“I am so goth, I was born black.”

At Coilhouse online, a feature exploring racism and goth culture in the age of Tumblr: "Is the goth scene unfriendly to people with dark skin? What do non-white goths think about the fetishization of paleness in the gothic subculture?" [warning: linked-to site contains boobage]


  1. Ha! Now that’s funny. Are Goths inherently racist because they wear white makeup in order to look deathly pale? If a Goth-of-color put on whiteface makeup, should someone be offended? And if so, who? Hilarious.

    1. Well look at you! Just couldn’t be bothered to read the linked post before commenting on your imagined version of it, could you? 

      1. A little touchy, aren’t we? I wasn’t commenting on the article at all, I just found the concept amusing.

    2. The article explicitly addresses the supposed “fetishism of paleness” as a pursuit of the other:

      “The ‘ideal gothic beauty’ of being pale comes from this sense of otherness. When mainstream de mode is a 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 [necessarily] carry the sense of self-awareness to realize that it’s also othering people.”

      So while the pursuit of paleness is a strategy for pursuing the other, it becomes offputting, or unintentionally racist and marginalizing, by fetishizing only the paleness strategy, instead of fetishizing the original pursuit of the other.

      That’s my ham-handed take on it, anyway.

      1. Having read those two quoted sentences, I have filled my impenetrable sociology jargon quota for the day.  Thanks.

        1.  ? What? I thought it was the exact opposite. It was saying “getting all pale should be seen as a cool pursuit of being different — except some idiots somehow put the pale cart before the different horse, and now pursue paleness instead of being different, and exclude the non-pales as a result.”


          I'm reminded of my first "real" concert in a venue, back in 1990. Skinny Puppy. I was so excited. And then I discovered than almost everybody in the club was wearing black. I felt like I was at a frat party, only instead of baseballs caps they had black clothes and eyeliner.

  2. I was a goth for a minute back in the nineties. Certainly goth friendly today. Nowadays, I’m that kind of “soft goth” that comes with age and respectability, a.k.a. I wear a lot of black and big boots.  Not too fond of the music, unless Cocteau Twins and Low count as much as Siouxsie.  There were actually several other black goths in my local scene other than me. Light skinned ones for the most part, like me. It comes with the Upper Midwest and the lack of light up here.

    Part of why I don’t identify with either the goth “scene” or “fandom” anymore is pretty much because scenes are arbitrary, the most unlikely people are into the most unlikely shit with the advent of the Internet. Think about the next time you’re at the county office, if you’re so inclined. (The DMV for the rest of you.) That black lady with the bored look behind the counter has as much of a chance of knowing who the hell Depeche Mode was as you, whitey, and maybe even liked ’em back in the day.

    The other day, I saw a guy at an intersection, a black autistic young man, loudly rocking the fuck out to Nirvana’s “In Bloom” on his headphones (oldskool!). It made me smile. It’s not so uncommon anymore to have “black freaks” for lack of a better description, especially now in the 21st century, but as the first black girl at my school with a mohawk in Suburban Virginia in 1986, it certainly makes me feel less lonely.

    1. Cocteau Twins and Low, never heard of them  but after youtube view, I like them. Great sound and your right about the reference. More suggestions of good bands like these two would be appreciated. Thanks. 

      1. Visit allmusic and dig a little deeper into 4AD artists.  Personally, I never could abide Cocteau Twins.  Always sounded like a cheap Dead Can Dance knock-off to me.

  3. Depends on the crowd and/or region.  Very few things are definable, countrywide, by racism. I do think that counter-cultures generally favor whites, cause you generally have to first be privileged before you can belong to counter-cultural group, and unfortunately we’ve created a system that traps a lot of minorities into lower class. 

    1. I was about to agree with that– I was going to post the same idea about privilege. Now I’m rethinking it. 

      I assumed goth was privileged because I recalled it starting as a white, middle class thing. Maybe even especially appealing to suburbanites. So I think of young people that can afford to reject norms because the system is very friendly to them anyway.

      Now (decades!) after the early goths, it seems like the appeal has broadened. I have seen more lower income people being goth.  And I think, where is the privilege there? I don’t mean to sound snobby. I was born into poverty.

      And, aren’t hip hop or gangsta counter cultures in the same way that goth is? Race and income-level/class don’t preclude one from being in a counter-culture. 

      I see counter-cultures as an almost expected norm nowadays. Every mall has a Hot Topic for ready-made goth. Every urban kid seems just expected to look gangsta. Counter-cultures are becoming sets of very expected and categorized fashion choices, with these sets also including some predictable drug and music fashions.  

      To me, a real counter culture would not be defined by fashion, music and drugs. 

      1. Weren’t the original Goths working class/lower middle class Brits? How much privilege did they have in housing estates?

