Editorial: The Metal Community Must Stop Letting Phil Anselmo Off the Hook for His Racist Remarks

  • Axl Rosenberg

It’s time for us all to stop taking it easy on Phil Anselmo.

Yesterday, a YouTube user named Chris R. posted the below video footage online. It was filmed at this year’s edition of Dimebash, which took place this past Friday night, January 22 in Los Angeles. Chris admitted that he “originally cut this” part of the footage, but ultimately decided to post it because “people deserve to see this.”

Anselmo subsequently responded thusly:

Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 9.26.28 AM

Okay. So Anselmo was joking! He’s not a racist! Hell, he said “These days, I wouldn’t want anything to fucking do with” the Confederate flag less than a year ago! So it’s all good… right?

Well, not really. Because let’s be real: this is not the first time Anselmo has pulled a stunt like this.

For example: the following speech from a show in 1995, in which the singer claims not to be racist before making a series of racist remarks (“Tonight is a white thing”). It’s incredibly disturbing, not just because of the sentiment, but because there’s a certain sick, backwards logic to Anselmo’s remarks; it’s easy to see how a kid who looks up to Anselmo, or an adult who just isn’t very good at thinking for himself, might hear this and think it makes sense. What’s wrong with whites taking pride their own cultural heritage, right?

What Anselmo’s specious argument neglects is the social and historical context of a phrase like “white pride.” It’s ignorant to think that minorities don’t have an experience that is unique within America and the rest of the world (thus the phrase “it’s a black thing”). White America can never truly know what it’s like to be black; Anselmo is reacting to modern cultural acknowledgement of this fact in a manner which, when you get right down to it, is envious and juvenile.

Anselmo was twenty-seven when he made those remarks, but it’s hard to dismiss them as a youthful indiscretion. In 2003, when he was thirty-five, one of Anselmo’s other projects, Superjoint Ritual, made an album called A Lethal Dose of American Hatred; that album features a song called “Stealing a Page or Two from Armed and Radical Pagans,” and that song contains some charming lyrics about having “no more of the coward Muḥammad” and “taking no pity on the Jewish elitists.”

So has Anselmo just been “joking” for 20+ years? Has he pulled off some sort of decades-long, Andy Kaufman-esque troll/performance art piece? Seems unlikely, doesn’t it?

So why does the metal community continue to let behavior like this slide?

The simple answer is: we’re cowards.

We’re fans of Pantera and Down and, yes, Superjoint Ritual, and we don’t want to have to face the conundrum of whether or not it’s okay to admire someone for his talent while loathing his personal politics. We don’t seem to mind facing that issue when we’re dealing with Varg Vikernes or Dave Mustaine, but somehow, Anselmo has achieved untouchable status. I’m not entirely sure why, but I suspect it has something to do with the fact that Pantera rose to prominence at a time when metal was being pushed back underground as a result of grunge becoming popular: Metallica had released Load and become “Alternica,” Anthrax had transitioned from a thrash band to a rock band, Megadeth awkwardly chased commercial glory, and mainstream outlets like MTV and Rolling Stone gave zero shits about bands that were continuing to do interesting, undeniably metal work (e.g., Morbid Angel, At the Gates, etc.). Pantera achieved a level of success whereby they were, for all intents and purposes, the public face of metal — “real” metal — for the better part of a decade. And Dimebag’s tragic death only further solidified their legend — everyone now looks at the past through rose-colored glasses and no one remembers how disappointed everyone was in the band’s final album, Reinventing the Steel. I think this instilled in many of us a kind of blind devotion, which, in turn, has allowed Anselmo’s behavior to avoid scrutiny from media outlets (MetalSucks included) and become metal’s worst kept secret.

Things get even stickier if you work in the industry; everyone is either a friend of Anselmo’s or a friend of a friend’s of Anselmo (again, guilty), people wanna tour with him or somehow otherwise benefit from his notoriety, and no one wants to piss off his fans, many of whom are loyal to a fault (see above) and won’t stand for any criticism of any kind being leveled at their favorite frontman (reprisals for calling out Mustaine are relatively few — we’re gonna get far more hate mail for daring to question Anselmo’s world views, I assure you).

So we look the other way. We remind ourselves of all the times when we’ve made bigoted or racist jokes behind closed doors, and we convince ourselves that it’s no big deal, not worth calling attention to. Anselmo says he’s only joking and we choose to believe him because we want to believe him, because we want to be able to rock out to “5 Minutes Alone” without considering the meaning of the lyric “you used complexion of my skin for a counter-racist tool.”

But it’s nonsense. There’s absolutely no evidence to suggest that Anselmo is just kidding around; if anything, the fact that this issue has repeatedly reared its ugly head throughout the course of his career suggests that not only does he believe what he says, but he believes it so strongly that he can’t help but let it out, even when he knows it makes him look bad. That‘s why he can condemn the Confederate flag and then six months later give the Nazi salute; he knows he’s supposed to condemn the Confederate flag, but his feelings about various minorities burn like a scalding hot piece of coal in his hand, and he simply must drop it. It’s Mel Gibson Syndrome: the guy works in an industry surrounded by Jews and African Americans, but get enough drinks him, and he almost involuntarily starts to drop racist and anti-semitic epithets.

So the bad news is: yes, Phil Anselmo probably is a racist.

The good news is: that really doesn’t mean you have to burn all your Anselmo albums. You do have the ability to not think about these issues while enjoying his music. That’s your choice.

But we should all stop defending Anselmo. Because there’s really nothing defensible about his actions.

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