From the Kitchen to the Parlor: Language and Becoming in African American Women's Hair Care

From the Kitchen to the Parlor: Language and Becoming in African American Women's Hair Care

From the Kitchen to the Parlor: Language and Becoming in African American Women's Hair Care

From the Kitchen to the Parlor: Language and Becoming in African American Women's Hair Care

Excerpt

Hair. It may seem like a mundane subject, but it has profound implications for how African American women experience the world. Historically, Black women's tightly curled hair textures have pre sented an array of challenges, epitomized in debates concerning Black hairstyles as indicators of racial consciousness, the suitability of Afrocentric hairstyles (e.g., braids, Afros, dreadlocks) at work, and the extent to which cultural notions of [good] versus [bad] hair continue to privilege Eurocentric standards of beauty. One important implication of such debates is that Black women's hairstyle choices are seldom just about aesthetics or personal choice, but are instead ever complicated by such issues as mate desire, mainstream standards of beauty, workplace standards of presentation, and ethnic/cultural pride.

Over the past decade, a proliferation of academic books, anthologies, novels, and biographies have been published that explain why hair remains a highly symbolic and, at times, controversial medium for African Americans, particularly women (e.g., Bonner 1991; Bundles 2001; Byrd and Tharps 2001; Due 2000; Harris and Johnson 2001; Lake 2003). Recent work by Noliwe Rooks (1996), Ingrid Banks (2000), Kimberly Battle-Walters (2004), and Yolanda Majors (2001, 2003, 2004) are especially relevant testaments to the central role of hair in Black women's lived experiences and conceptions of self. Rooks's book, Hair Raising: Beauty, Culture, and African American Women, examines how historical and contemporary Black hair advertisements inflect the politics of Black women's self-concepts and bodily and business practices. Banks's text, Hair Matters: Beauty, Power, and Black Women's Conscious-

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