      2. Well, you’ve got two points here:
        1.) Monoculture favors the most majority population
        2.) Subculture is a big market.

        Both are true, which leads to
        1.) disaffected, disenfranchised, or disenchanted members of the majority population seek out or form sub- or counter-cultures that better suit their personality
        2.) The market isn’t a moral force and will happily sell you your own chains.  You know, for your plaid zipper punk pants.  If there’s a market for something, then eventually someone shows up to supply that market, even if it’s tacky, or heralds your inevitable absorption back into the monoculture.

        Then, of course, there’s the most lucrative demographic in the overlap of monoculture exiles and subculture enthusiasts: middle-class teenagers – whose income, after all, is almost 100% disposable.

  4. That was a good article! I think the Goth subculture / counterculture is moving, slowly, towards greater acceptance. Sites like Goth Confessions make a point of clarifying that goth isn’t tied to any one ethnicity, race, sexuality, gender, (skin color, religion, ability, etc), etc. It’s an aesthetic grounded in a certain history.
    I think the fetishization of the pale skin in goth magazines and goth fashion is highly misleading, being tied to the whole “undead / vampire” aesthetic; but no reason essentially why any one race/ethnicity/etc. should be excluded. To be sure, the movement started as a high-class sort of reaction to a high-class trend (I get the feeling hipsters had a similar origin), so the “iconic” goth was automatically equated with a person of that class (who is/was also, as the status of privilege is at the moment, white).
    The pale-skin trend thing is coming back into high fashion this year, which I find bizarre. As I told my friend, “How can skin tones be in *fashion*? Only if you’re already presupposing a base from which to diverge!” Which, of course, the fashion industry is. The base is “white”.

    1. Skin tone is a fashion, as it is something that can be “easily” altered. Skin tone hasn’t got to do with race in this occasion, though… it’s got to do with occupation, I think. The same as being tan was considered vulgar a couple of centuries ago, because the only tanned people were the menial workers who worked from sunrise to sunset, and the pale skinned people were the rich guys who didn’t have to work at all. 

      Now we’re going the other way – the menial workers are office drones, so they’re “usually” whiter for lack of sun. The rich guys show their tan as a way to say “look, i don’t have to work to make my living so I’m all day in the beach”.

      1. I had to click a thumbs-up icon for your post, when really what I wanted to do was give you a three dollar star-on machine

    2. African-Americans can wear whiteface as well as Caucasians. And everyone who truly aspires to be goth wears whiteface.

      No racism here… move along.

        1. But whiteface has a long and storied tradition in issues related to mortality, like the ever-popular, Resident Kabuki Theatre

          1. Never seen a whiteface black goth in all my days.  Seen a decent handful of black goths, who match the Tumblrs linked.

            (Off-topic, we had a black LARPer playing Drow once, and he got told to black up – “man, that’s the first time I ain’t been black enough!” to general lols)

            Tumblr (and its ilk) do a great job in filling the gaps that the mainstream counterculture media don’t – users doing that editors think there’s no market for.

          2. I suspect you did not click the YouTube link, or, if you did, you never watched Scrubs.  Regardless: my previous comment was a joke.  I’ve never seen a black goth in whiteface (excepting skull-face makeup a la Baron Samedi).

  5. I’ve known a lot of Goths of many different backgrounds and ethnicities, mostly through working in college radio and indy record stores (I have never been a Goth myself, but I love me some 4AD bands), and through one former coworker (who was a full blown Goth while in high school in rural North Carolina in the ’80s). My coworker’s best friends were Black and Vietnamese, and both Goths. While never the most common background for a Goth, being Black never seemed to an obvious impediment to being in the group, from the folks I knew and observed. I’m sure subtler forces were beyond my ken, at least some of the times, and ugly incidents happened more often than I am aware of from my tangential view, but people at least SEEMED to get a long and SEEMED inclusive. The pale skin thing is easier to achieve without makeup if you are fair skinned (just go to design school, smoke lots of ciggies and spend all of you time in the design lab), but for an “evening look” there are a lot of directions to go in to achieve a dead/ghostly/vampiric appearance. Some of the darker skinned Black ones who affected makeup often went for a Baron Samedi look, which, believe me, works really well within the greater Goth aesthetic. There is no one Goth aesthetic, which seems to be part of the attraction for some folks. Room for everybody, I would think. Hope it usually works that way.

