By: Dejanae Jackson
My clothes have at least some form of black in them. My music tastes ranges from Smashing Pumpkins to The Cure to SPZRKT & Sango. My accessories scream Hot Topic and thrift store, and on a good day I’m serving black lace, combat boots, and a tattoo choker.
I’m a Goth, a Goth who’s black, plus sized, and doesn’t quite fit into the stereotype of what Goth is. I have been blessed with an understanding mother who has accepted my morbid interests (She took me to Hot Topic where I got my first Gothic Beauty magazine) and a father who has slowly come around after I explained to him why I enjoyed the subculture. Everyone has their own reasons as to why they gravitate towards the Goth subculture, for me the reason was simple; I felt I belonged.
Growing up, I was a socially awkward black girl with a dark sense of humor, who was ostracized by peers, and felt like no one in the world understood me. Because of this, Goth culture seemed like a reasonable choice for me. For one, they, in my eyes, accepted and welcomed those who didn’t fit into mainstream society, those who felt rejected and accepted nowhere, like me. Other goths, understood what it was like to be like me, and that’s where I felt the most comfortable and accepted.
When I first became entrenched in goth culture, I would spend hours on YouTube, learning and watching other Goths give tutorials and witty commentary about their lives, while figuring out my style and aesthetic. I’d also stay up all night on YouTube, listening to Evanescence (The Babybat rite of passage), discovering Korn, Marilyn Manson, Slipknot, and Jack Off Jill; artists whose angry vocals and loud guitar riffs calmed the fire in my belly.
At first it was awkward identifying as Goth when I didn’t necessarily look Goth; I was still new to the culture and had only gotten the musical aesthetics down. This didn’t necessarily gain me favor with my peers and as a result, I was picked on because I was the ‘weird girl’. This ended up making my middle school years hell.
I was ostracized by my peers and had very few friends. It was as if everyone was against me for reasons I never understood. They never exclusively made fun of me because I was goth, but my classmates had a lot to say about a subculture they knew nothing about. They thought I was a devil worshiper (even though I was Christian at the time), and gave me ‘Jesus Loves You’ coins and pamphlets for a cheap laugh and shouted that I was going to Hell.
Strangers, people who never even knew my first name, believed I did it for attention, which annoyed me because this is a subculture I truly enjoyed and related to and not one I was interested in for any other reasons.
The worst part was because I was a victim of bullying and I identified as Goth, counselors kept a close eye on me because my classmates thought that I was going to shoot up a school! Yes, people legit believed I was going to shoot up a school because of my interests in the Goth Subculture, the music that I listened to, and the fact that I was being bullied.
I couldn’t be myself during that time because something as simple as a dark joke earned a trip to the counselor’s office, where I was psychoanalyzed like I was a science experiment. Those experiences alone made me afraid to be myself and made me conform to mainstream society so I wouldn’t have to deal with the ignorance. It worked for the rest of my middle school years and through part of high school, until I stumbled across and listened to a mixtape I had made in middle school of all the songs I used to listen to when I was an angsty pre-teen.
Do you know that feeling you get when you listen to an old song that brings back memories? Do you ever see your old self staring back at you, and you want to tell them everything you’ve experienced in the future, good and bad, and reconnect with that old self again every time that one song, or that one collection of songs, plays back over and over again? That’s what it felt like when I pressed ‘Play’. It was like coming home to an old friend; I took a stroll down memory lane and realized that I never accepted myself for who I was.
I was trying to conform to mainstream society and left that old me behind, the old me that wanted to be accepted for her morbidly dark self. It felt like I was turning my back on the one person that needed to feel accepted, to be told that it’s okay to be different. That nostalgia turned to sadness; I never accepted and loved myself enough to proudly dress, believe, and be the person I wanted.
As the mixtape came to an end, I promised myself that I would embrace the old me and allow her to be herself through me. Every time I wore the combat boots, wore the jewelry, and listened to Siouxsie and the Banshees, I felt like I was honoring the old me.
I was telling her that it’s okay to be herself, that it was okay to love herself, despite what society had to say about it. Wearing black became my safety blanket; I felt comfort, security, a sense of calm. I reconnected with my Gothic roots, so to speak, and began dressing more gothy because that’s what made me feel comfortable. However, I live in a very small town, and it was rare that I encountered other goths. I did make friends with other goths, but they were also goths of color.
The subject of race was hardly an issue, except when it came to being stereotyped by non-goths (“Why you tryna be White?”), being fetishized, and of course, the cultural clashes with supposed ‘white culture’ (Goth) and our cultures (racial identities in America). I’ve met at least three white goths in my small town, and they’re pretty laid back. Overall, I’ve been blessed with nearly nonexistent racial conflicts (Except the ones I’d witness online, because it’s easier for someone to hide behind a computer screen and say very nasty things).
Although I was comfortable being a black goth, there were many people around me who did not take it too well. I learned that killing people with kindness when they made disparaging comments about my appearance and developing a thick skin was a must, but when it came to the comments from my family, especially from from my dad and my step-mom, I was thrown off.
My dad likes to consider himself open-minded, but when it came to something such as his youngest dressing in all black and listening to morbid music, he seemed to respond in a somewhat negative way. He would always ask me questions about my Gothic lifestyle, but after numerous talks which consisited of me explaining what it was and what Goth did for me, he finally got it and understood. He still thinks it’s a phase that’ll pass, but I can only assure him, it’s not going away. I can still listen to E-40 while wearing leather and lace.
For all my black goths out there who struggle with acceptance from family members, patience is key when it comes to educating and answering questions about your…’lifestyle’, as they call it. Answering them without an iota of sarcasm and malice, being concise with your answers and dispelling stereotypes helps the relationship run smoother.
It also helps if you research the history of Goth (the music, the fashion variants, the philosophies, the literature, etc.) because if you answer the questions with “I wear black because it matches my soul and angst!” you will garner raised eyebrows and people won’t take you seriously, something you don’t want. Trust me, I know from experience.
Being informed about the changing subculture of Goth not only helps you get more educated, but your friends and family will know that you are mature and serious about the subculture; it’s not some ‘phase’ that will vanish within weeks. For some, it is a phase, and that’s fine, but I’m not one of them.
I may not be all decked out in gothy attire 24/7, with my music being strictly The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Sisters of Mercy. I may have interests that aren’t considered ‘goth enough’. And that’s okay. You can still be goth and wear bright colors, listen to different artists, and partake in ‘non-gothy activities’. No one will, as Lady of the Manners would say, revoke your Goth card.
For me, being Goth is more than wearing all black and reciting Vampire poems. It’s where I feel I can be my truest self and as I got older, more aware, and invested in social justice, I can be myself with my head held high and my combat boots ready to stomp on conformity and take names. I’m more than a socially awkward black girl who listens to rock and rocks Doc Martens; I’m a person. An actual human being that is more than a stereotype. I’m me. A morbidly inclined black girl who enjoys art, writing, social justice and obscure music choices.
And that’s okay