Author: drainey2

Black’s Identity through fashion and appearance

AANovels Digital Essay

Three African American men proudly showing off their Dashiki’s.

Throughout the history of time, cultures have used tons of  avenues to express themselves. Whether through food, dance or music their uniqueness has been used to help form their cultural identity. One way in which African American’s  express their culture is through fashion and appearance.

In the above picture we have three brown skinned men who appear to be between the ages of 35 to 50. Two of the men have on leather sandals while the other has on black leather dress shoes. Even though the three men have differing qualities they seem have one thing in common, their garments. Their garments seem to be more neutral and earth tone colors and also contains beautiful embroidery and pattern. These garments  are known throughout the African American community as Dashikis. A Dashiki is a loose fitting shirt that originates and has roots from the regions of West and East Africa. They all also have on caps known as Kufi’s and Sokoto’s also known as pants.

By wearing this African attire the men in the above picture are trying to be representative of their culture. Just like the men in the above picture, men in John KillensThe Cotillion used fashion to identify with their “blackness”. John Killens gives us an example of how narrow minded some blacks were during these times. Back in this time period, blackness was measured by how Afrocentric you appeared to be. If you didn’t constantly express your culture through your dress or attire your blackness came into question. An example of this can be seen through one of Killen’s main male characters.

Lumumba is known throughout Harlem as an established poet and is highly respected within the community. Lumumba is one of the leaders within the community and is known for his African fashion sense and scruffy beard.  Even though Lumumba is well respected for his activism, the change in his appearance causes people to question his blackness,” Who in the hell? Do I know you Then recognition lit his face. He was himself already lit.Brother! That ain’t you! Is it? What happened to you, baby” ( Killens, 153).

Once the man recognizes Lumumba he proceeds to tell him about his new look,”It’s them skinny skimpy-ass clothes you got on, Black beard told him, oblivious to Yoruba’s laughter and the staring people. You look like you turning white or something, you look absolutely decadent. I mean, you look like you broke into Uncle Jacke’s pawnshop or something. And Man! What happened to your face? It looks like a naked pussycat, I mean you tryna pass or something?” ( Killens, 154).  Due to Lumumba changing his appearance his identity of being a true black man was questioned. This example helps to further prove how important appearance was to people who were involved in the black arts movement.

Like back in the day, clothing is still used as an avenue in which a person can individually express themselves. From a young college man wearing the newest Air Jordan 3 retros, to 5 year old  elementary school girl wearing a Mickey Mouse shirt, to the 38 year old middle age woman strutting down the hallways of her workplace in her new business suit they all are making some type of statement. The type of clothing you wear is a way to identify a person’s style and offer slight  insight into a person’s beliefs.

Fashion is defined as a popular trend, especially in styles of dress and ornament or manners of behavior. Fashion in a way has taken on an art form. Before putting on any clothes your body essentially acts a blank canvas. Once you begin to put on each article of clothing you add color to the once blank canvas. The addition of color allows you to make more of a statement and express your style.  to The type of clothing you wear is a way to identify a person’s style and offer’s slight insight into a person’s beliefs. Just as girls make fashion statements today by wearing spiked shoes, or 5 inch heels females back in the mid 1900s also had ways of expressing themselves.

One way that females expressed their blackness was through the appearance their hair. Hair appearance is very important to African’s American males but not nearly as important to the females. Hair acts as a creative outlet to allow women to express themselves in many ways. With the unlimited ways a woman could style her hair she essentially becomes  a walking billboard. Whatever hairstyle a woman possessed acted as a endorsement. For instance if a African American woman possessed straight hair or relaxed hair she may be criticized. The main critics would argue that the female is abandoning her natural black hair in order to look more European or White. Even though some girls received criticism they also received praise. Good hair or relaxed hair as some call it can seem to trump other physical flaws and can totally account for beauty.

In The Cotillion, we have a prime example of how good hair is considered the ultimate trait to posses,”I’m so happy you making friends with Brenda Brasswork. She’s such a lovely girl. Her skin’s so smooth, Yoruba said, Actually, Brenda’s face is as pimply as a pomegranate. She’s got a terrible case of acne. And she could almost pass for white, her mother said. And she’s got good hair too. It’s even better’n mine.Good hair, Mother? Yes, she’s got good hair. Admit it. Giver her credit. Everybody’s got good hair, Mother, excepting those who hair is falling out. Don’t cross-talk me, girl. You know what I mean. Okay, I know, Mother. You mean Brenda’s got hair like white folks.Yes, her mother answered. That’s what I said at first, she’s got good stuff up on her head.” (Killens, 165).

