New Club Creates a Space for Alternative Black and Femme Students

Alt/Black, Oberlin’s new goth, punk, metal, alternative club for Black women and femmes, was founded by College second-year Jordann Sadler and College third-year Mikaela Howard at the beginning of this semester. The club welcomes “all Black, femme, and women-identifying students, as well as their constructive allies” who are interested in alternative subcultures. 

“It’s about getting us [Black women and Black femmes] all together and seeing that we’re here and recognizing that we’re here,” Sadler said. 

Sadler came up with the idea for the group as a Black woman and metal fan who does not see herself represented in the mainstream metal community. 

“We saw all the gatekeeping — even within the Black alternative community — and it was just so weird to me,” she said. “Alternative has always been anti-establishment, freeing yourself from restrictions that we put on ourselves. … And it’s funny because in the liberal community we have [that promotes the idea of], ‘Oh, be free and dress the way you dress.’ But if you’re Black, it’s like, ‘Whoa, wait a second.’ [Alt/Black] is about noticing the hypocrisy in those communities that are permanently white spaces.”

Howard, who is passionate about goth fashion, and specifically Lolita fashion — a Japanese fashion movement inspired by the Rococo period and born out of youth street culture — also finds gatekeeping an issue in traditional goth identity. 

“When I was younger, there were pale blogs [where] only pale people were seen as like the correct answer [to goth fashion],” Howard explained. “And if you had darker skin, then you didn’t deserve to wear certain clothes.” 

This type of gatekeeping and putting restrictions on the idea of “alternative” extends to the Black community as well. 

“When [I’m] wearing pastels, sometimes even my Black friends will be like, ‘Are you sure you want to do that? Like, is that really what we’re doing?’” Howard said. 

College third-year and Alt/Black member Madeleine Clements describes her experience a little differently. 

“I think I had a hard time trying to figure out if I fit within [the alternative] community,” Clements said. “Like I identify as alternative, but not necessarily punk. I grew up listening to folk and country music. That’s not something, until ‘Old Town Road’ came out, that was really explored in the Black community.” 

Many students who come to Oberlin experience a sort of culture shock when met with the alternative Oberlin culture.

“There were three Obie-like people [in my hometown], and then I get here and everybody’s Obie, and I can tell that I stick out like a sore thumb,” said Howard, who is from North Carolina. 

As all these people have found, it can be difficult when everyone else is weird in the same way, but in a different way from you. 

“It’s hard to be weird amongst a group of weirdos,” said Clements. 

As a result, Alt/Black emphasizes a welcoming atmosphere where everyone can come and learn about different alternative subcultures, regardless of their background. 

“Coming in, I didn’t know anything about the history of punk at all,” Clements said. “That just wasn’t my genre. And [Sadler] had made a whole PowerPoint.” 

Alt/Black is for people, specifically Black and femme people, who feel invisible or unrepresented on campus, or lonely. A lot of the group’s members focus on making connections and learning about all the different definitions of alternative, which vary from person to person, according to Sadler. 

Future events include a trip to Volunteers of America thrift store where each participant gets an hour to find outfits for every other person in the group. Sadler is also hoping to host a movie screening of the documentary A Band Called Death, which is about a Black punk band from Detroit. 

“If I wasn’t here, Alt/Black wouldn’t be created,” Sadler said. “So it was like out of this oppression and suppression, there’s something beautiful that comes out of it and that’s Blackness. Black is [about] creating the most beautiful thing.”

Alt/Black meets in Wilder 211 on Saturdays from 3–4 p.m. and is enthusiastic about welcoming new members. Sadler and Howard are in the process of getting a club charter for Alt/Black and encourage interested students to email them and join the Facebook group.