-words by Leila Taylor
I lost my last nerve in the haze of high school, awakening the bewildered from their standardized basicness and breeded a hostility that would haunt me on my countless, long walks home. Alone, felt a very natural function of my position in the world. My taste for rock music and horror movies ignited false accusations of self-loathing that flew like venom in lunchrooms and locker breaks in between classes. I hated the exhaustion of always being on the defense. I knew my identity was layered in multitudes, but my introversion only insinuated doubt.
These sensibilities worked in my favor in college. I took the load of angst and newly integrated involvement in creative movements such as Afropunk (when it was just a bunch of us on a aesthetically black message board) and additional alt-black/hippie spaces, off of my shoulders and into a thesis that positioned Black diasporic people historically at the heart of punk and its popularized concepts and culture. My goal was to disrupt ideas that course through respectability politics and general narrow-mindedness to propose Black alt's aren't running from their Blackness, but embracing it; independent, radical, and to *your discomfort.
So within just the first few pages, a knowing smile dragged and mingled with immense pleasure in learning about goth through Darkly: Black History and America's Gothic Soul by Brooklyn-based writer, lecturer, and designer Leila Taylor. Part memoir, part crash discourse, Darkly is an immersive look into aspects of history and pop culture that has given the terms goth and gothic context. Taylor asserts that foundations and general understandings of goth are intertwined with the Black American experience. There is nothing goth that isn't Black; both literally and figuratively.
Darkly digs even deeper with AfroGoth. An "African American gothness," or, we both prefer the term, Black, is a concept that looks at atrocities suffered and memorialization that becomes manifest in introspection, art, and style. The exchangeable term, African American gothic is an exhumation of the ugliness of the extermination of America's native people and chattel slavery. It is the "shadow" of America's delusions of 'greatness'. It is past, present; mutating with time in behaviors, practices, and institutions. AfroGoth confronts and exposes open secrets people aren't ready or willing to face; that maybe we're all too comfortable with the 'ism's' of the planet. They will stay with us forever.
From the Middle Passage to Black Lives Matter, the experiences of Black people are drenched in the morose, using music, photography, poetry, film, and much more as an expression of it. With Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit," Taylor provides a contemplative, detailed, yet breezy read through her personal attachment to the song, its unapologetic descriptions of lynchings, and the atmosphere set for many of Lady Day's performances of it. Like a definition of horror, those settings forced audiences to "wallow in... [the] discomfort" that her lyrics and disquiet melodies unearthed.
As Taylor connects her observations and research to the present, an assured conclusion stands; the melancholy of Blackness is persistent. Seen as property, stripped of all agency, emotional range, identity, trapped in the web of the systemic creation of white supremacy, Black people have refuted and resisted their so-called cheerful docility (joy not defined by us) and mourn their experiences as an act of social disruption. In goth, Black art becomes speculative and revionist, creating a survivalist fantasy from tragedy. And that is where the balance comes in to enact "The Privilege of Frivolity" on Black people's terms.
Taylor's use of phrases like "historical ectoplasm" is the rush needed in the absorption of cultural studies work. Certain to inspire in future classrooms, book clubs, and general banter to any and all who will listen, Darkly reads like a conversation that can be repeatedly combed, and can find new insight each time.
I am a Millennial elder who endured the bewildered, hostile banishers who sentenced the "weird black kid" to the great, grey wilderness. All pun intended; not black, never white, but somewhere in between. As an adult, and by some accounts from the teenagers I've spoken with that are more firmly planted in Gen Z, this sort of social pettiness has melted. And I hope the Black and weird who still shiver as these archaic attitudes echo, embrace the abyss Darkly affirms as a welcomed sanctuary.
Darkly is available now on Repeater Books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads.
Follow Leila on Twitter @hello_leila