Thirty-year-old Christina Long has survived countless mosh pits. But it was “the wall of death” at a Blessthefall show in 2013 that really stoked her creativity. As the crowd split in two and each side prepared to aggressively lunge at the other, the band counted down. “My sister and I just looked at each other, and I said, ‘We’re gonna die!’” she laughed as she recalled the story to me. “We have to document this!”
Long founded BLKGRLSWURLD, a bi-annual zine “for heavy girls who love heavy music,” shortly after. Along with her siblings and co-founders, Courtney and William, she has given a voice to a marginalized group within an already underground community. Whereas the 2003 film Afro-Punk was a somber study of blackness in the punk scene, BLKGRLSWURLD is a celebration of black womanhood in the same space.
In the four years since its launch, BLKGRLSWURLD has sold an average of 500 copies per issue. It has been archived in libraries at MoMA PS1 and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Long, who has a master’s in printmaking from the Art Institute of Chicago, travels to events like Punx of Color to sell issues and build community. “After a certain amount of time, you start to see there is someone out there like you,” she said. “It might take you awhile to find that person, but they’re there. That’s what’s nice about both zine-making and metal music.”
To be a black woman in metal parallels being a black woman in America: You’re forced to navigate a mostly white male space where people constantly question your right to be there. But Long has no problem standing her ground. “I usually funnel it into the music,” she said. “If we’re already moshing and I see you might want to come for me in the pit because I stick out a bit, then that’s really the place when I say, ‘OK, let’s let out that aggression here.’”
I recently talked with Long about mansplaining at punk shows, the growing NYC metal scene for people of color, and how BLKGRLSWURLD became “a beacon for the freaks and geeks.” Here's what she had to say.
VICE: What’s the origin story of BLKGRLSWURLD?
Christina Long: It’s a creation I began on Tumblr with my younger sister, Courtney. My siblings and I have been going to metal shows since we were kids out in the Midwest, in the Michigan, Ohio, Indiana area. And metal’s a pretty big deal out there in the rural areas.
And then you found yourself in “the wall of death.”
My sister is not really a fan of mosh pits because she’s so petite she could get swallowed up quickly. I’m kind of big and tall and like a tomboy, so I’m in the middle of this shit. We jumped into the mosh and after that I was like, I’m going to actually take pictures and do something with these photographs and videos and create something where we can celebrate the fact that we were here and it was fun. And the second layer is the fact that we were black girls and that we’re here, right? Because in the metal community, especially out in the Midwest, the racism is a little different. People are not afraid to be vocal when they see something they don’t like. So we would walk into a show out there and a big bearded dude might say, “There’s a black person in here! I can’t believe it! What are you doing here?”
Do you feel like you have to defend your presence in those spaces?
Some women talk about how they get mansplained or people get competitive. They ask how much you know about the history of metal or how long have you really been a part of this scene. Or maybe they assume you're just there to pick up men and you don’t care about the music at all.
But my sister and I don’t like being disturbed at shows. We don’t like talking to no fucking dudes saying, “Hey, little lady, what brings you here tonight?” It’s like, "Get the fuck out of my face. I really came here for the music and I do not want to be interrupted as I try and listen."
People are very serious about the passion they have for this music. I don’t play around with any of that. I just want to celebrate the fact that we’re here and we’re having a good time.
Do you feel like you have to carry the mantel for all black women who are into metal?
Well, I don’t feel like I do. I know I’m not the only person involved in this and I know there are other women who care about this community. So I feel like it’s a shared journey to see what happens next and where it goes. It’s not a burden at all. It really is coming from a place of positivity and like let’s geek out and celebrate the things that we like to do—and it just so happens that the thing we like to do is get buckwild crazy in mosh pits when crazy burly dudes are onstage screaming their hearts out.
What’s a memorable issue of BLKGRLSWURLD?