  6. The subject reminded me of this Goth girl back at college, who referred to another goth girl -lower class, dark skinned, though not black- as “Hawaiian Gothic” (like the suntan lotion, Hawaiian Tropic…) Of course she claimed she wasn’t being racist, but later said something like “a person that color shouldn’t try to be Goth” or whatever. Of course, I’m not implying goth are racists, but you have stupid people in all crowds…

    1. Yeah, that’s what I remember when I dabbled back in the late nineties.  There weren’t that many non-caucasian goths, but then again, the definition of what Goth was in the Phoenix area was muddled at best, as one had trashy goths, punk goths, prim goths, and all other manner, so some people, white or otherwise, didn’t fall into *my* definition of goth based on their attire and outlook, regardless of their skin.

      There were non-white goths that pulled the look off well, there were non-white goths that didn’t really pull it off.  Just like there were white goths who pulled it off and those who didn’t.

      There were racists undoubtedly, as some of the punker elements seemed to also attract skinheads, but I didn’t see anything violent or even worse than those individuals being personally standoffish.

      As one of the venues started switching from goth night to a hiphop night (they had two spaces, they started splitting purposes) the violence did increase, and eventually the venue closed.  Goth music didn’t generally idolize violence, which is what I attribute to the violence.  That and the club owner’s involvement in drug distribution, which he was eventually closed down and busted for.

    2. I think there’s a rule, if there’re more than 10 people at least one is a bigot.  I’ve only known, maybe 2 goths who were racists, but like 90% of the goths I’ve known have taken cattiness to art-form level.  Remarks about dress-up disasters and bad hair days were rampant … I’ve heard a lot of comments along the lines of “fishnets or tanning both, pick one and stick with it,”  so I guess it’s sort of a toss-up as to whether your acquaintance was a bigot, or just so hopelessly ignorant that she didn’t realize how racist that notion was.

  7. I used to have several black friends in the punk and the goth communities in San Francisco, through most of the 90s. The only people I ever saw have any problems with them were their fellow black men and women who weren’t in the communities. You know, because they were ‘betraying’ their brothers and sisters by not listening to what everyone else did.

    1. swap ->  “by not listening to what everyone else did.”
      for –> “by listening to music from what appeared to be violent, dirty, white homeless children.”

      Let’s be honest, if Everyone Else was happy with the punk/goth subcultures, no one would really want to be in them.  

  8. Hmm, yes, I can see some superficial parallels between the misogyny of geek culture and the “pale waifs only” prejudice of goth culture …

    But I think it’s probably easier for non-white non-skinny people to break into goth culture because, well, there *is* a uniform, after all.  If you like the right bands and show up “in costume” (and you were at least smart enough to mix in thrift store purchases or something, enough to not look like a Hot Topic mannequin), you’ve got your in – or at least that was how it worked when I was still a “practicing” goth.  

    Of the maybe 100 or so semi-regulars at the college goth bar I hung out at there were only maybe 20 non-whites, but that’s in an area where the largest non-white ethnic group Census’d as ~14% asian; so asians were under-represented by an order of magnitude (can I count the two south Indian girls as asian? I think the Census does) and blacks – 6% of the county’s population – were over-representeded by about 100%.  One of the community’s most enthusiastic members was latino (you can’t really go wrong showing up to a goth club as a 1920s style hougnan), another was an Israeli jew who tanned so fast and so dark she could practically use henna as disappearing ink.  We had one black guy who did the stereotypical ancient-egyptian style eye makeup, but used gold and turquoise instead of black – which is just not something we whiteys could have pulled off.

      1. Huh.  I knew at least as many really skinny goth girls as average or heavy goth girls combined.  

        The two girls I knew who were most obsessed with corsets were definitely not overweight – one (5’2″, ~100?) acted like she thought she had a chance of Guinness World Record tightest corset-cinching, and the other (5’10”, ~150?) made several corsets as part of her quest to create the world’s most glam/camp/vamp/goth halloween costume.  

        On the other hand, I was a teenage/early-20s male and I’ve discounted a fair number of my memories and judgments from that time period as … unjust or inaccurate due to hormonal influences.  So maybe our home regions were widely different, or maybe they weren’t and I’m over-charitable in my recollections.

  9. I always thought goth is a strong case of ‘stuff white people like’ rather than dermachromatist. 
    As in, black metal comes from Norway.

    Nonetheless, behold Blacula, Orfeu Negro, Skeleton Dance etc.

    1. Goth actually sort of evolved from punk, more than black metal.  Punk was what happened when kids in the 70s rejected both the uncaring face of capitalism and the “soft tyranny” of the hippy left and put their indignant repudiation of adulthood to music.  Goth was what happened when the anger cooled a little and merged with a sort of hopeless resignation to the slings and arrows of a world beyond your capacity to either control or accept.

      Black metal really sort of started in England, the first band to do corpse paint was from Denmark, and the first band to use the phrase “death metal” was from California.  The Norwegian black metal scene didn’t start up until the “first wave” of death metal – and Goth – was starting to fade out in the late 80s, early 90s.

