This post is written by Amanda Tea for the BW “Comin’ Straight Outta Your Monolith” series. Normal BW posts resume in April.
If there is one thing that I’m proud of, it’s having found music and fashion that I really enjoy and that really sparks my interest and my creativity. I wouldn’t change anything about who I am or who I’ve become. Being a part of the gothic/alternative and lolita sub-cultures (however you want to label it) has made a huge impact on my life, it is my life. I guess I can start this article off writing a bit about myself and my background. My name is Amanda, I’m an only child and grew up on the north side of Chicago. I went to a catholic grade-school and was constantly teased and made fun of. People always ask why so I’ll tell you. It was for all sorts of reasons: for having big glasses, being too skinny, having big hair etc. So maybe it just made things easier for me because when I started being teased or called weird for looking goth/punk it never fazed me, it didn’t even hurt my feelings because I was really proud to be that way. I was around thirteen or fourteen when I actually started mingling with others who were part of the punk community in Chicago. I didn’t get out much but a few friends of mine took me out to an open mic night once in awhile. The internet wasn’t as…accessible for me as it is now obviously but I remember thinking to myself, why don’t I see other Black kids here? There was no way for me to know if there were other Blacks in the area that were punk or goth unless I actually saw them in person. I was kind of in a plastic bubble, there definitely weren’t any at school and when I got into high-school my freshman and sophomore year were spent at a catholic all girl high-school (enough said Here is a pretty old picture of me as a freshman.. just so you have proof! Pink hair whooo.
I really hated the catholic all girl school and ended up being transferred into a public high-school for my last two years. This opened up my world a lot more. It was like going from a fish in a pond to a fish in the ocean. I still was the only Black female who dressed the way I did but there were a lot of Hispanics there that were into metal, goth, punk, etc. there and I hadn’t really seen a whole lot of them either at that point.. There were also quite a few Black males at the school who were not the, um, how shall we say, baggy jeans and baggie shirt type.
Jumping back to the time of when I was a kid, I recall every summer I was put into camps and programs with other inner-city kids. My mom worked a lot and there was no one I could stay with so I went to these places during the summer. Only other Black kids were in these programs didn’t speak proper English, none of them appeared to be into any other types of music besides rap or hip-hop and I could not understand why. Of course, I stuck out like a sore thumb and was picked on to no end. People actually made me feel like a bad person because I could never make a friend or someone who I could relate to there. I’ve even been yelled at before because I didn’t know everything there was to know about Tupac. Somehow, I was a betrayal to my own race because of that. I still get pissed off at people thinking just because I’m Black that somehow gives me the job of being a walking encyclopedia about other Black music artists. If I run into their music and like it then great but otherwise, sorry, I don’t give a s***.
One word to put the blame on things is exposure, I was exposed to a lot of different things growing up as I feel everyone else should be, but it was never only all about rap/r&b and hip hop. I guess I have my hippie mom and her friends to thank but I was also just very curious about other types of music out there. I don’t see how other Black kids could be any different than how I was. I’m not going to deny though that in grade-school, I listened to the same things all the other kids listened to, it was practically spoon fed to us but it’s part of growing up to branch out and make your own choices. I would not be who I am also if it wasn’t for the people around me sharing knowledge and different ideas. I picked up a Lush cassette (a shoe-gazing band) when I was 10 years old at a library book sale completely by accident but fell in love with it. I kind of wish that schools gave kids a library of music so that maybe they can find something they wouldn’t normally find, but I guess today there is the internet, and all of these things I’m talking about don’t seem to be as big of a deal once I got online. I found more Blacks that were just like me and that helped me to not feel as alone. Once I found that there were lots of Black Goths, punks, etc., out there over time I also noticed them more in the media. I even saw a Black goth on a court television show and on Tyra, a Black dominatrix. All of a sudden, we were really getting out there it seemed. I think as time progresses, different races and the sub-cultures will be more infused. As long as kids are being exposed to different things no matter what neighborhoods or schools they’re in they’ll still be able to find a certain style music or activity they like.
I can’t speak for other races and how they perceive Blacks who are into alternative sub-culture, but I can talk about how some of them have made me feel. Most make me feel like they haven’t seen Blacks in the sub-culture at all before or when they do see us we’re doing it wrong or doing it the wrong way or something. Three years ago I was at a gothic event I normally frequent and a lady who I was somewhat acquainted with said to me, “You know, I’m really glad to see Black people are finally embracing the goth scene”. What she said was meant to be nice, I think she was honestly happy to see more Blacks but I also had to ask myself, what have we been hiding for the past 20 years then? Probably not, maybe Black goths were just more private or maybe felt like they would be bothered d if they showed themselves at the events/concerts etc, maybe there were others that weren’t “glad” to see us. This topic probably opens up discussion for a different article that can’t be written by myself, lol, but obviously racism is no joke and the scene is known to have a lot of white supremacists in it.
