It's time to admit that Goth culture has a race problem
However, there is a problem. Black people in particular, have a consistent experience of feeling othered in our communities. It’s quite possible that other People of Color feel othered in our communities as well, but I haven’t been told so by them, so this article is going to focus on Gothic black people (henceforth Afro-Goths).
Before you dismiss this as a not a problem… I personally know of dozens of Afro-Goths who have reported experiencing problems when entering Goth spaces. Here are some examples:
From a Color Me Goth comment:
From hurtful youtube comments, to strange glances on the dance floor, we get a sense of unease that can really put a damper on it for us.From an Afro-Punk blog:
This whole experience was my first encounter with goth as a subculture. I didn’t expect the racism or the hostility and having gone through it, it threw me for a loop. It constituted an ugly truth about the subculture that I couldn’t ignore.Lucy Furr said this:
Because without fail the very same person will say something completely ignorant within a very short time period, like “Do you use a pick for your hair?” “But I thought black people didn’t like goth stuff” Or the all-time stupid comment “But you really aren’t that black.”I could go on. There are Afro-Goth’s who don’t go to clubs because they don’t want to deal with the marginalization. Some start dropping the Gothic label. Others go to great lengths to prove their Goth credentials. It’s time for this to stop. Not only are they experiencing yet another way that being black makes them second class citizens, we as a culture are missing out on all the things that these amazing people can bring to our culture.
So, given the fact that there is a consistent experience of marginalization from Afro-Goths; what is it that we’re doing that is making people feel marginalized.
What We’re Doing Wrong
Eurocentric Beauty StandardsHow many Goths of Color have ever been featured on the cover of Gothic Beauty Magazine? If you answered “Zero!”, you are correct.
Do you know why? Look at the comment from Nadya on this amazing article.
This comes across in the media we produce. But it also comes across in clothing. The clothing produced in the fashion industry at large, but also in the Gothic/Alternative industry tends to implicitly assume the body type is European (and sometimes Asian). The models they feature are almost always extremely Eurocentric in appearance.
This becomes a problem when it’s carried into the clubs. Because some of us think being judgmental is fun, some of us place impossible standards on other people, because they may just not be able to fit into those Lip-Service pants that are so ‘trendy’ right now.
This problem is magnified by…
Credential CheckingYou know when you look at someones shoes and sneer? Yeah, you’re credential checking. It’s checking someone out verbally or visually to see if they’re ‘real’, or ‘authentic’… not a poser.
Credential Checking is kind of bullshit anyway. None of us were born knowing the lyrics to Bella Legosi’s Dead. Some of us learned it from having Gothic parents. Some of us in high school, when we’d dig around dark corners of Tower Records. Some of us picked up on this stuff after going to clubs.
If a person is in a Goth club they are almost certainly there to a) enjoy goth culture, or b) fetishize goths. The second are generally pretty easy to pick out of the crowd. So the only reason to Credential Check is to be a douche-bag. It’s usually justified under the banner of Authenticity, but that banner is one of the things that killed the punk scene.
Here’s the kick. Black people get scrutinized more. In the above picture, Yonnas is wearing an outfit I’ve seen many times over white skin. Yet, for many, over black skin this is insufficient to be recognized as ‘teh real gothz’. Yonnas also like to wear skinny jeans with boots, Siouxsie and the Banshee’s T-shirts, and black hoodies. That’s a wardrobe that for a white person would pretty much instantly tag them as goth.
In case you’re wondering, this is the same shit pulled on women when they enter Geek spaces. A geek in a geek space is automatically assumed to be a geek. But if you have a vagina you get asked to list all the games you’ve played, all the comics you’ve read, etc… And inevitably you haven’t read something, and the geek boy pulls a No True Scotsman on you and says “Any real geek would have read…”.
To illustrate. I had a mixed (black/white) friend who was at a certain local spooky club. He was plenty Goth, but bringing a little of himself to the fashion wore black Adidas pants. Someone came up to him that night and said “Are you sure you belong here?”