The idea of  having good hair has taken over the black community and some of the people that were once proud to wear their natural nappy hair are now somewhat addicted to the relaxer or  the creamy crack as its often called. Whether its exposing your hair and skin to toxic chemicals or spending thousands of dollars on weave and hair extensions,women are willing to go to extreme lengths to make sure their hair looks good.

The above video is a trailer from a movie called Good Hair featuring Chris Rock. In this movie, Chris Rock goes on a journey to learn more about the significance of hair and its importance in the black community. The trailer shows how people in today’s society define good hair and even some of the lengths they go through obtain it. From the opening scene in the trailer, Chris Rock asks a customer in a salon to define good hair. She answers by saying something that is relaxed and nice. This attitude is shared by some of the folks in the movie and only supports the notion that Lady Daphne introduces claiming that relaxed or white like hair is beautiful. The worst part of creamy crack addiction may not be its physical damage but maybe in its psychological damage.

Its psychologically damaging because if good hair is only associated with beauty then it limits the amount of people that can be considered beautiful. People who do not have relaxed hair may often feel inferior or not as pretty as a girl who has relaxed hair. The media has had an active hand in not only polluting the minds of young women but young girls only in elementary school. Chris Rock exposes the viewer to this mindset when his elementary school daughter comes and asks him daddy why don’t I have good hair? This type of insecurity at such a young age is extremely alarming and African American’s should seek to destroy this type of mindset by educating their children on all types of beauty and not limit it to a single thing.

Another way in which females have looked to express their black identity is through clothing as well. In the past women were pressured to dress conservatively and in neutral dull colors. This was very apparent in first pages of Larsen’s , Quicksand when the author described the attire of the women,” Turning from the window, her gaze wandered contemptuously over the dull attire of the women workers. Drab colors, mostly navy blue, black, brown, unrelieved save for scrap of white or tan about the hands and necks. Fragments of a speech made by the dean of women floated through her thoughts-Bright colors are vulgar- Black, gray, brown and navy blue are the most becoming colors for colored people.”(Larsen,16). This mindset was used to help African Americans assimilate into the white culture that had surrounded them.

One way in particular men have tried to identify their blackness is through the particular types of clothes they wear. Urban wear has been a very lucrative business since the early 1990s and was heavily influenced and driven by the taking off hip hop as a musical genre. Media outlets like MTV and BET were able to broadcast rap videos and award shows to hundreds of millions across the nation. With their broad reach, people around the world associated blackness from what they were exposed to in the rap videos.

They were exposed to African American’s cursing , drinking,  and smoking amongst other things but the thing I want to focus mainly on is the fashion aspect. In rap videos the clothing at times was predictable and soon became infections. Rappers would often wear baggy pants or shorts, a snap back cap or baseball hat along with either a matching sports jersey, an over sized t-shirt, some Jordan’s, Adidas  or Nike sneakers. This look soon caught on and became a way for African Americans to show off their blackness. Over the years young black boys looked at these men as role models and soon began to copy their fashion sense. With baggy jeans, jerseys and snap backs being associated with blackness, young boys soon began to associate other particular styles with whiteness. Blacks would often times criticize other blacks who didn’t dress like the norm and heckle them.

Here is a picture of two cousins. Carlton on the right would be considered white due to his appearance. While on the left you have Will Smith who identifies with his blackness whole heartedly

Here is a picture of two cousins. Carlton on the right would be considered white due to his appearance. While on the left you have Will Smith who identifies with his blackness whole heartily.

Will Carlton

Whose expressing their blackness?

For instance in The Fresh Prince of Bel- Air Carlton would be looked upon as a sellout or an Oreo.  An Oreo is a slang term that African American’s often use to describe another African American who physical appears black on the outside but on the inside he acts white. In the nearby picture we have Will and Carlton. Carlton is on the left and is dressed in a preppier fashion. He has on a white sweater vest,  white polo shirt and black pants. Based on Carlton’s appearance he would not be able to identify with other blacks around him simply because they would look at his appearance and label him as dressing white.

Carlton’s cousin Will Smith on the other hand would be welcomed into the black community due to his attire. He has a high top fade, a black t-shirt, a sports team jacket and some Levi jeans. All these elements  put together would scream blackness back in the day. Due to their dressing styles they would experience different sides of the black community.

