And Paramore, Fall Out Boy, and MCR
Let’s talk about Natasha Bedingfield for a minute…
Over the past few weeks, Black Twitter have come together over their collective love of the British singer’s 2004 hit, “Unwritten”. After Tik Tok stars revived the song with different dances I’ll never learn, we’ve all been falling in love with the song again. And although Natasha Bedingfield is far from “scene”, her song going viral (again) has led us to shout out our other favorite pop, rock, and alternative bands like Paramore and Fall Out Boy.
My Chemical Romance, Good Charlotte, Green Day…the emo/goth/punk era of the early ‘00s & ’10s was seemingly for the white kids only, but if you looked closer, pockets of young Black teens were also thickly drawing on their eyeliner, getting their lips pierced, and rocking out to alternative music. Trust me, you truly weren’t living in 2005 until you learned the words to System of A Down’s “Hypnotize” and belted it out while whipping your box braids back and forth.
This Week’s Story
Even though Black teens were also embracing this scene—a scene whose whole purpose is to celebrate being a little different, a little weird, and a little eccentric—they weren’t being fully embraced by its primarily white community. On the flip side, if you were caught by your fellow Black peers listening to anything other than hip-hop or R&B, you risked being labeled an “Oreo”.
As this week’s author, Larissa Irankunda, points out, navigating the “feeling of being a “minority within a minority space” as she fell in love with the alternative scene made her feel self-conscious, alienated, and insecure. But in the end, she blossoms, and we love that for her! Shoutout to Larissa for penning another beautiful piece for us—I relate to this one on a deep level. If you enjoy this storyletter, don’t forget to give it a like, drop a comment, and share it with your peoples <3
EIC of Carefree Mag
Embracing My Blackness In Alternative Spaces
by Larissa Irankunda
Embracing My Blackness In Alternative Spaces
The other day, my roommate and I decided to do a full moon ritual in our new apartment. There were the typical steps: smoke cleansing the space, writing down some intentions and holding space for whatever came up for each other.
But then came my favorite part: the music.
We started off with what we liked to call our “Coven” Playlist, featuring some of our favorite Afro-futurist artists like Jidenna, Masego, and Sampa The Great.
Then we switched over to our “Bad Gyal” playlist: Cardi & Megan, Future, City Girls, Migos, Beyonce, Chloe x Halle, and the list goes on.
We strutted across our home, laughing with each other and twerking to some straight bops. But then at some point, I grabbed the remote, typing a new song into the Youtube search bar.
“Let’s spice things up a bit,” I said as I clicked play.
Suddenly, the walls vibrated with the deep riffs of a guitar. David Draiman’s gruff vocals soon followed, snarling out the verse: “I’ve been waiting my whole life for just one, f*ck! All I needed was just one, f*ck!”
“Oh, hell yes!” My roommate exclaimed. “Turn that up!”
And there we were: two grown Black women in our pajamas headbanging and booty shaking to the likes of Disturbed, followed by System of A Down, Linkin Park, Soundgarden, Evanescence, Flyleaf, and Marilyn Manson.
And damn, did it feel good as hell.
But it wasn’t always that way.
The year is 2007: I’m a shy and self-conscious 7th grader deep in the throes of Awkward Adolescence™, made even worse by being the New Kid™ at a majority Black middle school. This detail is important because, prior to that, I’d spent my childhood in South Florida: a melting pot of Caribbean, Latinx, and African cultures that all fit together into the most colorful, inclusive mosaic. A beautifully enriching environment—but one that left me thoroughly unprepared for the culture—and culture shock—I was about to experience as I dived nose deep (for the very first time) into the African-American community.
Because the immigrant community in Florida was so multicultural and threaded with this unspoken understanding that we were all newbies to the “American experience”, I hadn’t realized how shielded I was from what that actually meant — and what it meant to embody my Blackness in America — until I arrived at my all-Black middle school.
There were rules back then for what constituted “acting Black” versus acting “white”. And young Larissa, fully immersed in the beginning stages of her emo/goth baby bat phase, was unintentionally breaking all those rules.
