Books: Liberated Threads and Territories of the Soul
Liberated Threads takes a transnational approach to discussing how black women have used hair, clothing, jewelry, and style as fashion statements and more importantly as tools of resistance from the 1960s through the 80s or more specifically from the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements in the United States and the United Kingdom to the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. She refers to this form of activism as “soul style.” The soul style movement differs from the social movements of the 60s, 70s, and 80s in that typical narratives focus on integration, policy, and pivotal moments such as protests and marches. Ford intervenes in the conversation by focusing on the simple act of getting dressed everyday. She demonstrates that while every black person was not into political organizing, they were indeed engaged in fashion, therefore she explores the ways in which fashion and style connected black people, especially black women globally for black liberation.
Liberated Threads speaks to many works that examine black women, beauty, and activism. The works that come to mind are Maxine Leeds Craig’s Ain’t I a Beauty Queen, Susannah Walker’s Style and Status, and Tiffany M. Gill’s Beauty Shop Politics. Craig’s work analyzes the ways in which black women have negotiated the intersection of race, class, politics, and personal aesthetics. Looking at the years between the 1940s and the 60s, Craig demonstrates the influence social movements have on black women’s daily lives from the beauty salons to late night political meetings. Building on Craig’s work, Walker explores the years between 1920 and 1975 to examine the social, political, and racial implications of the beauty industry as black women struggled with beautifying themselves in order to achieve success and thinking that doing so is buying into the notion of European standards of beauty. Gill’s work investigates how the beauty industry played a key role in shaping black women’s identity while simultaneously providing a space for social, political, and economic change to take place. During Jim Crow, black beauticians’ shops were not just spaces for economic independence but also spaces that allowed grassroots activism to emerge.
In Territories of the Soul Ellis theorizes that the experience of belonging to the African Diaspora as existing between land and the “possibility to be elsewhere,” which she states is to live within the territories of the soul. Utilizing the concept of utopian queerness, she explores and analyzes black writers, musicians, and artists from America, the U.K, and the Caribbean such as C.L.R James, James Baldwin, and Nathaniel Mackey to demonstrate the ways in which the diaspora is a form of feeling and belonging. Focusing on the interwar years to the present, she seeks to underscore the forms of feeling and belonging in the African diaspora by exploring the interplay between the material (territories) and the spiritual (souls). She asserts that black identity does not have to rely on linear notions of history rather belonging to the diaspora has always been about forming communities and cultures.
Territories of the Soul speaks to other works that explore the ways in which researchers think about blackness and diasporic locations such Katherine McKittrick’s Demonic Grounds and Judith Madera’s Black Atlas. Whereas Ellis’ narrative is shaped through the case studies of black men, McKittrick underscores black women’s agency as she demonstrates the ways in which they transform geographical landscapes such as the Middle Passage, the Underground Railroad, North Carolina, Virginia, and New France across time as they respond to racism and sexism through their activism and struggles. Similar to Ellis who incorporates work of literature into her research, Madera’s work focuses on 19th century African American literature. Just like McKittrick, Madera demonstrates the importance of blackness and spatial reconfiguration. She explores black geography in the works of prominent black writers such as William Wells Brown, Martin Delany, and Alice Dunbar-Nelson.