Blackness across Borders

June 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

I recently came across an interesting blog by an Afro-Cuban scholar with lots to say about Blackness on the Caribbean’s largest island and throughout the Americas.  This blog, Negra Cubana Tenía que Ser, published an interesting post on a popular image associated with Black power, beauty, and hair–the afro.

The post, Lidiando con mi pasa (Dealing with my nappy hair), approaches the dissemination of a popular image of Blackness–one that illustrated the Black American community’s production of an aesthetic that embraced an alternative to white mainstream conceptions of beauty.  Although the afro is a hairstyle that permitted Black men and women to experience their racialized bodies in ways unimaginable to many before the Black Power Movement, the politicization of the “natural” Black body has occurred in many different ways.  This is especially the case when we take into account images and people that the cross borders.

My Parents and their racialized cool

Lidiando con mi pasa makes refernece to Cuban support of the Black Power Movement for its position in resisting and bringing attention to inequalities facilitated by US social and governmental structures.  The afro’s association with Black civil rights (and thus, revolution) was noted by people within and beyond US borders.  In Cuba, however, the afro’s association with resistance raised questions regarding the rebellious nature of the Black body.  If this hair was a sign of dissonance, what were Black Cubans trying to do in a communist country where race was no longer a problem?

At the same time, the connections between the afro and an emerging style–a racialized cool, if you will–certainly urged large numbers of people in the African Diaspora to grow and pick their hair while lifting a fist.  Yes, it was a politicized image, but it was also cool.  If you don’t agree, then find a good reason for why Blacksploitation films caught on after Van Peebles’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song got so much love from the people despite lack of support from major movie studios.  Black was suddenly cool, beautiful, powerful, and public.  Yeah, it still sounds revolutionary today.

Importantly, whether crossing from one side of town to the next, state to state, or from country to country, our bodies carry a baggage of which we are rarely aware.  Local and national politics, popular culture, and economic factors contribute to the ways that embodied subjects navigate the messy interconnections of style, beauty, sex appeal, citizenship in the here and now.  The details of these relationships provide spaces where something as simple as a few inches of Black natural hair becomes so much more.

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