Yeah, really… First I guarantee it wouldn’t have happened if he was white, and second apparently being decked out in Gap clothing is okay, but not Adidas. But that brings me to…
Cultural ExclusionGoth culture has always appropriated and absorbed other culture. There is no ‘goth’ music, there’s goth versions of a bunch of music. This is one of the things that has kept the scene vibrant. Not only did we let metal into our scene, we incorporated it. Gothic Metalheads look simultaneously Goth and Metal. Same thing goes for Gothic Punks, and Cyber-Goths. We play most of this in our clubs back to back with no problem.
But the attitude about Black Goths often seems “Yeah, please be a part of our community. But please don’t bring any of that ‘black stuff’ with you.”. It’s rather tragic really. If Evanescence is Goth, and VNV Nation is Goth, and the Damned is Goth, then so are the BLKHRTS.
Does that mean you have to like it? Of course not. But you also don’t own Goth; and no matter how anti-prejudice you may think you are, when you are white in a predominantly white culture, claiming that culture as your own is bound to carry with it…
Latent or “accidental” RacismI know the vast majority of you are anti-racist. In fact, I’d say the Goth community is less racist than the mainstream by far. That being said you can simultaneously be anti-racist and racist at the same time. In fact it’s almost certain you are (regardless of your race), since it’s almost impossible not to absorb that toxicity from the dominant culture.
The most likely way you have of being racist is through micro-aggression. If you’re not familiar with what that is, it’s doing something that seems innocuous, but reflects a lack of compassion for how your words and actions marginalize others.
An example we already covered is the fact that Gothic Beauty has never had a Person of Color on their cover. I’m sure they don’t mean to be racist. I’m sure they’re simply picking the person that seems to be ‘represent’ their vision for that particular issue. But in aggregate it sends a message that “you don’t belong here”.
Other micro-aggression you might want to check yourself for include:
- Assumptions about race and culture. ”Hey, you’re black. What’s some good hip-hop”
- Racial Essentialism “You’re the awesomest black guy I know” – If you do this go read some Sarte until you know better.
- Claiming you’re not racist, or color blind. ”I don’t see race!” - Not only are you reminding them that they are different, you’re also telling them that you have no campassion for how their differences affect them.
- Pathologizing Cultural. ”Why do you have to talk black?” or even “That’s some Gothic Bling you’re wearing.”
- Asking about race specific stuff suddenly and without warning. ”How do you even dye hair like that?” – If want to start talking about race with someone that may already feel awkward, you need to first invite that conversation “Hey, I was wondering if we could talk about being Black in this scene?”
Ignoring RacismAt a certain local spooky club, we are very upfront about informing guests that sexism and sexual harassment won’t be tolerated even the tiniest little bit. This has an effect of making women (and a lot of men) feel especially safe in that space. Furthermore the community does a pretty good job of policing each other when it comes to those issues.
We don’t do quite so good a job when it comes to racism. We can’t just sit there uncomfortably when someone says something ‘awkward’. And we definitely shouldn’t blow off a complaint as “making too big a deal” of something. If we’re to move past this, we need to agree as a community to make racism the same kind of priority we have made sexism.
So if you see someone doing something stupid, yes you dear reader, need to pull them aside and explain to them how what they are doing is marginalizing other people. Making the space less safe for Persons of Color makes the safe less safe for everyone.
What’s the PointThis is important to our whole community. We’re going to adapt, or we’re going to die. Change is in the wind already, and if we continue to marginalize people of color, we’re going to find ourselves quite lonely. Hip-Hop culture is already adopting our culture, Drake is adapting Gothic influences into his music and fashion, Santigold has heavy Dark-Wave influences on her music; if this cultural exchange is a one way street then we’re done for. So here’s exactly what you can do:
- Recognize that Black Goths face marginalization within our community.
- They also face extra marginalization from the outside world that is more than being Goth + being Black.
- Other Persons of Color in the scene might also experience similar marginalization.
- Accept that there are non-eurocentric interpretations of Goth.
- Stop Credential Checking, and if you insist, don’t expect Black Goths to achieve a higher standard to be counted ‘among the dark ones’.
- Accept that the scene is going to incorporate carryover from the experiences of Afro-Goths.
