Black Goth Men are Dispelling Myths of Hypermasculinity

Over the years, representation of black goths has gotten better and better. The previous post, Black Goths Are More Visible, featured inspirational quotes, beautiful portraits and useful advice from members of the subculture. However, there was something unsettling. It was significantly more difficult to find images of black men than it was women.

While the possibility for women to control their own place in the media is ground-breaking, it is necessary to realize that black goth men play a different, equally important role in the subculture. It is not so much that their participation in the scene is less frequent than it is that the portrayal of their image is underplayed.

Goth is known for its androgynous appearance and acceptance of all genders, with white men generally celebrated for their ambiguous attributes (classic references include deathrock artists Johnny Slut and Rozz Williams or gothic rock idol Peter Murphy).

“[…] goths often conflate gender, sex and sexuality with relative ease, precisely because they claim to embrace difference as a central mode of being. As a goth from Atlanta explained to me, the gothic community accepts a ‘person as a person instead of a gender, or a race, or a creed, or a nationality,’ […]” – Joshua Gunn [1]

But, for black goth men, this does not apply. Outside of the subculture, they are expected to be strong, emotionless, fearless, hypersexual in addition to entertaining. Zaria Cornwall states, in Toxic Hypermasculinity: a Discussion for Black Men, that they are “not allowed to be emotional beings, and they are definitely not allowed to identify as queer lest they be ‘exposed’.”
 Though the goth subculture lifts the pressure off these men, their image is still not as present in the scene as black women. That is not to say they are smaller in number; rather, their appearance in media is quieter. A simple search of hashtags #blackgoth or #afrogoth on Pinterest or Instagram will show that black women outnumber men by a long shot. Could more visibility of black goth men help promote other modes of positive self-expression? We will explore how an increased presence of black goth men in the media could challenge images of hypermasculinity.

What is Hypermasculinity?

“Hypermasculinity is described as a psychological term for the exaggeration of male stereotypical behavior, such as an emphasis on physical strength, aggression, and sexuality. Hypermasculinity has been criticized globally by numerous social activist movements as contributing to rape culture, low self esteem and body dysmorphia in men, violence against women and the gay community, and the murders of trans women.” – Richie Collazo. “Why Hypermasculinity is Toxic for Black Men”.

It is the belief that men should carry themselves in a certain way in order to be recognized as beings. Unfortunately, hypermasculine traits used to define men are all too prevalent in most black communities.[2]

Fear of Emotions and Black Gothic Horror

The representation of black men in media is notoriously negative. Although movies such as Moonlight are helping the film industry make progress, the effects of past portrayals are still being felt.

Let’s make a quick comparison between critically acclaimed horror film Get Out (2017) and How High (2001). Originating from America, they have – as explained in previous articles on the blog – a great influence internationally speaking[3]. That is why this example is important in showing the difference between marketing towards black people as opposed marketing for black people.

In How High, tropes include laziness, lack of intelligence and will to learn with weed and women as primary interests. The target demographic in mind, these films are self aware of their stereotyping. The characters are portrayed as an exaggeration of how young black men are “supposed” to be, rather than how they are imagined to be. This is damaging to young men striving to keep up with their idols. Sadly, the long lasting effects of films like this are still present today.

Still from How High.

On the other hand, Get Out, directed by Jordan Peele, is a perfect representation of a piece made primarily for black men. The main character goes through a multitude of emotional arcs, starting from apprehension to guilt, grief and despair. What is important to note is that all of these feelings stem from a single source: fear. It is easy to imagine how many times one has fallen into ‘the sunken space’ and felt lost, forgotten. Unlike How High, Jordan Peele illustrates the true plight of black men, rather than paint it as comedic. Here, the horror is real.

The Mortician (2011), directed by Gareth Maxwell Roberts; A much darker film in which Method Man appears.

We could view Get Out as reinventing the genre of black gothic horror. A review on Vanity Fair describes the dialogue between the main character’s poise, culture and sense of unease:

“Working with cinematographer Toby Oliver, Peele creates images that are beautiful and terrifying, an elegance possessed by menace. His music choices, whether a Childish Gambino slow jam or one of Michael Abels’s haunting choral pieces, are spot-on, aptly setting a mood of winking dread. The supporting cast is excellent, especially Lakeith Stanfield as a mannered weirdo party guest, Betty Gabriel as a frightfully accommodating housemaid, and Lil Rel Howery as a caustic best-friend character who seems zapped in from another movie, but whose incongruity in the picture works as perfect counterbalance to all the gothic horror surrounding him. The white people in the cast all know their place, allowing themselves (and the white people in the audience) to be skewered without redemption. […] Get Out does not offer any institutional hope in the end. But it does provide a place for anger, vengeance, and a healthy amount of gallows humor. That’s a valuable place—one black cinema has long been denied, at least in the studio system. In that sense, Peele’s film feels like a small piece of painful progress.”Richard Lawson

Still from Get Out, a chilling moment where we encounter a brother trapped in the ‘sunken space’

Black gothic horror offers a healthy channel for one’s frustration with systemic racism. In comparison, How High only reinforces the feelings of anger and vengeance Richard Lawson described by providing a single unattainable black male ideal. How High offers no alternative. It’s a black and white battle without grey-space. The characters do not react towards oppression, rather they create it themselves. The argument that if you do not fit their specific rendition of a black man then you are pegged into the white category is unwinnable and one-sided. For fear of othering within the community, the biggest task becomes to avoid ostracization by abiding to stereotypes, and ultimately survive in society. This distraction, purposefully put in place by popular media, only furthers the cycle of oppression. But, it can be broken. Alternative portrayals of black men do exist.

