Being Black and Alternative: Discomfort in White Alt Spaces

It’s a tale as old as time; being black and being made to feel like an intruder. Not so long ago, it was water fountains, benches, toilets, and buses. Today it’s meetings at work, visits abroad, and the omnipresent and all-seeing security guards in supermarkets. Even more recently, as many young black people choose to embrace the multitudes of subcultures the world has to offer, it’s been the alt clubs, bars, and gigs dotted around cities, where many of us seek solitude, only to be met with looks of suspicion and confusion.

It can be hard to ignore the occasional looks and comments and microaggressions can be the worst– was it that big a deal or are you just blowing things out of proportion? In any case, the comments and experiences can stay with you, even if they’re said in passing. Sticks and stones– sure! But we’re still human. 

Attending alternative and metal gigs can already be a task, even without the stares and glares. From the “I didn’t know you liked this kind of music!” after bumping into an old friend to the random gig attendees quizzing your metal band knowledge, the “I thought your lot liked Reggae” (true story!) or the innocent and mystified “You do know what’s on tonight, love?” from a completely oblivious guard outside the venue. I think it’s safe to say we’re not aimlessly hopping from one venue to the other in hopes of a successful invasion. Most of us just fancy a sesh with good music, drinks, and the like-minded.

Something as innocent as a night out can turn out to be an obstacle course of dodging hands reaching for your hair the one time you wear it natural to the club and awkward white men slurring their secret desire for black women, how they’ve “never been with one before” and how “you’re just built differently!”

Sometimes, it does feel like we have to do the most to be accepted in certain scenes, to make it known that we’re not there by accident. Which is why we tend to involuntarily gravitate towards each other in these environments. Oh, how my heart swells whenever I spot someone who’s skin absorbs the club lights! Or the slight reassurance I felt when I first heard industrial German rock band Oomph!’s opener “TRRR – FCKN – HTLR” and a black man walked by me, pumping his fist (I found out after the gig the song was made to mock “the bad parts of society.” Phew!). There’s a special, unspoken love and admiration between the black goths, punks, emos, neofolk, and everyone black identifying in the scene and it’s stronger than any jeering comment or look would have you believe. Sometimes, when you stand out for what others perceive as all the wrong reasons, there’s a satisfaction and validation in standing together.

It’s time to burst the sterile bubble of ‘normalcy.’ 2020’s been a massive eye-opener; the civil unrest that came with the murder of innocent black people in the US (and brought to light buried cases of our own in the UK) brought with it a loud and blaring reminder that black lives do matter and not enough was being done to ensure they continue to matter.

With the inception of black alt festivals such as Afropunk and Afrofuturism Fest, we are slowly but surely seeing a shift in the perception of alt spaces. During such uncertain times, when we’re all missing the mosh pits and the dancefloors, the clubs and the bars (RIP Crow Bar), we should take this time to remember that Dark Culture belongs to no one and it belongs to everyone; it’s a cluster of joy and fuckery wrapped in shiny black leather and guitar solos, ready for anyone willing to embrace it

In the wise words of Bob Vylan, “We didn’t appear out of thin air. We live here.”

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