Of Goths Of Color

Snarklings, remember back in early July, when the Lady of the Manners asked for your help in answering a reader question? No? Here, let the Lady of the Manners refresh your memory about what a Snarkling named Oni asked:

Dear Lady of the Manners,

I’m new to your site and would like to say that this is a very reliable source for the Gothic lifestyle and for the onlookers. You don’t choose sides and its nice and equal. Although I face one MAJOR problem in the lifestyle. I’m of African-American descent and have noticed that I cannot find good makeup tips and fashion for us goths of a darker shade, which makes me feel left out. Not only that but many other goths that I have encountered have tended to have a very “racist” attitude toward goths of a darker shade things like “Oh! I have never seen YOUR kind” or “I didn’t know there were black goths around”. There absolutely needs to be more diversity in the subculture and someone needs to break the mold in fashion.

At that time, the Lady of the Manners replied with:

Oni, you are absolutely right, there needs to be more diversity in the Goth subculture. The Lady of the Manners cannot stress that strongly enough, and is sad to read some of the attitudes and comments you’ve had to deal with.

However … the Lady of the Manners is a well-intentioned white girl, who wants to give helpful advice, but is operating from a position of cluelessness. Which is why, Snarklings, she is turning to you. Other Goths of color, please speak up!

Well, the time has come, Snarklings! The Lady of the Manners has read through all sorts of interesting mail from helpful Snarklings, and hopes that the following advice is what Oni (and other readers!) were looking for.

The Lady of the Manners is sad to hear tales of Goths of color being greeted with confusion, skepticism, and racism, and is extremely sad to hear that those reactions are coming from fellow Goths! She had hoped that people in the Goth subculture would be … oh, more open-minded, and less prone to generalizations. But the Goth subculture, just like every other community and subculture, is made up of people who carry with them the baggage from their overall culture. Communities that pride themselves on being open-minded sometimes have to confront issues members didn’t think were a problem.

So what should Goths confronting those sorts of generalizations do? Thankfully, the Gothic Charm School readers had some helpful suggestions:

  • This is about the person who is experiencing racism as a black Goth. I’ve got several friends who are goth and black. One of them has the best line ever. She tells people that she is so Goth that she born black. The first time I heard her say that, I was on the floor laughing for a good five minutes. It pretty much disarms everyone.
  • Oh, honey, I hear you. It can be … deflating to finally find a style that makes you comfortable, only to hear from certain misguided adherents that you can’t do that because of your skin. Ignore them, and remember that the best revenge on these types of people is to love yourself and your fabulousness regardless of their opinions! Most likely, they’re treating you differently because you make them feel insecure– you threaten this niche they’ve carved out for themselves, and so they lash out at you like others have lashed out at them. The only proper retort is to keep on loving yourself and your style 😀

    You say that someone needs to break the mold in fashion… well, what are you waiting for? ;D As with everything I’ve said so far: Be yourself, love yourself, and don’t let the labels get you down.

  • As for the Racist attitudes and comments. If they state something such as “I’ve never seen one of your kind.” Simply smile and tell them “Thank you.” Simply take it as a compliment, as them saying you’re unique.

The Lady of the Manners would also like to add that you should never, ever feel like you need to apologize because someone hasn’t met someone like you before. The Lady of the Manners realizes that Goths of color have to deal with even more hostility and skepticism from non-Goths, thanks to misconceptions about Goth in addition to the (often unconscious) privilege and prejudice that some people have lurking in their minds. You are not obligated to be someone’s Learning Experience. If you do feel up to the task of broadening someone’s worldview, by all means, do so! But don’t feel that you must, or that you must be friendly and outgoing toward people who have made clueless statements. Polite, yes, but that doesn’t always equal friendly. If someone says something like “I’ve never seen one of your kind”, there is nothing wrong with replying “Well now you have”, and going on with whatever you were doing.

Some links that the Lady of the Manners was sent with more discussion and information:

Goths of Color at Morbid Outlook

Goths of Color on afropunk.com

What if you’re not a Goth of color? Is there anything you can do? Why yes, as a matter of fact. Be aware that racism hasn’t gone away, and that it may pop up in places you wouldn’t expect. If it does, don’t ignore or dismiss what happened. If someone tells you that you’ve made a clueless or insensitive statement, don’t retreat behind a wall of defensiveness; instead, apologize for what you said, and try to understand why what you said was upsetting.