      When the crazy vikings started burning down churches, defacing Christian iconography, and killing (allegedly eating?) rival bands and fractious bandmates, it put them on the map, and so they are what most people think of when they think of death metal.  

      Goth/Industrial groups sampled some death-metal types in the 80s, then non-violent-murderer death-metal bands picked up on the goth vibe in the early 90s and went their own way, which is why you’ll find goth rock/death metal overlap in the US and non-nordic nations.

  10. Being from where I am, a good number of my fellow goth leaning friends were of the brown “races” so I guess maybe though it has to do with location, time period, and also what *ideal* you strive for. I mean, we listened to a lot of Massive Attack and Tricky, which isn’t really old fashioned Goth… but then I wouldn’t have ever been caught in whiteface either. YMMV? Really in any subculture YMM *should* V. Think, for a second, of Morpheus as a goth icon and maybe my point becomes clear? When it comes into “breaking into” anything, screw it IMO. By the way, are there racist Goths? Oh yeah. And I bet they do a good job of making people feel like outcasts.

    But anyone who bases their worldview only on the look is an asshole in the first place whether they’re a racist asshole or just a general asshole.

    I’ll add to my statement though. In England it seems much more white. But I was attributing that to England being much more white, which might just be both my privilege and American cluelessness showing.

  11. Ex-African, now Australian “might-as-well” sort of goth here. The main administrators of the scene in my home town weren’t white, and the local scene is pretty dead but there are a few non-white members. There are racists in any scene, but it’s not a goth thing, as far as I know.

    I can’t help feeling a tad perplexed that something is perceived of as racist just because it has a predominantly European aesthetic. I mean, it’s referencing Victorian horror tropes, which actually does leave a lot of room for African and Asian stuff too. If you can make your roots work for you in a cool-scary way, have at it. Someone mentioned Baron Samedi, which is a great example.

    1. I think the article’s sort of point is similar to, say, this one: 

      The *constituency* of the subculture is very clearly *not* uniformly white, but the people *managing* the cultural institutions – clubs, record labels, magazines, etc – *are* predominantly white and (while probably subconsciously so) racist enough that it becomes off-putting.

  12. I go to plenty of private and public gothic events in NYC and it’s a very diverse bag of people… and I haven’t seen any of them wear white makeup (honestly, after 8 years here I’ve never seen this) or emphasize being pale as prerequisite. The couple that we go with a lot are black, and they emphasize their dreads with gothic adornments, and wear amazing corseted clothing (one is a fashion designer). They’ve never expressed to me feelings of being excluded from “the scene” based on race. I’m not saying that racism doesn’t magically not permeate the goth scene too. Bigoted assholes are everywhere. But I would certainly say it’s not a movement towards caucasian-ness. 

    Most of us see the Nosferatu-paleness a fellow goth may present as a nod to the blood-starved/drained undead rather than being more… caucasian. I can’t emphasize that enough. It’s about lack of blood, death, decay, unhealthy and creepy doll-like mannerisms that center around presentations being purposefully uncomfortable or odd to look at. My friend Nadia (who is black) wears dramatic eyeshadow and actually darkens her cheekbones to appear this way.

    People with gothic interests have been mislabeled/judged for years and from what I’ve seen they are incredibly accepting of any form of expression, race, religion, culture. In this nature of acceptance, it crosses over into the BDSM scene, so I’ve found it’s actually a really respectful environment. The only time I’ve suspected anything is more towards the metal/hardcore people, but I don’t go enough to those events to really know and I might be guilty myself of pre-judging based off a few of the more obnoxious voices (nothing is more repulsive than a Nazi fetish to me).

    1. I have a few friends in the NYC goth scene and I’m not at all surprised by what you’re saying.

      BUT the linked article isn’t about the people in the scene, it’s about the people who manage magazines, labels, clubs, etc. and their prejudice towards a “marketable” ideal – an ideal that isn’t wrong, but is much more narrow than the community would support.  Their thesis – that the average goth would be happy to see an attractive non-white person on the cover of a magazine – is supported by your comment. =)

  13. I havent come across many ethnic people in my time as a goth type. But those that i did know were never treated badly. The London Goth scene loved the few black people who were into the style, music and culture. I loved how they worked some of their traditional stylings – cornrows for example into the dreaded hair popular with cyber goths. Plus deep jewel colours in makeup popular with goths look incredible on dark skin.

    I think that is the main issue. Not many ethnic people are into that subculture, well not in the Uk anyway!

    1. I havent come across many ethnic people in my time as a goth type.

      By ‘ethnic’, do you mean a different ethnicity from you? Or do you hang out with non-biological life-form goths?

Comments are closed.