Critical theorist bell hooks (1990, 146) argues “language is also a place of power.” My research focuses on how language is a place of power by analyzing the nexus of language and cultural and/or political responses to Black women. More specifically, my research efforts critically investigate how discursively constructed understandings of Black womanhood, in the U.S., shape society’s responses to social, political, economic and health issues that impact the material lives of Black women. Utilizing intersectionality, grounded in Black feminist thought, I explore the relationship between race, gender, class, sexuality, and public policy.
I am committed to engaging in critical research. To that end, I have authored a number of projects centered on the following general themes: developing critical policy analysis; power and agency, and “giving voice to the voiceless”. In Black Women, Social Images and Cultural Policy Iexamine the use of cultural images and symbols of Black womanhood across three policy domains: crime, welfare, and family policies. By means of a critical discourse analysis approach, I study how key decision makers in the U.S. use and manipulate raced and gendered cultural images and symbols and the impact of such usage on the African American quest for social justice. Analyzing these phenomena allows us to recognize and account for the central role of social values, as conveyed through cultural images and symbols, in the discourse of social problems and policies. In the spirit of Black feminism and womanism, I conclude the book by offering four separate but related approaches/strategies that are designed to empower the Black community, and those supportive to their quest for equality, on how they can influence the policy-making process.
I am working on the manuscript Shadow Bodies: Black Women, Representation, Ideology and Politics. This work explores the intra-group representation of Black women by Black women and the implications of such representation on policy discourses targeting these women. Various studies suggest that Black women are disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS, mental illness, and domestic violence both singularly and combined. Extant literature on these three issues systematically discusses how African Americans remain silent; however there is a dearth in the literature regarding Black women’s voices on these issues and why the majority remains silent. Shadow Bodies analyzes how Black female bloggers, Black congresswomen, and two magazines, Essence and Ebony, talk about and represent HIV/AIDS, mental illness, and domestic violence, to fill these academic and practical voids.
I posit that silence results in some Black women being treated as shadow images (a form of representation). As I argue Black women’s silence is the consequence of their response to two scripts ascribed to Black women’s bodies. It is via Black women’s response to two meta-scripts—the “ass” (which speaks to sexual relations, the commodification of Black women’s bodies, and the inclusion of Black women in the larger Black community) and “strong” Black woman scripts—that they are muted or silenced; thereby, resulting in some Black women becoming shadow images in our understanding of HIV/AIDS, mental illness, and domestic violence.
My research has been generally well received. For example, Black Women, Cultural Images, and Public Policy (Routledge 2009) was the winner National Conference of Black Political Scientists’ 2009 W.E.B. Du Bois Distinguished Book Award, and the 2010 Anna Julia Cooper Outstanding Book Publication Award, Association for the Study of Black Women in Politics. My article “Am I a Black Woman or a Woman who is Black? A Few Thoughts on the Meaning of Intersectionality.” Politics & Gender 2007, 3(2): 254-263 continues to be among the top fifty down loaded articles. Finally, Black Girlhood and “The Help”: Constructing Black Girlhood in a “Post” Racial, Gender, and Welfare State” was awarded the 2013 National Conference of Black Political Scientists’ Rodney Higgins Best Faculty Paper Award.