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Dressing for freedom and justice

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Clothing communicates our attitudes and positions in the world, particularly when a dress is used as a vehicle for protest. This article has two goals. First, it analyses the history of protest dress of Black American resistance movements. Second, it scrutinizes the public perception of these movements by reviewing white media images of Black bodies participating in the resistance. The media shapes our world as well as public perceptions. It is linked to social change, thus, investigating various media images allows us to explore the cultural systems in which we live and the complexity of different means of communication and human interactions. Two theoretical frameworks have driven the research process. Social semiotics was employed to explain meaning-making as a social process and critical race theory to investigate the ways in which racialized bodies are perceived in white media. The latter was chosen because of its usefulness for examining society’s categorizations of race, law, power and culture. Through the lens of these two theoretical frameworks, it becomes evident that the dress of Black American protestors has historically communicated various discourses at the same time.
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Keywords: Black Lives Matter; Black Power; Civil Rights; LA Riots; critical race theory; protest dress; slave dress; social semiotics

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 000000041936738XUniversity of Georgia

Publication date: June 1, 2019

More about this publication?
  • We all wear clothes. We are all therefore invested at some level in the production and consumption of clothing. This journal intends to embrace issues and themes that are both universal and personal, addressing [and dressing] us all. Increasingly, as we all become accomplished semioticians, clothing becomes the key signifier in determining social interaction and behaviour, and sartorial norms dictate socio-cultural appropriateness. Following the rise of fashion theory, on an everyday level, we all understand that our clothes 'say' something about us, about our times, nation, system of values. Yet clothing is not fashion; clothing is a term derivative from 'cloth', to cover the body, whereas fashion alludes to the glamorous, the ephemeral and the avant garde. We wear clothes, but imagine fashion-an unattainable ideal.
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