Even though we only dress in black, the goth movement is full of colour
Today is World Goth Day, where gothic people receive more attention and celebration from the mainstream than they would usually. It should be a day where people like me feel seen. Only, I don’t.
I’ve noticed that goths of colour, year after year, are rarely part of the discussion. It’s been the story of my life, so it’s not particularly surprising.
It was something I learned quickly. The dark clothes, facial piercings, vibrant hair colours, band t-shirts, the rock festivals, the mosh pits, the music, the art, the entire form of self-expression… just wasn’t for black people.
We’re meant to listen to R&B, hip-hop and rap, and want to emulate that culture. The messages we receive from Western culture is loud and clear. It becomes a cycle.
On one hand, minorities don’t want to participate in alternative cultures because they’re taught that it isn’t for them. They’re told this by their family, their peers, the media, by the critical remarks and social isolation. It’s both a lesson and a warning.
But when we push forward anyway, we often find ourselves in an overwhelmingly white community who don’t know how to react to black people in ‘their’ space. It means we then need to go above and beyond to show our legitimate interest, just so we can learn to tolerate racial ignorance and remarks from within the ‘in’ group, but also so we can feel some semblance of inclusion.
Pale faces are more than just the aesthetic in the goth community, they’re the password to enter.
As a pre-pubescent, self-proclaimed rocker, I didn’t realise that interests had socially imposed racial boundaries.
I grew up in Reading, where I saw thousands of alternative people descend upon the town every year for Reading Festival. I would marvel at their platform boots and dark clothes. Rather than being perturbed by the controversial imagery of acts like Marilyn Manson, I was fascinates by its edge. I barely had my adult teeth when I decided that I wanted to look like that.
But as soon as my affinities became obvious, it seemed like everyone was sure to let me know. To the black kids, I was a ‘coconut’ – black on the outside, white on the inside. It was confusing and frustrating, but I was strong willed.
I was still absorbing the ‘be yourself’ message aimed at my age group. If changing meant more friends, but people not accepting me for who I truly was, I’d rather be alone.
My tastes had me labelled as a weird ‘mosher’ by the time I was 11. I got used to having people not want to sit next to me. Asking me things like, ‘Are you a Satanist?’ or shouting the classic line across the street, ‘Is it Halloween already?’
I grew accustomed to the idea that I probably wouldn’t be accepted unless I changed my interests and my appearance, and might not ever fit in anywhere.
Yet the more alternative white girls weren’t afforded the same treatment by our peers. Their expression didn’t need to be policed.
Even when I tried to immerse myself in goth culture in the local alternative crowd – which was almost entirely white – I found that I wasn’t welcomed as kindly as my white girl friends were.
One non-school uniform day, I proudly wore my skulls, ripped sleeves, wristbands and chains. I felt amazing. I thought I looked cool, but was instantly told I did not when I entered the school grounds.
But as Avril Lavigne’s song Girlfriend became a hit, and my white classmates emulated her fashion, it was great, apparently.
I became the outsider seemingly based on the colour of my skin.
It was something my mother had warned me about. ‘Some of those kinds of people don’t like black people,’ she had told me as I insisted on putting punk band posters on my bedroom walls, most likely remembering the segregated subcultures of her youth.
But I could never get my head around why alternative groups are perceived as being a white thing. Why our racial identity is called into question when we listen to rock or heavy metal music – genres that wouldn’t exist without the contributions of black musicians in the blues genre.
The ‘first’ heavy metal album – Black Sabbath’s self-titled release in the 1970, was practically a heavy blues album.
Many elements of alternative fashion are deeply inspired by international cultures, from Japan to Africa, to India. There have been black alternative communities across the world for decades or longer.
But if you turn on the rock music channels, go onto the alternative clothing websites, look in the alt-fashion magazines, on the blogs, the ads, or even fictional portrayals of alternative people on TV and in films – the chances are that you will only see white faces.
If there was more representation for alternative people of colour, it would change people’s ideas of what ‘alternative’ looks like.
Maybe then, alternative black kids wouldn’t feel so alienated. Maybe then, the phrase ‘That’s not for you’ wouldn’t be heard so often from those we call friends, family, or even just gatekeeping strangers – at festivals, gigs, family gatherings or online spaces where we thought it would be alright to express ourselves.
Maybe then, black kids would feel more comfortable expressing themselves in unconventional ways with the knowledge that they would be accepted by all sides.
I’ve spent over half of my life being invisible and being told that I can’t be myself.
So, this World Goth Day, let’s celebrate all goths, no matter their colour.
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