Unless you spent the better part of last two weeks burrowed in a dirt mound, or buried in snow, you've likely heard the latest saga involving Phil Anselmo. At the Dimebash 2016 festivities, celebrating the life of slain Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell, Anselmo took to the stage and, in a moment, set the fingers of thousands of metal fans aflame. He struck a familiar Nazi pose, screaming out "white power."
Outrage ensued; fans and bands alike came out in stark opposition to what Anselmo had done and said, and rightfully so. He said we misunderstood; they had been drinking white wine, and his salute was to the power of the beverage, not a racist exclamation. He then apologized, walking the fine line between "I'm sorry you were offended," and actually saying he was sorry. A petition has been launched to have Anselmo's Down removed from the Roadburn Festival as a result, so far garnering over 1,100 signatures. Organizers of the Dutch FortaRock Festival have removed them already. A hometown gig was cancelled, in the best interest of all parties involved. Organizers of the French festival Hellfest refused to remove the band from their bill, and subsequently lost €20,000 in government funds.
But for every fan who has put their digital signature on a petition, for every other band who spoke out against Anselmo and his actions, there seem to be an equal number, if not greater, who are content to shrug their shoulders, accept a weakly delivered apology, and proclaim that Anselmo isn't a racist. They love Down. They love Pantera. They love Phil Anselmo. The reaction has been murky, and like similar socio-political issues, it misses the larger point.
This isn't a Phil Anselmo issue, it's far more widespread. Racism, along with other forms of exclusion and discrimination, have no place in 2016, let alone in the fabric of popular culture.
This is also where things get increasingly more complicated. We've covered the tricky relationship we, as music fans, have with our favorite bands, thanks to 24/7 access via social media. We know more than we ever have about bands and their members, including political affiliations, food thoughts, and so much more. Consider, for a moment, that without the invention of the internet, scandals such as this would have been limited to those who witnessed it first hand, and bothered to report it via word of mouth.
It isn't until something like this happens that we are left to reexamine our love of a band and their music, and make the tough decision: are our ideals and moral sensibilities worth more than fandom? More importantly, can we separate the two?
For many, including members of The Ocean, Machinehead and others, the answer is a flat "no." The racist, bigoted words that escaped from Anselmo's mouth weren't a joke, or a misguided slip of the tongue brought forth by an emotional evening of memories and alcohol. They were a glimpse inside the man, brought to light. No apology will ever change that.
Maybe this was a blessing in disguise; racists, bigots, sexists, and hate mongers always reveal themselves, sooner or later. It's brought a small amount of exposure to a serious problem that isn't going away. But this simply can't be an ebb and flow issue. This isn't just about Phil Anselmo, a Nazi salute or a two word chant. If you truly believe that racism, sexism and exclusion have no place in the metal community, it must be a consistent effort to remove it. There are no excuses to be made for those who spew hate speech. Don't buy their albums, don't pay to see their shows. And, most of all, let them know that the preaching of hateful ideals won't be tolerated. Not in 2016, and not in our music.
The choice is yours to make.