“Why do you listen to that weird ass music?” A classmate asked me once after school. “That’s white people stuff.”
I’d been standing near the wall, blaring some Three Days Grace from my headphones. I remember being caught off guard, blinking back confusion as I wracked my brain for the ways in which listening to my favorite bands somehow shed away my Blackness. I couldn’t find an answer.
The next year, when I began fully embracing my goth & emo aesthetic (I’m talking side bang, fingerless gloves, Tripp pants, ripped jeans, sharpied Converse, fishnets) things became worse. Those who weren’t in my friend group regarded me with confusion on a good day, and open hostility on a bad day. Derision colored their every word, and they often looked at me as if I’d grown three heads overnight.
Not necessarily because I was “out there” (truthfully, on a fashion scale I was tame at best); but because I, as a Black girl, was rejecting everything that our culture at the time had deemed to be the status quo. When my classmates did see me and my friend group hanging out, they’d always spit out the same barb:
“There go them Oreos!”
Oreo: Black on the outside, white on the inside.
My first wade into alternative culture happened when I was just a little girl, sitting in the backseat of my parent’s car as they fiddled with the radio. They never paid much attention to what was actually playing, but I remember the station they always settled on: an alt-rock channel, full of late 80s to early 2000s rock and grunge hits.
I always remembered the way my heart would pleasantly skip a beat when an intense guitar solo would overtake the noise in the car, or when Amy Lee’s crooning voice would spin hypnotic melodies. I didn’t know the names of the bands yet, but I would always remember how they made me feel: powerful, creative, and fully immersed in the beauty of myself.
Later on, after I’d accumulated an impressive reservoir of music, I’d discovered the fashion: jarring and dynamic outfits that were both intimidating and beautiful all at once. Crust Punk, Gothic Lolita, Scene, Emo, Trad Goth…my eyes would sparkle from how different they looked. How deeply they seemed to embody the feelings I felt stirring inside myself; to break free of the status quo and explore the edges of my creativity, to fully embrace what it meant to be counterculture and weird. To discover an alternative—no, become alternative.
And it just fit. Neatly and like a puzzle piece that had been missing for a long time.
My first real concert had to have been in my late teens.
During the height of the Warped Tour Era, when pop-punk in all its glory was thrashing to the forefront of mainstream attention. Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, Paramore, Panic! At The Disco, and so many more artists fully embracing their titles as “Resident Weirdo” and encouraging the rest of us in kind to let our freak flags fly. I don’t remember which band in question I went to see, but it was definitely a local joint that was still making waves across Tumblr and scene kids alike.
I was excited because it would be the first time (save from my friends) that I would seemingly be surrounded by other like-minded kids; black sheeps who embraced all things eccentric. A community where I could feel authentic, and better yet— accepted.
Or so I thought.
The moment I arrived at the venue, I saw one thing and one thing only: white people.
Stretched as far as the eye could see, decked out in equally dope outfits—but cliqued up in very unwelcoming, closed-off groups. I felt their eyes all fall on me as I maneuvered through the merch line and towards the stage. Some of them kept their faces blank, but others weren’t so quick in hiding their reactions: a quick furrow of the brows, a slight curl of the lips, a too-quick-to-be-sucked-back-in-snort. All of these reactions were subtle, but they spoke the same message: Why are you here?
Instantly, the feelings I’d experienced during my first year at my new middle school flooded over me again: Insecurity. Self-consciousness. Embarrassment. Alienation.
Suddenly, I was unsure of myself. I became timid, keeping my gaze down as I looked around for any sign of diversity in the crowd.
I never found any.
Ultimately, the concert was fine—the music was good, and the band was friendly as can be backstage. But the people I was surrounded by—the kids who supposedly embraced the kindred spirits, weirdos in arms ethos—were unbearable. I never faced any outright racism or hostility during the set—but the microaggressions were enough to keep me from doing anything that would draw further attention to myself.
While others around me struck up animated conversations and new friendships, I was ignored, iced out, and spared only a perplexed glance every now and then as if to say: What are you still doing here? This isn’t for you.
