Degree

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Geography and Anthropology

Document Type

Dissertation

Abstract

Black women wearing fabulous braids are a striking feature of the Afro-diasporic cultural landscape. However, the braiders and salon owners who enable this aesthetic engineering are seldom acknowledged. This dissertation investigates the experience and role of Caribbean and West and Central African women in the hair braiding industry, a rapidly growing business in the U.S. I address the complexity of these women’s multiple social roles and the multiple consciousness (King, 1988) associated with their demographic characteristics (color, ethnicity, gender, nationality, and immigrant status). The commonalities between the braiders and their mostly African American customers contrast vividly with their perception of one another as a cultural group and as business counterparts. This dissertation examines the aforementioned contrasts, and thereby enters the debate of the definition and significance of gendered blackness/racialized gender, when ethnicity transcends race. Late-20th and 21st century trans-diasporic migrations (especially the movement of Africans to and from Europe and the U.S.) have changed the make-up of the black diaspora and, consequently, what it means to be black in the modern world. As I discuss ethnicity as a for-profit construct in the U.S. and Jamaican political economy, I also propose a re-visited definition of Africanness, adjusted to the contemporary make-up of the African diaspora. In addition, I evaluate the label “African Hair Braiding” that features in numerous salons’ names by inspecting the “African” element in the service they render. The resulting dissertation reports and analyzes participant observation narratives, field notes, and interviews with owners, braiders, and customers in Queens (NY) and Baton Rouge (LA). I also examine the hair braiding market as both product and agent of globalization, shedding light on the contribution of these workers – a contribution that is often taken for granted, underestimated, underappreciated, ignored, or simply unheard of.

Date

11-14-2017

Committee Chair

Jackson, Joyce