources, just do a search on it)
Minor Threat and related Wikipedia pages
In general, I doubt anyone will seriously question the facts I've presented. I'm sure plenty of Slayer fans will disagree with my analysis, I'm pretty sure the facts are not in dispute.
There is an earlier discussion of this here.