When I was younger, in my era of Awkward Adolescence™, I felt deeply disconnected from myself. Not because of anything that had been done to me, but because everything I saw encouraged this ideal of morphing into conformity; doing this particular thing because everyone does it, or dressing that way because everyone’s supposed to.
As a young Black girl, I hated feeling boxed in by arbitrary rules on who, what, and how I was supposed to be. I despised the idea that belonging to a certain race meant you were supposed to adhere to this archaic binary of stereotypical expectations—just because. Or that because of my race, I was unwelcome or unallowed at places that existed to celebrate the ways our individuality should bring us together.
When it comes to self-expression, white people are allowed this freedom to have a self-discovery phase that manifests however it wants to be, without question. They can have their Wes Anderson-esque coming of age, or Manic Pixie Dream Girl era. Or hell, even embed themselves fully in Hip-Hop/Rap culture without people questioning their self-esteem.
Nobody bats an eye because there’s this inherent idea that whiteness is malleable, expansive, and open to a constant reinvention of personality. There’s this inherent expectation that because whiteness has become such a default, it allows an openness of self-expression that is not tethered to race and how it’s defined by society.
Whereas when it comes to self-expression as a Black person, there is this immediate scrutiny and hyper-fixation; Black people are automatically tethered to a rigid dichotomy of expectations, assumptions, and—ultimately—stereotypes.
We’re not allowed to be malleable and fluid in our expression because to do so is to “reject” our Blackness somehow. To enjoy alternative culture (or any topics/hobbies that don’t fit stereotypical expectations of our race) is to be white-washed, or—as my classmates put it—an “Oreo”.
Which is so absurd in its thinking, because Blackness is not a monolith. My experience as a Black person is not restricted to a limited scope of milestones and traits. I do not participate in alternative subculture as a means to be closer in proximity to whiteness. I do not enjoy the fashion I do or the music I like so that I may somehow self-reject my Blackness in lieu of whiteness.
I just think it’s dope.
I fell in love with alternative culture because it allowed me to embody all the aspects of myself that I had initially found to be awkward, weird, or unconventional—and subvert them into the gifts that make me unique, creative, and authentic. To be alternative is to fully embody my own brand of Blackness, because it is an exploration of what it means to be me in this society, in this world, and in this beautiful cultural manifestation.
I’ve been to many more concerts like the first one I attended. Been in many alternative spaces where I’m unfortunately still one of the only Black people there; experienced the interesting feeling of being a minority within a minority space.
I’ve also been in many new spaces where, more often than not, I’m surrounded by people of all shapes, sizes, and appearances. Experienced beautiful moments where alternative Black guys and gals like me all came together in a “where have you been all my life?!” reunion of fashion, music, and the most beautiful friendship.
I’ve witnessed the ways in which alternative has bled into the mainstream, bringing with it a newfound acceptance for Black people to embrace their authenticity (however they wish to embody it) and experience the freedom of being multifaceted, nuanced, and free-spirited.
Shows like High Fidelity music festivals like AfroPunk, and artists like FKA Twigs, Lil Uzi Vert, and Willow & Jaden Smith, and Lakeith Stanfield are all being embraced. We’re all seeing so many different and new manifestations of what it means to be Black—and how, no matter what way you choose to express it, it’s important and valid.
So, to tie it all together: I’m a Black woman in love with punk, rock, and Trash & Vaudeville. I also love Dancehall, Afrobeats, and all types of Hip-Hop/Rap. I can just as easily twerk to Megan Thee Stallion as I can headbang to Slipknot. My fashion sense is amorphous, and I don’t hold myself to any specific aesthetic, let alone use aesthetics to serve as the totality of who I am.
And I don’t view my alternative interests as something used to self-reject myself or my Blackness. We’re all different in personality, different in temperament, and different in the way we choose to simply be.
And who I am is “weird”, awkward, eccentric, valid, beautiful—and perfect. Just the way she is.
And who are you to tell me otherwise?
Larissa Irankunda is a Burundian-American writer and filmmaker based in Brooklyn, New York. Her work (both fiction and nonfiction) explores the nuances of the Black experience through a speculative fiction lense. Keep up with more of her writings on her Twitter and Instagram!
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