Five College Women's Studies Research Center

The Politics of Appearance: Black Women Legislators

On Friday, April 6 at 1:00pm in the New York Room of Mary Woolley Hall on the Mount Holyoke College campus in South Hadley, Nadia Brown, Assistant Professor of Political Science and African American Studies from St. Louis University, will give a talk entitled “The Politics of Appearance: Black Women Legislators Discuss Hair, Skin Color, and Body Image.”

African American women state legislators experience the intersection of race and gender differently than Black men, White women, as well as other minority women (Brown 2010; Smooth 2001). However, while scholars readily point to legislative difference due to Black women’s race and gender (Braxton and Haynie 1999; Barrett 1995; Smooth 2006; Gill 1997) scant few have discussed how Black women’s appearance effect how their colleagues and constituents view them. Black women’s decisions on how to wear their hair influences how they are perceived. In conducting feminist life histories with the Black women Maryland state legislators, I found that they all comment on their hair and how their decisions to wear their hair impacts how their colleagues and/or constituents view them. The legislators’ voluntary articulation of the politics of hair points to a unique aspect of Black women’s legislative experience. This culturally relevant expression of self is not lost on Black women state legislators as they seek to represent their diverse constituents who use hair as a political heuristic. The Maryland African American women legislators in my study navigate the politics of hair differently yet all struggle with their appearance as they are keenly aware of how their personal hair decision impacts their legislative experiences. This talk is co-sponsored with the Mount Holyoke College Department of Gender Studies. (Brown flyer)