FREE Online Forum: Black Women and the Politics of Respectability

From Black Perspectives


Two African American women, half-length portrait, facing each other (Daniel Murray Collection, Library of Congress).

Black Perspectives is collaborating with SOULS: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society to host an online forum on “Black Women and the Politics of Respectability.” The forum begins on Monday, April 24, 2017 and concludes on Friday, April 28, 2017. It will feature essays by Ralina L. Joseph (University of Washington), Jane Rhodes (University of Illinois at Chicago), Sara P. Díaz (Gonzaga University), Katharina Fackler (University of Graz, Austria), and Julian Kevon Glover (Northwestern University).

During the week of the online forum, Black Perspectives will publish new blog posts every day at 5:30AM EST. Please follow Black Perspectives (@BlkPerspectives) and AAIHS (@AAIHS) on Twitter; like AAIHS on Facebook; or subscribe to our blog for updates. By subscribing to Black Perspectives, each new post will automatically be delivered to your inbox during the week of the forum.

About the Forum
The forum is based on a special issue in SOULS on African Americans and the Politics of Respectability, edited by Ralina L. Joseph and Jane Rhodes. Cultural representations crafted by African Americans have often borne the special burden of “uplifting the race.” From antebellum print culture and early motion pictures to contemporary television and social media, images and performances of blackness are expected to conform to ideals of respectability. The politics of bourgeois respectability among African Americans are structured by class, region and color. They are profoundly gendered and focused on sexuality through tropes of chastity, self-control, and virtue. The story of respectability politics is one of community members questioning if their images are noble, articulate, polished, and intelligent enough. In other words, do certain representations make “us” look bad in front of “them”? African American creative workers who push back against these expectations are simultaneously criticized and embraced, shunned and commodified.

This week-long forum, in collaboration with SOULS, interrogates the ways in which representations of African American women can be silenced–or resisted–through moral contestation and conformity in mass culture. It grapples with how the “politics of respectability,” a phrase coined by Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, shaped black women’s lives and experiences from the early twentieth century to the present. “The contestation over the politics of respectability,” Joseph and Rhodes argue, “has been inspired by representations in the arts, politics, and culture.” “From hip-hop fashion and lyrics, to popular media, to the Internet, and to public sites of protest and civil unrest,” they continue, “African Americans remain acutely hypervisible and under surveillance a century after Higgenbotham’s activist women and their counterparts began advocating for strict codes of behavior.”

Read and learn more about online forum.

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