In 2017, my sister and I went on a Euro trip together. There’s two things we do when we travel together. Number one: We look for other black people. And the second thing we look for is the metal community. They’re also an underground, marginalized community, but they’re in every country somewhere. So for one of our zine editions, we were able to really document our journey of going to Southern France and discovering where the African populations were, and where there was underground music happening. Even in New York, it can be happening in a deli on a Sunday night. It could be happening in a basement somewhere. There’s metal going on, you just gotta look for these things.
What do you wear to mosh?
The metal scene is very much come as you. Me specifically, that’s when my masculine side comes out, so I’m going to be really dressed down and blending in with the men. Or being mistaken for a man half the time, which I am not offended by. I really am there to share in the aggression, so I’m often not noticed other than the fact that I’m black. And then if a black person sees another black person, that’s a thing, too.
What is that like? Do you guys connect eyes or do a nod?
There’s a certain kind of experience of always being the token and I think certain young people are still shocked when they don’t have to be the token anymore. And I hope that the publication can help that, too. If you do see me at a show, you don’t have to run away in fear. We can talk to each other and say hello.
Do you think it’s also like, avoiding the “all the black kids sitting at the lunch table” type of thing?
For sure. That’s definitely a big thing where I come from in the Midwest. We were always terrified. Everybody—parents, teachers—kept telling us if we congregated together it would look like trouble, so to stay separate and not associate with each other because your teachers were going to think you were all scheming and up to some shit. And so we tend to run and scatter from one another. But I think once you reach a certain age, that shit tapers off. I’m in my 30s now, and I don’t have time to worry about who the fuck is looking at me. So I’m more likely to approach someone and be like hey.
How do you feel about the evolution of Afropunk away from its hardcore roots?
There is a post-Afropunk movement happening in Brooklyn where a number of organizations and musicians are trying to get back on track to show there are actually people of color who make heavy music, like actual fucking punk and metal music. I think that the well known Afropunk festival is a beautiful occasion—there’s a lot of pretty people walking around, and got a lot of cute music going on there with the R&B. But at the end of the day, there’s actually still real musicians that are interested in the true alternative music. There’s a lot of activity in Atlanta with this organization called Punk Black. There’s another event called Punx of Color, a music festival in Brooklyn, usually at Silent Barn.
Is it important for you to see other people of color make metal or punk music?
Yes, it’s important to me. It’s something I talk about with my sister a lot. A lot of that stuff is just traditional white privilege nonsense. There’s tons of blogs out there, where your traditional white boy metal head is saying, “I came here to listen to abstract music that doesn’t talk about anything in particular and I just wanted to isolate myself from any of the socio political or economic things around me. I just want to be in my hole and enjoy this music.” But I feel like that’s just a traditional position of privilege. We don’t get to do that. I don’t get to do that. Wherever I go, whatever I’m doing, I’m still black and somebody still got something to say about it, so I do celebrate musicians of color when I see them coming out and trying to put something together. I know how hard it is. All we do is get push back. Are you sure you want to do that? Are you sure you want to be out there like that? Are you sure you’re good enough? Are you sure you want to start something? With all that doubt coming at you, I do like to support them. At the same time, though, if I don’t like your music, I’m not buying the album. So I encourage people to get out there and try, because I know the struggle. But I also still authentically have to enjoy what you’re doing to recommend it to other people.
What are some of your favorite bands?
Norma Jean. The Dillinger Escape Plan, who just retired in December and completed their last show at Terminal 5. Every Time I Die. Although I will say Spotify called me out with their annual report that calculates what you listened to the most. They called my shit out and said my number one was Kendrick Lamar [laughs]. But that Damn. album was on point.
Photography and Styling by Maroon World
Makeup: Wanthy Rayos
Hair: Illy Lussiano
Nail Artist: Eda Levenson of Lady Fancy Nails
This story is a part of VICE's ongoing effort to highlight the contributions of black women around the globe who are making a difference. To read more stories about strong black women making history today, go here.
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