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Hair Matters

Beauty, Power, and Black Women's Consciousness

Ingrid Banks

Publication Year: 2000

Long hair in the 60s, Afros in the early 70s, bobs in the 80s, fuschia in the 90s. Hair is one of the first attributes to catch our eye, not only because it reflects perceptions of attractiveness or unattractiveness, but also because it conveys important political, cultural, and social meanings, particularly in relation to group identity. Given that mainstream images of beauty do not privilege dark skin and tightly coiled hair, African American women's experience provides a starkly different perspective on the meaning of hair in social identity."
--National Women's Studies Association Journal

"Grab your copy at your local bookseller and get hip to what your hair is saying to others with regards to beauty, culture and politics. Learn about how culture has a love for coifs, because after all, so do you!"
Sophisticate's Black Hair Styles Guide

Drawing on interviews with over 50 women, from teens to seniors, Hair Matters is the first book on the politics of Black hair to be based on substantive, ethnographically informed research. Focusing on the everyday discussions that Black women have among themselves and about themselves, Ingrid Banks analyzes how talking about hair reveals Black women's ideas about race, gender, sexuality, beauty, and power. Ultimately, what emerges is a survey of Black women's consciousness within both their own communities and mainstream culture at large.

Published by: NYU Press

Hair Matters: Beauty, Power, and Black Women's Consciousness

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Hair Matters


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I extend deep gratitude to the girls and women who shared their perspectives about black women and hair. They are the true authors of Hair Matters. Many thanks to those who helped me recruit girls and women, and to all those who allowed me to take...

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Introduction: Unhappy to Be Nappy

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pp. 1-20

In late November 1998, Ruth Sherman, a white teacher at predominantly black and Hispanic Public School (P.S.) 75 in Brooklyn, found herself embroiled in a national controversy after using Carolivia Herron’s children’s book Nappy Hair (1997) in her third grade class. The story’s main character, Brenda, has long and...

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1. Why Hair Matters: Getting to the Roots

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pp. 21-40

Black women share a collective consciousness about hair, though it is articulated in a variety of ways. The first question I asked the girls and women is how and why hair matters. Given the many personal reflective writings by black women...

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2. The Hair “Do’s” and “Don’ts” of Black Womanhood

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pp. 41-68

In the Broadway play The Colored Museum, George C. Wolfe (1987) highlights the importance of hair among black women. In a scene entitled “The Hairpiece,” Wolfe demonstrates the political, social, esthetic, and personal tensions that arise in issues surrounding hair and black women. The scene...

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3. Splitting Hairs: Power, Choice, and Femininity

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pp. 69-98

An important critique of the self-hatred account of hair alteration is that it does not take into consideration hairstyling practices that reflect how black women exercise power and choice, as some women noted in chapter 2. The possibility that...

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4. Women and Girls Speak Out: Five Hair-Raising Sessions

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pp. 99-138

Hair is one of the most talked about subjects among black women. Focus group research can be viewed as a way of recreating these casual discussions. Moreover, talking to groups of women also brings a different dimension to the data collected in...

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5. Black Hair, 1990s Style

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pp. 139-146

In tracing black hairstyling practices during the twentieth century it becomes clear that in the 1990s a variety of hairstyling practices have come on the scene, much of it among U.S. black youth culture. The influence of hip-hop culture and rap music and videos has been tremendous on the styles of black youth,...

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pp. 147-156

While the media in general was fascinated by the fact that a white teacher was reprimanded after using a children’s book about a black girl’s hair, the point of contention among blacks was more insidious. I again encountered the concern among blacks about highlighting the issue of hair during the summer...

Appendix I: Methods, Methodology, and the Shaping of Hair Matters

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pp. 157-170

Appendix II: Defining Black Hair and Hairstyling Practices

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pp. 171-174

Appendix III: Interviewee Demographics

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pp. 175-178


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pp. 179-184


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pp. 185-192


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pp. 193-196

About the Author

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p. 197-197

E-ISBN-13: 9780814739457
E-ISBN-10: 0814739458
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814713365
Print-ISBN-10: 081471336X

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2000