- Stop pretending this isn’t a problem. Stop micro-aggressions.
- If someone complains about racism in the community, take it seriously.
- Call each-other out when someone is being racist.
- Finally, if you’re a community organizer, or own a business, it might be useful to ask an Goth of African descent for some feedback.
Why is this our problem instead of their problem. ”If black people don’t want…”Just stop right there. First of all, the question itself is othering. Afro-Goths are Goths. So there isn’t a ‘them’. And yes, lots of Black people want to be in the scene, but don’t feel like there’s an open door. Finally, it’s our problem because it’s our community, and our race problem makes the entire community worse off.
But there’s no history or precident…That’s not true. Having Punk roots, there’s a ton of cultural exchange that was happening between punks and hip-hoppers in the 70′s. Black Punks and White B-Boys were fairly commonplace until commercialization of those two scenes intentionally divided it along racial line.
If you need more proof, there is a certain song you’re likely to hear play at some ‘old-school’ Goth nights.
Goth’s themselves are OppressedIt’s true. As a Goth you have to struggle with things your non-goth brethren do not. However…
There is a difference between being marginalized (which Goths are), and being subject to institutional oppression (which Goths are not). So bringing this up is already categorical equivocation.
Furthermore, being part of a marginalized group does not excuse marginalization within your group, nor does it mean you’re automatically exempt from it.
Finally, the intersectionality between being Goth and being Black make being both worse than the combination of the two.
There are several high profile Black Goths in the scene
Yes. It’s true. However having people in the group who are black doesn’t mean that black people don’t experience marginalization within the community. One thing you’d be wise to figure out is that not every Black person has the same experience in society as every other Black person. Furthermore, the Afro-Goths in your community may or may not have experienced marginalization… You just don’t know about it.
But I’ve never seen anyone being racistJust because you haven’t ever seen it happen, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Assuming that only the things you see are real is kind of childish, don’t you think? Furthermore, you’re using this to literally deny the experience of multiple Black people who have found barriers when trying to find refuge in our scene.
The real problem is Goths are shy and Cliqueish by natureNo, that can’t possibly explain the problem. How do I know? Because the LGBTQ and Fetish communities seamlessly integrated into our scene. Because plenty of people come to our clubs and find themselves plenty of dark-kin’s to talk to. This is deflecting…
Okay, this happens in some scenes, but my scene…Obviously I can’t know what happens in your scene. I am speaking to Gothic culture as a whole which has tended to have this problem. But before you shrug this off and assume it’s not a problem in your scene, you might want to see if a Person of Color at a local club can give you some perspective on that.
Can’t we all just get along…Sometimes when issues of race and racism are brought to the table, some people start accusing the discussion itself of being racist. As though no one would experience prejudice if people just didn’t keep bringing it up. It’s bullshit.
Look being called out on racism is not a personal attack. There is nothing to get defensive about. The issues facing Goths of Color are issues that we as a community totally have the power to address. This doesn’t mean that the culture is broken, that there’s less to love, or that it’s fundamentally wrong. What it means is that we have something really wonderful to look forward to.
This Article is RacistIt is entirely possible that something I said in here offends someone, so if I did, I apologize in advance. No one is perfect, and like I said it’s hard not to absorb the racist toxicity in our society. If you think something in this post was marginalizing, please mention it in the comments and I will acknowledge it here.
Edits and Clarifications:
The use of Afro-Goth is specifically because of the Goth’s in the Afro-Punk community who took that moniker. We have no specific attachment to it one way or the other.
The phrase “A geek in a geek space is automatically assumed to be a geek.” was intended to read “A male geek in a geek space is automatically assumed to be a geek.”
The phrase “But if you have a vagina” is not trans-inclusive. It was intended as literary license, but dismisses women who would face similar discrimination but have a penis.
The Second picture in this post uses a dream catcher. I do not know whether the photographer or model had any cultural heritage regarding that. Had I noticed it was a dream catcher, I would have chosen a different picture.
Also of note: we didn’t get anyones permission to use any photographs. So… we don’t claim that anyone featured endorses us, or our message, etc…