Now, on to Oni’s questions about Goth fashion and makeup tips!

From Kira:

In response to the conundrum of gothic cosmetics for the non- pallid:
I am a painter of canvas and faces. Until a recent shift in priorities, I was an “Avon Lady”. Over the years (as an admitted hobbyist) I have learned how to craft understated, “evening”, and “Wow!” looks for various people of various shades.

I have run across advice on gothic makeup for people of a darker skin tone- on how to make yourself look lighter than you are. My biggest piece of advice on the subject is Don’t. Do. That. It’s never convincing, often borders on the silly, and ignores the assets that you have. Whatever color you are, prize it. (I’m sure we’ve all seen women who never learned to match their skin tones, and stop applying foundation at their chins. Seriously, don’t emulate that.)

The main thing to strive for is dramatic contrast. If you can’t achieve that with black eyeliner and plum lipstick, more imagination is called for. (Although a person of color actually stands a chance in Hades of approaching the Egyptian statuary aesthetic so many try to emulate with eye makeup) Instead of black eyeliner, go for metallic ones in steely pewter, copper, silver, or even white. Also, green eye shadow really only does justice to those of dark complexion.

I’ve seen people approach the lipstick angle from both sides- either very light, unnatural shades like silver or blue, or very dark, from the plum and brown spectra the majority of us seem to favor only in the darkest shade available.

Silver jewelry can be a very true friend to those of dark skin tone, as can very bold colors, though unrelieved black can be worn by anybody.

The thing everyone should remember is that just because something is said to be gothic, if it doesn’t look good on you, don’t do it. From my own experience, if I wear deep red lipstick, I don’t look like a Victorian heroine or a vampire, I look like a clown. That’s just the wrong kind of spooky. We all go through a trial and error process.

In closing this novella, (my apologies to the Lady of the Manners for bending her ear with what almost amounts to a whole column) I must express my dismay at the fact that apparently there are still some places where the presence of a person of non-European descent merits astonishment.

The Lady of the Manners feels that the advice about using makeup to flatter and enhance your skin tone, not change its shade entirely, is very important for all Goths (and other cosmetic wearers)! Yes, many Goths think that to be truly Gother-Than-Thou, they need to spackle themselves with white makeup. And sometimes, that can be a fun theatrical look. But really? Everyone looks better if they don’t look like they’re wearing a mask of makeup that doesn’t match their skin tone.

Many people wrote to Gothic Charm School suggesting that Goths of color might want to explore super-saturated eye shadow in deep gemstone colors of amethyst, emerald, and dark blues, and sparkly metallics such as bronze or gold. Another reader had the comment One particular friend of mine from Sierra Leone is extremely dark-skinned, and has an affinity for luminous WHITE eye shadow. The effect is, quite simply, magical.

Another thing the Lady of the Manners wants to stress (and would hope that all Goths pay attention to) is that being a Goth doesn’t mean you have to wear makeup in a style approved by the non-existent Goth Cabal, or even wear any makeup at all! Yes, one of the more common visual signifiers of someone in the Goth subculture is dramatic or exaggerated makeup, but it’s not a requirement. Your gothiness is not determined by how thick your eyeliner is, Snarklings. If that were true, then the sales assistants at cosmetic counters across the land are the Real Goths, even when they try to convince people that coral lipstick and powder blue eye shadows are flattering.

(Did the sarcasm come across enough in that previous sentence, Snarklings? The Lady of the Manners certainly hopes so, because if she tries to cram any more sarcasm in there, she may sprain her snarking muscles.)

As the Lady of the Manners has mentioned before, the fashion industry loves to dabble with Goth-tinged looks during the cooler seasons. There are fashion and beauty bloggers of color; looking at their fall and winter archives might be a good place to find more advice on products and looks.

The Lady of the Manners hopes that this long-awaited edition of Gothic Charm School was helpful, and would like to thank all of the readers who took the time to send in their suggestions! And now, the Lady of the Manners is going to perhaps indulge in a bit of Internet window-shopping. Or maybe read some more mail from you Snarklings! What’s that? You haven’t written to Gothic Charm School? Well, maybe you should!

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