My dissertation, “Each New Curl Howling a War Cry: Black Women and Embodied Racial Formation” examines how women of African descent use consumer-based strategies to negotiate a politicized trend of wearing un- straightened kinky and curly hair with disparate expectations of state institutions, employers, family members, and romantic partners. Given the overt and implicit ways women of color are systematically held accountable to a hegemonic femininity that devalues blackness, it is clear that hair and beauty are feminist social justice concerns and deserve academic attention.
Using 3 years of qualitative ethnographic participant observation and 80 interviews with women of African descent in Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York, Paris, Amsterdam, Valencia, Madrid, Johannesburg and Cape Town, my dissertation research focuses on Black women's interactions with the natural hair movement community. I documented how and when social movement and capitalist discourses are deployed at natural hair meet-ups, conventions, expos, and in online networks to theorize how black women reinforce and challenge white supremacist patriarchy while organizing around their hair.
My findings rely on theoretical insights by social movement scholars, critical race theorists, sociologists of the body, economic sociologists, and feminist historians interested in the interplay between black feminist politics, black bodies and black business. Critical race theory highlights whiteness as a form of property inscribed in laws, policies, and institutional frameworks to confer material, political, and social benefits based on race. I add feminist analysis of the body to further explain that race, gender, and class mutually shape women of color’s social locations, which in turn affect both how others view black women’s bodies and black women’s own bodywork.
An early manuscript of my dissertation won the Kerckhoff Prize for Best Graduate Paper in Gender Studies at USC. You can check out my CV and some of my writing for popular media outlets on this site. The book manuscript for this project is in progress.