Throughout this essay I have given examples of how African American’s have used fashion to identify with their blackness. They have used it uplift certain blacks while unfortunately also trampling on other blacks and putting them down. This type of behavior is appalling and in some ways very limiting to blackness. This was the main critique of people involved in the Post soul movement. By limiting blackness you constantly narrow people’s images of what black is and what black isn’t. Blackness shouldn’t a dividing factor solely be defined by the music you listen to or the clothes you wear. Blackness should be a unifying force bringing people together and also empowering them.



“Fashion” Oxford, n.p., n.d. 13 May 2013.

Funny Videos How’s Your robot., n.p., n.d., 13 May 2013.,or.r_cp.r_qf.&bvm=bv.46471029,d.aWc&biw=630&bih=902&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&

Good Hair ft. Chri Rock – HD Official Trailer,,  31, July 2009. n.d. 13 May 2013.

Killens, John. The Cotillion. St.Paul: Coffeehouse Press, 2002. Print.

Larsen, Nella. Quicksand. VA: Wilder Publications, 2010. Print.

Men’s Dashiki Pant set w/ Cap. , n.p. , n.d., 13 May 2013.

MY ADIDAS – The Music Video by RUN DMC,, 29,  August 2009. n.d. 13 May 2013.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Season 1 Funny Moments. n.p. 22 , December 2011.

Will and Carlton picture., www., n.p., 27 Februrary 2006., 13 May 2013 .



Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

The Token Black Guy


Tristan Wilds, is an African American Actor who acts on the popular TV series 90210. He is the only main black character on the show and plays the role of the token black.

The school bell rings, the teacher calls out to his students to gather inside. The teacher looks out at his audience and notices that their is one face different from all the others. Out of the teachers 22 students one face is black. This is the token black guy.

In the above picture we have the cast of an American popular tv series 90210 . In the picture there is a total of 9 people. There are 4 blonde Causcasian females and 1 brown haired Caucasian. The 3 of the girls are young, beautiful and appear to live a well off or rich lifestyle.The other 2 females are older in age but also appear to be well off.  In the above picture there are four boys. Two appear to be your typical high school Caucasian male. While the other two  boys belong to minority groups. The thing that sticks out the most in this picture is the black guy.

He is placed in the middle of what appears to be a sea of white faces. The background in which the actors take the picture also makes the black guy stand out. The background is white and the black guys skin color contrasts and only helps bring more attention towards him. If those factors weren’t enough there is also a red circle around his face making him the centerpiece of this picture as well as a message at the bottom of the picture stating,” HERE I AM AGAIN!”.

After initially seeing this picture I would immediately consider him the “Token Black Guy” . The token black guy has become a routine role normally portrayed in American Television series. According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, tokenism is defined as the policy or practice of making only a symbolic effort ( as to desegregate).  A token’s role is to normally add some color to the screen or provide a hint of diversity. At the same time the token seems to slightly  suppress  the culture or customs he is supposed to exude. Instead he seems to gain personality traits that belong to the population that make up the majority.

In my own personal life I can say that I have felt like the “Token Black Guy” . In Paul Beatty’sThe White Boy Shuffle, he identifies with what my reality was,” I was the funny, cool black guy. In Santa Monica, like most predominantly white sanctuaries from urban blight, “cool black guy” is a versatile identifier used to distinguish the harmless black male from the Caucasian juvenile while maintaining politically correct semiotics.” (pg.27). Even though I went to a diverse high school, I always found myself being one of the only black males in my honors of AP classes. I was always intelligent but my white peers seemed to categorize me more as the funny, cool black guy. While I was also accepted by my African American peers, being the token black guy proved to be difficult at times.


Tristan Wilds as Dixon, the token black guy on 90210,, August 2008., 30, April 2013.

“Tokenism”, n.p.,  n.d. 30 April 2013

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


Donovan Curation

This is a relaxer kit from the Soft and Beautiful Hair Company .

Throughout American culture the most influential depiction of beauty has been portrayed through the use of media and advertisements. As a culture, the idea of being labeled beautiful is extremely important. To be categorized as a beautiful black female you have to  you have one attribute in particular, straight hair.

In the above picture we have a Soft and Beautiful Relaxer kit. On the box we see what appears to be a happy, smiling, brown skinned African American female. Even though the woman possesses a nice smile there is one quality that standouts out more than the others. The female possesses hair that is long, flowing, dark brown and most importantly straight . Her head takes up nearly half the box and draws you in to look at the box immediately. The box has a pink background and has gold and black letters.

