Jasmine Nichole Cobb, "Tactility and the Texture of Racial Capitalism"
Friday, September 25, 2020 - 9:30am to 11:00am
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Coming out of the Civil Rights Movement and political struggles of the middle-twentieth century, the Afro has endured as an icon of black liberation aesthetics. Through a mixed-media archive of photojournalism and print advertisements, this particular black hairstyle has often been associated with the term "freedom" without sufficient exploration of hair's suppression in public culture and visual representation. This talk explores the historical and cultural contexts informing repression where black hair is a stand in for black aesthetics. I argue that the shifting significations associated with "natural hair"-the concept and characteristics of black hair textures in the absence of chemical and mechanical straighteners-begins with slavery, but endures through racial capitalism. Accordingly, this talk thinks through hair as an image and images about hair in order to limn the relationship between black visual culture and capitalism, shifting our scholarly focus away from issues of entrepreneurship, labor and commodification, and toward a question of violence. Hair as a kind of media presents an opportunity to think about representations of black freedom, but also through questions about race, citizenship and social mobility.
Jasmine Nichole Cobb is the Bacca Foundation Associate Professor of African & African American Studies and of Art, Art History and Visual Studies, as well as a co-director of the “From Slavery to Freedom” (FS2F) Humanities Lab at the Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University. A scholar of black cultural production and visual representation, Cobb is the author of two monographs, Picture Freedom: Remaking Black Visuality in the Early Nineteenth Century (NYUP 2015) and New Growth: The Art and Texture of Black Hair after Emancipation, forthcoming on Duke University Press. She is the editor for African American Literature in Transition, 1800-1830 (Cambridge University Press, 2021) and has written essays for Camera Obscura, Public Culture, MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States, and American Literary History.
Cobb earned a PhD from the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, as well as a graduate certificate in Africana Studies. Prior to Duke, she served on the faculty at Northwestern University, and held fellowships through the Africana Research Center, Pennsylvania State University and the American Fellowship from the American Association of University Women (AAUW).