My first time walking into a place like that not knowing anyone or having any friends there was kind of scary. I do have to admit that dressing a certain way and really trying to getting involved with the scene, socializing with people is something that I’m really not up for at times, plus I never know if someone has something against me because I’m Black and embracing the goth-scene. Maybe that sounds ridiculous but to this day I’m actually not much of a social butterfly and feel a bit ostracized when I go out. I usually won’t talk to anyone unless they’ve come up to me first.
I could understand why there would be a lot of people out there who could be “hiding” or wouldn’t want to dress like a goth in public to avoid the heat and attention they’ll get. People are so rude sometimes they come up to you and ask really stupid questions, call you a devil-worshiper and all the above. It’s really sad that you can’t be yourself more often. Me becoming fascinated with elegant gothic lolita & the Victorian-fashion style is especially what made a huge impact on my life. I know it is surprising to think that a style of clothing can make all this difference but when I look back to when I first became interested in the fashion and then now it caused a chain reaction to start and has been quite a journey for me. 2003-2004 was when it all started. I was an obsessed J-rock fanatic at the time so I saw the lolita fashion and other gothic styles on Mana, Kana and a few other Japanese rockstars. I eventually got my hands on a Gothic & Lolita Bible after visiting a Japanese mall looking for cds. When I first started wearing Lolita, which took a long time for me to come up with the money for any kind of wardrobe, it wasn’t till after I got out of high-school and had a job that I started buying the clothing. I really wanted to wear it, I mean, there were tons of pretty things I wanted to wear I just didn’t have the money for it.
When I went to my first lolita meetup I definitely felt rejected. I remember one girl telling me not to get into it as a warning. Later, another girl told me to stop wearing it all together, that I looked bad and I could never be a Lolita. Plus my natural hair has been in a mohawk for many years now, it’s much easier for me to take care of since my hair texture is extremely coarse, frizzy and poofy, plus I like it regardless of when I wear Lolita. I also have the option of wearing wigs when I want to, to switch things up. I couldn’t help feeling like the reason why I was attacked was because I was black and didn’t have enough money. I’m sure if I was the same person just white and born with silky hair I would not be dealing with the same problems. One thing about Lolita that did surprise me thought was the number of other Black girls who were in the community and wearing the fashion. It was almost as if Lolita was more inviting to other races then the goth and punk scenes were. I find it funny how we are obviously spending tons of money at these stores and places here in the states, but yet they refuse to use Blacks as models. It took Hot Topic years before they featured any blacks on their website and I’m sure there are other places who we could dig up that still haven’t.
Around spring 2008 I met a photographer at my job and he really liked my synthetic dreadlocked hair and asked to do a photoshoot, by that time I had been making synthetic dreadlocks for myself and other people for a couple of years. I had always wanted to take more photos being an artist myself so of course I was happy to volunteer and be a model. My shaved head and my dreadlocks were supposed to be the main focus but I decided to wear my favorite dress at the time and that’s how the red dress series of photos were created. I remember the photographer bringing a copy of Gothic Beauty to my job and said he had picked it up for inspiration. He said “we should try to put you in this magazine” of course I thought he was joking and didn’t think he was serious. The magazine like others had never featured any African Americans in any of their spreads. I bought the magazine a lot for the articles and stuff and I did think it was a bit sad that none of us were never in it or on the cover etc.
I posted some photos we had taken with the red dress to my deviantart page and I got comments like this: “I don’t think I’ve seen many Black people in outfits like that… Looks good!” It made me a bit upset that a black person dressing this way was so shocking to people. It kept bothering me more and more as I looked at photo collections people have made of goths or the Victorian look and never saw any people of color. People had apparently not seen many Black goths before. After I had been modeling for over a year or two and was looking for a new job I decided to send Gothic Beauty magazine a letter stating how I felt it was important more Blacks be featured in their publication because obviously people weren’t seeing us and with their magazine being the most popular, it was the one place I could think of! I was shocked and didn’t expect them to respond but I guess they felt I was right. So they asked if they could feature some of my photos. I wasn’t happy about the photos they featured ‘cause I thought I looked terrible in them but I was glad to get the message across and that yes, I’m black and this is how I like to dress and this is what I do. I think that on its own was important. That was three years ago and as I get online more and more often today I’m really happy to be seeing a lot of guys and girls showing all of the alt communities that we’re here we’ve been here and not going anywhere. I think the goal we have is not only for Blacks but for other dark skinned races as well to be considered as much a part of these scenes as Caucasians are. Maybe we still have a bit of ways to go but we’re a huge step closer.
(Visit Amanda and see her works on her website, Amandatea.com)