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Black & Goth: black people and the goth subculture

This essay was originally published in Portuguese in 2013. There might be some outdated information.

Some time ago, I saw someone asking on Facebook why is it so rare to find black models with a more goth style and why paleness is so appreciated and considered an important feature for the subculture. At that moment, after thinking about it very quickly, I answered that maybe this has something to do with the origins of the subculture, being it European and therefore mostly adopted by white people. However, I made sure to point some black models with a darker style — because, of course, they exist!

But since I have this blog, why can’t I write something about it more properly? Also because this blog is targeted to Brazilian people, which means readers that live in a country where interracial marriages are so strong and where most people have darker skin or tanned. So, let’s do it.

In 2012, Coilhouse published a short text about this subject, mentioning that during the past 20 years, even models with brown eyes were rare in the cover of goth magazines, so for black people it was even worse. But, on the other hand, there are blogs and pages dedicated to black people who identify with a darker aesthetic — in this case, the article mentions the Tumblr pages Darque & Lovely, Black Sheep Goths and DarkSKIN, which, by the way, uses the quote “I was so goth, I was born black” as its URL. On Facebook, there’s also the page Black/African American Goths, where sometimes you can find people discussing about the theme.

Many of the images come with empowering and, at times, defensive captions. It seems that even in 2012, some try to claim that the goth scene belongs to white people only. One caption on the Darque & Lovely blog, below an image of tattoo artist Roni Zulu, reads: “this is for the chicken-shit anon who said black people shouldn’t ‘do’ goth or punk. At certain points in history to be black in America was (still can be) a pretty gothic experience, to say the least.” (Coilhouse)

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But… is it possible to say that the goth scene is really aggressive towards black people who want to be part of it? In this article on Coilhouse, they interview Shamika “Meeks” Baker, a model, artist and writer that lives in San Francisco who says that the only time she suffered with racial prejudice inside a subcultural ambient was in a local nightclub:

Mas… dá para dizer que a cena gótica é realmente agressiva contra os negros que fazem parte dela? Nessa matéria da Coilhouse, eles entrevistaram Shamika “Meeks” Baker, modelo, artista e escritora que mora em São Francisco, que disse que a única vez em que ela sofreu preconceito racial dentro de um ambiente subcultural foi num clube noturno da cidade:

“A guy walked up to me, shouted ‘scuse me!’ and shoved me aside. Of course, when I grabbed the back of his Fun Fur coat and yanked him back to demand an apology, he started screaming ‘get your black hands off of me!’ Happily, after I finished scaring him and turned around, I discovered several of my friends behind me and ready to back me up. [Other than that incident], I’ve found that the goth scene has been really welcoming and open.”. (Coilhouse)

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For Numidas Prasarn, an artist living in New York, paleness is a fetish in beauty and, in general, it’s more about a class issue rather than racial. “The ‘ideal gothic beauty’ of being pale comes from this sense of otherness. When mainstream de mode is tanned beach babe, the pale contrast is taken up as the signifier of an Other that defensively puffs itself up. The problem is that it’s a microcosm that doesn’t necessary carry the sense of self-awareness to realize that it’s also othering people.”

In other words, although paleness in the goth subculture works as a kind of counterculture strategy in response to the popularity of blonde, tanned girls that look like Barbie dolls, this aesthetics ends up on provoking a hard time for people who appreciate the subculture, but may find some kind of rejection from it. The sculpture, jewelry designer and musician Asha Beta says that the “traditional” gothic ideal, in which one is pale and dresses all in black, was never applied to her, also because her connection to the subculture was the appreciation of the music and the scene’s atmosphere. “ I always felt that I was not perceived to be as attractive, as beautiful or even as “goth” as girls who were paler than me. I never attracted many suitors and I reconciled myself to never being able to approach the “gothic ideal of beauty” very early on, although I felt within myself that my personal way of being “goth” was very sincere and creative and very much true to what “goth” was all about,” she says. “ The one part of the scene that obviously made me uncomfortable was the military/Nazi/Aryan faction of it, although I understand that for many of those people it was a fetish or history obsession type of thing, and not necessarily based in racism.”

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In spite of being a minority inside the another minority, which makes it even harder, Beta says that even so she feels really connected to the gothic subculture and it was only after that finding that she understood how rejection also works in society as a whole. “ I was a loner within the scene just as I was in society. I found a personal solace and creative outlet, but I never found the community I was searching for. I am overjoyed to finally see our subcultures mirroring the multicultural quality of our world, and so glad to see the younger generations of subcultures finding and creating communities to connect with and support one another,” she tells.

Also, Beta sees as one of the strongest and most positive connections with her ethnicity is that the goth aesthetics borrows a lot from the culture of Asia, Middle East, and Africa, as it happens to voodoo, while also being inspired by the Egyptians, Haitians and Caribbeans.

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What I can add up to this is that there’s a lady on Tumblr that I really admire, because I find her so pretty and cool! Khymeira’s pictures are always being shared by blogs leaded by industrial music and cyberpunk fans, mostly because she has a similar style and she was one of the models I presented to that friend who asked about black goth models on Facebook. I thought she was a model, but she’s actually a rad girl who takes great pictures of herself hahaha!

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Now, there’s this other model who has made a lot of shootings with alternative styles. Amanda Tea was already dressed in lolita, punk, Victorian, Steampunk, Cyberpunk, Indie, fetish… hahaha.. she’s very versatile! And that makes her even better as an example of a black model in the alternative circle:

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Here in Brazil, the brand Persephone Dark Clothes has made an editorial with the model Camila Moura to advertise their new line of clothes made of German velvet and corsets. I was really impressed by her beauty and how gorgeous she was in the pictures. I loved it. I edited a bit the colors of the original pictures to give a darker atmosphere. They took these pictures in the Contemporary Art Museum in Sorocaba.

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I hope you liked this post! Please do not hesitate do add more information about this subject in the comment section! And for those who want more, there’s also this post about fierce black women here.

PS: There’s something else I just remembered of. Someone once said to me that there was no black people making industrial music… and then I remembered about this collection of African noise, Extreme Music from Africa, released in 1997 and organized by Susan Lawly. Well, it’s really noisy, but there’s some really interesting tracks and, in the end, it enforces how, YES!, there are black people making industrial music. :)

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For those like me who are not used to listen to noise music, this first track has a sample of the song Sweet Lullaby by Deep Forest, which is a kind of ethno-techno band with a really 90s sound hehe… The idiom they are singing here is called Baegu and it is spoken in the Solomon Islands, a country in the Pacific Ocean.

And if it’s end this post with music, I would still add another example that might not be really goth, but it’s rock and it’s fierce: with love, Skunk Anansie!❤

Originally published on www.fiercekrieg.com

Written by

Brazilian journalist, MA in Semiotics and PhD candidate in Visual Arts. Head of innovation and futurism at UP Lab. Cyberpunk enthusiast and researcher.

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