Music as an Outlet

The goth subculture is music based. Low, droning vocals and lyrics sometimes bordering on the abstract reflect the horrors of society where sound almost mimmicks physical pain. The lifestyle is a way for those deep in thought to externalize repressed emotions. The UK’s gothic rock paralleled hip hop, the American genre which served the same purpose, but voiced a different cause.

Black men are extremely prone to mental illness and self medication[3]. Of all forms of entertainment, music is one of the most important outlets. Not only does it help to connect with oneself, but also others. In goth subculture, this acceptance of expressing suffering via sound is shared by the like-minded. Gothic rock gives black men the right to accept pain as a psychological and not just physical feeling.

When rapper Kid Cudi checked himself into rehab, he admitted on Facebook…

“My anxiety and depression have ruled my life for as long as I can remember and I never leave the house because of it,” the rapper wrote on Facebook. “I cant make new friends because of it. I [don’t] trust anyone because of it and [I’m] tired of being held back in my life. I deserve to have peace. I deserve to be happy and smiling.”

Born Dead album, an example of gothic influence in hip hop-metal band Body Count – formed in 1990 by rapper Ice-T.

Fear and guilt are the underlying emotions that cause lash-outs, depression and anxiety. Alternative bands such as O. Children, Sepultura, Blasphemy, Oceano, Hirax and Body Count, though not necessarily gothic rock, contain black male members who express the sadness and rage society causes them to feel.

True Tales from the Crypt

To conclude, Crosafix and Angel Nightmare kindly shared how they interpret goth stylistically and musically as black men. Here are their stories…

Angel Nightmare’s Youtube channel.

Angel Nightmare

I’m a artist and musician. My dream is to become a composer for movies and video games for a living and to sustain myself solely off my art and travel. I’m a self taught pianist, guitarist, bassist, vocalist, & drummer. I can play music by ear as well as read music. I also like to draw, paint, film, do makeup art, & write poetry. I’m the manager, lead song writer, & frontman of my industrial metal band Midnight Nightmare.

When did you start getting into Youtube?

I actually initially started getting into YouTube when I was around 16 (8 years ago) and I had an old channel were I posted silly animations I did with friends and crazy vlogs that I deemed too cringy to continue with until about a year and a half ago when I started my Angel Nightmare channel.

You seem to have cultivated a rather unique style. How has it evolved over the years?

I like to think that I don’t have a specific style because mine progresses literally everyday. I tend to never do my makeup the exact same when I do it by always challenging myself to always try new things with my face. I also like to blend my fashion from different eras, cultures, & genders A LOT. One day I’ll be Drag/Punk and the next day I’ll be Military/Vampire.

You can find him on Facebook and Instagram. Angel also has a Paypal to help support his work.

Was there ever an instance where you were ostracized by the goth community?

Yeah honestly it happens a lot to me. (Not so much lately.) but I’ve been bullied and shunned by people with all of the same interests as me because I was black or because I was too nerdy and didn’t fit the box they wanted me to be in.

Do the people in your circle understand and accept who you are?

Most of my family does now because they see how successful I have been over the years and they’ve started to develop more of an open mind once they realized I wasn’t doing anything destructive. I was a bit of an outcast growing up to most of my family but I was one of the only ones in the family to stay out of drugs, keep straight A’s/B’s, and stay out of jail. My mom was supportive of how I expressed myself because of those reasons too.

As an androgynous black male goth, do you feel well represented in the goth scene? How about in the media?

Honestly I don’t feel like goths are represented well in the media at all. Goths in television and movies are always joked about as being weird, on drugs, into weird sexual fetishes, & mostly considered as undesirable to the protagonists that directors try to subliminally make the viewer have a connection with.
As a person of color I would just want more of us to be represented in film & media more as protagonists that aren’t just films for black people.

Midnight Nightmare.

What do you believe are society’s common expectations for black men?

I honestly feel mixed about this because the racially biased parts of society view black men as being “too aggressive” or “scary” even when they aren’t the tiniest bit threatening and I feel like the black part of society has too high expectations for black men. There’s always these set of arbitrary rules written of what a “black man can & can not do” but honestly I feel that we as black men (and people in general) should be able to express ourselves and be ourselves without fear of being ridiculed or exiled.

Was questioning your masculinity ever a problem for you?

