Iconic: Decoding Images of the Revolutionary Black Woman

Overview

Angela Davis, Pam Grier, Alice Walker, Michelle Obama. Revolutionary black women have evoked strong reaction throughout American history. Magazines, political campaigns, music, television, and movies have relied upon deep-seated archetypes and habitually cast strong, countercultural black women as mammies and sexual objects. In Iconic Lakesia Johnson explores how this belittling imagery is imposed by American media, revealing an immense cultural fear of black women's power and ...

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Overview

Angela Davis, Pam Grier, Alice Walker, Michelle Obama. Revolutionary black women have evoked strong reaction throughout American history. Magazines, political campaigns, music, television, and movies have relied upon deep-seated archetypes and habitually cast strong, countercultural black women as mammies and sexual objects. In Iconic Lakesia Johnson explores how this belittling imagery is imposed by American media, revealing an immense cultural fear of black women's power and potential.

But the media does not have the last word. Johnson chronicles how strong black women--truly revolutionary black women--have nonetheless taken control of their own imaging despite consistent negative characterizations. Through their speech, demeanor, fashion, and social relationships, women from Sojourner Truth to Michelle Obama have counteracted these depictions. With ingenuity, fortitude, and focus on the greater good, these revolutionary women transformed the cultural images of themselves and, simultaneously, those of American black women as a whole.

Seamlessly weaving together role models of past and present, from women in politics to artists and musicians, Johnson eloquently demonstrates how the revolutionary black woman in many public forums has been--and continues to be--a central figure in challenging long-standing social injustices.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Grinnell College professor Johnson expects the term “revolutionary” to do too much work in this analysis of media representations of nine African-American women: Angela Davis and Kathleen Cleaver “in the news”; Pam Grier “in film”; Alice Walker and Audre Lorde “in literature”; Erykah Badu and Me’shell Ndegéocello “in music”; with a nod to the historical with Sojourner Truth, and a chapter for Michelle Obama. The term unfortunately becomes an empty verbal tic: “Ndegéocello’s performance of masculinity and femininity reflects the revolutionary way that her work negotiates binary oppositions.” In her conclusion, Johnson speaks of her subjects as “contribut to societal change through resisting negative images promoted by a society fearful of their power.” Along the way, she attempts to displace the stereotypical image of the “angry black woman,” with the dubious “strong black woman.” Alas, in the analysis of photographic images, much is in the eye of the beholder, and much is left to the mental dexterity of the reader in uncovering the meaning of “revolutionary.” The illustrations are informing, but their contemporaneous and historical interest are buried in part by the ephemeral nature of magazine covers, newspaper articles, book and record jackets, movie posters, and so forth. Readers in Johnson’s specialty (gender, women’s, and sexuality studies) may find food for thought. Photos. (Aug.)
From the Publisher

"Through the genres of film, literature, music, and politics, Johnson highlights the skill with which black female iconic figures navigate successfully through the mire of stereotypical images that seek habitually to destroy them. Demonstrating that the strong black woman iconography can have both positive and negative consequences, this work provides a much needed intervention into discourses concerning black womanhood, race and representation."
--Kimberly Nichele Brown, author of Writing the Black Revolutionary Diva: Women's Subjectivity and the Decolonizing Text

"A timely and accessible interdisciplinary work on the politics implicit in representations of black 'revolutionary' women in the media--Johnson's Iconic enhances the contemporary critical exploration of politicized black women and those operating in the glare of the political spotlight. Her lively readings of Angela Davis, Michelle Obama, and Erykah Badu, among others, will be very useful for scholars in several fields, including African American cultural studies, gender and sexuality studies, and media studies."
--Stephane Dunn, author of Baad Bitches & Sassy Supermamas: Black Power Action Films

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781602586444
  • Publisher: Baylor University Press
  • Publication date: 8/15/2012
  • Pages: 183
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author


Lakesia D. Johnson is Assistant Professor of Gender, Women's, & Sexuality Studies and English at Grinnell College. She lives in Grinnell, Iowa.
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Table of Contents

1. The Myth of the Angry Black Woman: From Sojourner Truth to Michelle Obama
2. Revolutionary Black Women in the News: The Politics of Angela Davis and Kathleen Cleaver
3. Revolutionary Black Women in Film: Blaxploitation and the Legacy of Pam Grier
4. Revolutionary Black Women in Literature: The Narratives of Alice Walker and Audre Lorde
5. Revolutionary Black Women and Music: The Hip-Hop Feminism of Erykah Badu and Me'shell Ndegéocello
6. The Many Images of the Revolutionary Black Woman: Michelle Obama Reconsidered

Notes
Filmography
Bibliography
Index

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