Who is the “other” any more?


black-silk: “The ‘ideal gothic beauty’ of being pale comes from this sense of otherness. When mainstream de mode is tanned beach babe, the pale contrast is taken up as the signifier of an Other that defensively puffs itself up. The problem is that it’s a microcosm that doesn’t necessary carry the sense of self-awareness to realize that it’s also othering people.” http://coilhouse.net/2012/09/i-am-so-goth-i-was-born-black/

I’d be interested for any thoughts from readers about what determines which subculture attracts them.  

I’ve always thought it was social background that determined subculture, and I don’t mean just “class” here. There are, and always have been, many affluent black people living in London – the multicultural hub of an otherwise shockingly “white” country. Such a strong correlation is drawn between inner-city living and certain subcultures that rap and R&B is referred to simply as “urban music” in the mainstream press.

Just as a personal experience, I found myself staring at a black person on my little rural backwater bus the other day in exactly the same absent-minded way I’d stare at someone with pink hair. I realised it was because it had been months (years, even) since I’d seen someone of colour on the bus in that area. I felt a bit embarrassed – it’s not nice to be stared at, after all – but figured that the person would probably be used to being unusual enough to attract attention – though perhaps not for long.

New demographic statistics show that there has been a marked change between 2001 and 2010 in the number of non-white people moving from cities to the suburbs and villages, while the “white” population in the UK has fallen from over 90% to 81% in that time.

Given that I have always supposed that people who live in cities want to listen to different music to people who live in the suburbs and out in the country, I wonder what effect that transition will have on how young people identify themselves. Put bluntly, will it lead to more black kids getting into (suburban) indie and more white kids getting into rap?

When I was growing up, a suburban white kid would like rap would be laughed at: “what could you possibly identify with about living in the ghetto?” The best you could hope for was Tairrie B; the worst, Vanilla Ice. Perhaps that is different a decade on from Eminem, but he is still the other in that group.

I recall the black kids I knew who liked goth or indie just being naturally accepted as part of our group of misfits – we were all different, after all – but it didn’t occur to me that being so obviously marked out in a strikingly visual way would matter much. For that matter, I could count the number of blonde goths I knew on one hand.

When I was at school, I was never aware of any issues of race because there was no majority. I grew up in a very diverse area where there was no fixed idea of what “normal” was, so it was very strange to me, first to move to a London suburb where I was the only non-Asian face, and then to the country where the only faces were white ones.

Ultimately, I’m just curious, and in some senses excited, too. I’ve always felt there was something a bit weird about a lack of diversity, associating it with a kind of cultural stagnation. Perhaps that’s why there’s such a buzz about the above image, and so many people find it beautiful in a way that goes beyond the obvious it’s-a-pretty-picture sense.

Eh, I don’t know where I’m going with this, and perhaps there are a few people cringing while reading this (for which I unreservedly apologise). I’m just earnestly fascinated by human behaviour and cultural subgroups, generally.

If you ever have felt like the “other”, in any sense, for any reason (and I think everyone has at some point), I’d be interested to know how it worked out for you. Did it bother you and make you feel alone? Or did you puff yourself up, paint yourself pretty and mutter, “So deal with it, world”?


One comment on “Who is the “other” any more?

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