My dissertation research examines how women of African descent negotiate a politicized trend of wearing un-straightened kinky and curly hair with disparate expectations of state institutions, employers, family members, and romantic partners. To this end, I rely on the theoretical insights of 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. 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, my dissertation research focuses on Black women's their interactions both in-person and online with the natural hair movement community. At natural hair meet-ups, conventions, expos, and on online networks, I document how and when social movement and capitalist discourses are deployed, and the ways in which black women both reinforce and challenge white supremacist patriarchy in organizing around their hair.