At first glance at the box I immediately notice one thing, the attractive black female. The attractive female draws my attention towards the box and I notice the qualities she possesses. She has a nice smile, pretty brown skin, a natural glow and nice hair. Even though the woman has a naturally pretty face I believe that Soft and Beautiful are attempting to associate her beauty with the style of her hair. I believe that the company is also feeding into the stereotype of beautiful hair being associated with straight hair. Straight hair has certain qualities for instance its soft, smooth and appears healthy. In comparison natural hair appears to be dry, rough and woolly.

In The Cotillion or One Good Bull Is Half The Herd by John Oliver Killens, we have a direct example where straight hair was considered the most beautiful type of  hair,” You mean Brenda’s got hair like white folks, Yes, her mother answered, that’s what I said at first, shes got good stuff up on her head”.

I secondly notice the words written on the box. The words are used to describe how the relaxer will effect the buyers hair. The relaxer will prevent breakage, dryness within your  hair as well as the promise of having soft, silky, healthy looking hair.  The advertisers use certain phrases to make their product more attractive and its effective. If I was woman I would want my hair to be considered soft, silky or healthy looking. The idea of having soft, healthy looking hair is a lot more attractive than possible having dry, nappy , rough, woolly hair.

The word that stands out the most to me  is the word “Beautiful”.  The word beautiful is defined as possessing qualities that give great pleasure or satisfaction to see, hear, or think about. The advertisers hope is that by associating the word “Beautiful” with the attractive black female that you will want to look like her. In order to look like her the advertisers are selling the idea that you have to buy their hair relaxer. With the words beautiful and hair relaxer associated together, it only causes people to want to buy the relaxer to be viewed as beautiful and further builds the stereotype that being beautiful requires you have relaxed hair.

Works Cited:

“Beautiful”, n.p, n.d. 21 March 2013.


“Soft and Beautiful Ultimate Protection Relaxer Kit–Regular”, n.p., n.d. 21 March 2013.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

The Puppet and Puppet Master

A vintage Dancing Sambo Doll.

Have you ever felt like someone was manipulating you almost as if you were a puppet? A puppet is normally something we associate with children’s stories but after reading Ralph Ellison’s Invisible man, I discovered there are people in this world who act as puppets and puppet masters.

In the picture above we see what appears to be an instructional booklet for a Dancing Sambo doll. In the left of the picture we also have the Sambo Doll itself. The Sambo doll has a bright white smile, red lips, and a dark black face and is dressed like an entertainer.

The picture above is representative of the Sambo doll that was introduced in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. In the book we are introduced to the Sambo doll when the Protagonist is on a search for one of his missing affiliates within a political socialist group entitled the Brotherhood. When the Protagonist finds his affiliate, Brother Todd Clifton, he is shocked to see him on the streets of Harlem selling this paper doll.  Brother Clifton sings a song and entertains the crowd by causing the doll to perform a dance like motion with the help of a string. When the Protagonist discovers it is Brother Clifton he feels betrayed and also becomes enraged. The Protagonist becomes bewildered and asks himself why Clifton would leave his well respected position in the Brotherhood and become a street merchant.

These pair of hands could be representative to Brother Jack and how he controls the Protagonist

Like in the book, the above Sambo Doll is controlled by a string. With this string the puppeteer is able to manipulate the doll to perform any actions that he desires. In relation to the picture and the book, the string is a representation of the white man’s influence over African Americans. In the book the Protagonist always finds himself in a position being controlled or manipulated by someone. Once the Protagonist joins the Brotherhood he must strip himself of his own identity and take up a new identity. Everything the Protagonist does is controlled and dictated by the Brotherhood and even more specifically the leader of the Brotherhood, Brother Jack. I believe that in relation to the picture, the Protagonist is acting as the Sambo Doll or a puppet.

A puppet is defined as a figure having jointed parts animated from above by strings or wires.  A puppet is a figure that cannot control its own movements and is totally dependent on the puppet master to determine what movements or actions to perform. In the Brotherhood, Brother Jack acts as a puppeteer or a puppet master. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a puppet master is one who makes and entertains with puppets. Brother Jack directs or controls the Protagonist by directing him to give speeches to certain audiences throughout the novel. He used his influence over the Protagonist to influence the population of people he was trying to influence.

The focus on this blog entry has been to discuss the Protagonist and how his actions resemble that of a puppet. His actions are continuously controlled and manipulated by other people around him. With the inability to break free of a puppet mindset, it ultimately leads to his downfall in the end.

Works Cited:

“Puppet MasterAbout Our Definitions: All Forms of a Word (noun, Verb, Etc.) Are Now Displayed on One Page.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.

“Puppet.” The Free Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.