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Releasing the pursuit of bouncin' and behavin' hair: natural hair as an Afrocentric feminist aesthetic for beauty

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Hair, like the issue of skin colour, carries much historical and social baggage in the African American community. Since slavery, the colour caste system within the African American community has perpetuated internalized racism and selfhatred. The system promotes a hierarchy that suggests the more European one's features - the lighter one's skin, the less ethnic one's facial features and the straighter and longer one's hair - the greater one's social value. Since non-discursive phenomena are included in the scope of rhetoric, visual images, such as choice of hairstyles, are rhetorical. Using an Afrocentric-feminist critical framing, I argue that some women who choose to wear their hair natural are making a rhetorical statement that resists Eurocentric standards of beauty while engaging in an act of self-definition and liberation. Since one of the primary interests in both Afrocentric and black feminist criticism is to understand how oppression is constructed and eliminated, this study seeks to understand (1) how a Eurocentric standard of beauty is constructed and perpetuated in American culture and (2) how some women have challenged and transformed this universal standard by the choice they make in how they wear their hair. This rhetorical analysis will provide an overview of the politics of hair in the African American community and apply an Afrocentric-black feminist critical lens to the narratives of fourteen women who have chosen to wear their hair natural.
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Keywords: African American women; Afrocentric; black feminist; hair politics; rhetorical analysis

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Miami University.

Publication date: 2005-12-01

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  • The International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics is committed to analyzing the politics of communication(s) and cultural processes. It addresses cultural politics in their local, international and global dimensions, recognizing equally the importance of issues defined by their specific cultural geography and those that traverse cultures and nations.
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