I used to question my masculinity when I was younger because society has a very good way of making you feel wrong for the things that you enjoy. I was always told that I MUST be gay or I MUST be transgender to enjoy the stuff that I did and there was a point in my life where I tried to convince myself those things as well and I ended up having a major identity crises until I slowly started to realize that people cannot force ideals like that on me and I can (and anyone reading this) do anything they want.

Lastly, do you have any advice for other young black goth men?

Love yourself. Everybody that comes into your life has the potential to judge you and put you down but at the end of each day you have to realize that you’re the only person that will be there for yourself for the rest of your life. So love yourself, have no regrets. Do what makes you happy and never suppress yourself for anybody.

 

Crosafix

My name is Crosafix, I’m from Gary, Indiana. I play guitar for the Jazz Metal band Erzulie and Alternative Hip Hop artist Jade The Ivy whom are both based in Chicago. I am also a labor worker as well as a photographer. I think recreationally, that’s about it as far as hobbies.

Your Instagram says you are a Pan-Afrikanist. What are your personal beliefs in regards to reinforcing unity within the African diaspora?

Afrikan people have been lied to with such intent and precision that we’ve become confused as to who we are. Language has become its own segregation. That’s where the whole belief that “Afrikans don’t like us” came from. Why would they? If the media has convinced you that everyone in your community is a killer not worthy of basic human dignity, it’s not hard to figure out where they got that information from. Over the last 10 years or so, there has been more active communication between persons within the Afrikan Diaspora. So we’re learning more about our similarities and even learning how to address natural hair and colorism. I believe unity will be fostered over time with continued communication.

Could you give us some insight into your spiritual practices?

Reality is a matter of opinion. The mind creates its own reality, which in no way, shape or form impacts reality as it truly “is”. Think of reality as a desk light pointing at a white wall. The light source as God and the light on the wall as reality. We are nowhere in that equation. We appear as filters that change the color of the light on the wall. Those filters impact everything in our reality. Filters of being Male, Female, Neither, Both, Straight, Queer, Ugly, Cute, Smart, Dumb and so on and so on… impact everything we come into contact with. Therefore reality as I believe it to be is simply a matter of opinion and much like how opinions can shift, so can our realities. Other practices like Vodou and Buddhism are built up that foundation. I was a member of the SGI for 3 years and I am a Vodou practitioner.

When did you first become interested in alternative music and culture?

I wanted to be a pro wrestler as a lad and many of their theme songs were on the heavier side of life. Couple that with the dominance of Korn on MTV while I was growing up and there you have it.

You can find Crosafix on Instagram and Facebook. Support Erzulie and buy their EP on Bandcamp.

Have you ever been judged by your community?

Yeah. I grew up Catholic and converted to Christianity when I was 6. My father was a preacher so he had a lot of opinions about my musical translation.

What did you go through in order to feel comfortable with yourself?

I was just an awkward kid. The Metal thing might have been the icing but it was nowhere nearly the cake. So Metal just ended up being the most appropriate soundtrack for the other shit going on. My falling out with Christianity was by far the biggest part of my social dissonance.

Do you live in a prejudiced environment? If so, how do you deal with that on a daily basis?

I’m 31 and 6’2″. If people have a problem with me, no one’s saying it to my face. That’s one of the plus sides of getting older, no one cares. It’s not like being in school where everyone’s trying to figure out what you are.

What do you think of popular media’s portrayal of black men?

It serves its purpose. It makes White people feel better about systematic oppression. When Black people get killed or are attacked by White people, Black people have to apologize. We have to forgive our attackers because if we hold on to justified anger, we’re a threat to society and should be put down like dogs.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

Dead.

Do you have anything to say to younger men who are berated for expressing themselves?

Study human psychology and social behavior. We are conditioned by society to dislike those who are different. Society makes mock progress but will always fall back on reprobate beliefs when it’s all said and done. You have to believe in yourself. The world isn’t always nice and it rarely has your best interests in mind. So you can waste your time hating sheep for being sheep or you can work on embracing what they could never understand.

 

Have something to say? Share your story in the comments.


 

References

[1] Joshua Gunn. Dark Admissions, Gothic Subculture and the Ambivalence of Misogyny and Resistance. Qtd from Lauren M.E. Goodlad and Michael Bibby. Goth, Undead Subculture.

[2] Malakaï Sargeant. “How social media perpetuates hypermasculinity in black men, d’yundastan’?”. medium.com/fwrd, January 5, 2017. http://bit.ly/2tz3f57

[3] Emily S. Rosenberg. “Le ‘modèle américain’ de la consommation en masse”. Le ‘modèle américain’. n°108, Cahiers d’histoire, revue d’histoire critique, avril-juin 2009. http://bit.ly/2slmeDE

[4] Jonathan P. Higgins, Ed.D. “On Black Men and Mental Health”. The Root, November 22, 2016. http://bit.ly/2s8Evjo

*For further analyses of Get Out, please take a look at Dr. Boson’s ‘Get Out’ syllabus based off of the film.


Featured image: source unknown. Please help give credit to the artist! Source the image in the comments.

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