There is nothing more gothic than being black
For most people my age – the Millennial elder / Gen X cuspian – “goth” conjures up images of people dressed in black, with high contrast hair, kohl-rimmed eyes, probably body modifications, wrapped in l distinctive smell of clove cigarettes and melancholy. You might even imagine a specific type of goth: rivethead, romantic, cyberpunk, Lolita, or, the goth that no Gen X-er would ever predict, the gothic pastel.
The only type of gothic you probably don’t visualize? A black gothic.
The Gothic subculture is widely associated with whiteness, but Black Gothics, also known as “Afrogoths,” push back this perception, first with their presence in the community, and second, by questioning the dominant Eurocentric history and aesthetics within it.
“Even outside the [goth] community, the black beauty has just been recognized ”, says Kid, a 23-year-old man from Washington, DC, who adopts elements of the Gothic style but identifies as “alternative.” “In white communities, they see alternative people as less than, so when you throw colored people into this madness, it’s like we’re basically non-existent. People don’t relate this stuff to Darkness or any other race other than white people. “
There is no unanimous agreement among cultural historians on the exact time and place of the birth of the Gothic movement; However, most attribute to ethereal synth bands 80s post-punk and dark wave bands like Bauhaus, Division of joy, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Dispatch Mode, and The treatment helping it to merge. Unlike its more outgoing punk and new wave predecessors, Gothic music and the lifestyle it spawned was more introspective and eclectic in orientation, drawing on a diverse set of historical influences, including art and Gothic architecture, and dress, poetry, and aesthetics, in addition to contemporary music. On an individual level, being Gothic also suggested a fascination with the dark, the macabre, and the afterlife.
Many Gothics see their community as a community that accepts those whom society considers “other”, which has made the space more welcoming to LGBTQ people, insiders say. But, like any predominantly white space in a white supremacist world, there are problems. First, the history of rock music often overlooks the contributions of blacks and browns. Within punk, like The Guardian recently wrote, this remains “still an unknown and untreated subject”. Black blues legend Screamin ‘Jay Hawkins’ 1956 song “I Put A Spell on You”, which was covered by everyone from The Animals to Tim Curry to Marilyn Manson, could be called the first Gothic hymn, but remains relatively obscure; none of the black goths I interviewed credited him as an influence.
However, they all told me that other black people in their life referred to them pejoratively as “white” for listening to rock music and adopting a gothic character.
“Unfortunately, when you are a person of color and you go out and listen to something that is considered a white thing, you immediately let go of your culture. You give up your run, ”says Nnaus AO Feratu, an“ elder gothic ”and vegan kitchen witch, who runs the website. Goth in the rough.
Desiree Gibbs, a 26-year-old graphic designer, jewelry designer and artist based in Dallas, Texas, told me that she didn’t realize that rock music had African American origins until she begins to connect with other black gothics for a scholarship funded scholarship. series of portraits she painted.
“As soon as I found this community… it really surprised me how far it came from [from] Black culture, ”says Gibbs, who cites New Orleans, voodoo, and blues music as key influences among the goths she painted. “It’s so crazy how this project basically exposed me to the truth behind Gothic culture, like the real truth.”
Gothic culture became mainstream in the 1990s due to a perfect storm of factors: adolescent disillusionment with America’s merchant culture; stars like Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails, in the twilight of alternative music; and stores like Hot Topic, which made it easy to reproduce the Gothic fashion aesthetic. Hollywood blockbusters like The crow and The job hit screens during this time as well, bringing spooky and star-propelled stories to screens nationwide. The dominant Gothic culture often portrayed witchcraft and the afterlife as antithetical to Christian values, mixing icons from Judeo-Christian mythology (e.g. the antichrist, devil worship) with those of European paganism, to the exclusion of traditions such as voodoo and sentaría which have African and Latin roots peculiarities. Yet Gothic culture has largely appropriated symbols like snakes, ankh, skulls and bones from African and indigenous cultures, such as writer Shanna Collins noted in 2017.
Goth-kid-turned-library-creative-director Leila Taylor explores similar themes in her treatise Darkly: Black History and American Gothic Soul and finds that the compelling intersections between Gothic concern for pain, horror, violence and trauma make Gothic culture particularly suited for exploration while taking into account the history of slavery, colonialism and relentless violence against America’s black bodies. Blacks are the epitome of Gothic, argues Taylor, in that we are white America’s greatest fear. Or like a T-shirt says it: “so goth, I was born black.”
In this context, artists like Mr. Lamar interpret Gothic as the ultimate critique of American history and dominant power structures, through haunting music and intense, provocative imagery. At the literal polar opposite end of the spectrum, big bat dana fuses body positivity with whimsy, a deceptive and subversive way of challenging the dominant paradigms of color, size and femininity in the Gothic space. When I interview Feratu, who has Nigerian, Cameroonian and Caribbean origins; identifies as vegan, queer and non-binary; and is a partner, parent of two “baby bats” and a practicing kitchen witch – their gothic serves as a lens through which their other identities are understood and amplified.
Despite all the intersections between blackness and gothic, there is still racism in space. While harassment has long been “horrific on social media,” according to Feratu, there has been a slight increase in goth-on-goth hatred in person and online during the Trump era. #GothRight and #GothsforTrump are a thing, and there is also what Feratu calls “the elitists”, white goths who believe that “you must be pale skinned” to be gothic, often using “correctness” as an excuse for racism in the great tradition of Game of thrones– misogynistic lovers and the citing science racists who couldn’t get over a little black mermaid.
Yet Afrogoths around the world continue to alter the relationship between darkness and individual creative expression in new and interesting ways. Nigeria, a relatively socially conservative black country compared to the United States, has its own boom alternative scene, just like Brazil. Afrofuturist fiction, like black and richly imagined Broken earth Trilogy by three-time Hugo Prize winner NK Jemisin and the Afropunk music festival have integrated darkness into subcultures long dominated by white people. Beyoncé Lemonade’s 2014 visual album is full of gothic images and Rihanna, who appropriated #ghettogothic, mastered “gothic chic casual. “
Increased representation is important, but the most counter-cultural aspect of being Afrogoth is still self-expression, but not in the same way as white Goths.
“When slavery arrived, everything that made us who we are was stripped,” says Feratu. “When you met slaves and they wanted to stick to the practice of traditional spirituality, we got beaten … we had to give it up.”
And that’s what makes the Afrogoths different from their white counterparts: Another layer of emotions is rooted in a more historical tradition of being tampered with.
“I bring pain, but pain can also be a beautiful thing,” continues Feratu, also an artist and musician. “And this pain is something that I turn into beauty and art. And as black people on the scene, we bring heart, we bring pain, we bring joy, we bring culture. We bring each other and you can see it.