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A critical -interpretive analysis of cultural identity and cultural dominance: Communicating Black female beauty

Cynthia L Robinson-Moore, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Critical interpretive research explores hidden power relationships which influence communicative behavior of non-dominant groups, requiring researchers to get at the meaning behind the meaning (Thomas, 1993). "The root of African American difficulty is directly related to skin color," stated writer James Baldwin (quoted in Hall, 2000, p. 173). This "root" is exposed through colorized beauty hierarchies. To examine the communicative impact of cultural dominance on cultural identities of marginalized groups, this study interviewed thirty-eight Black females, exploring the impact of race on Black female beauty perceptions. Cultural contracts theory was used to understand the identity negotiation process. Both raced and gendered, exploring Black female beauty warrants exploring both hair and skin color issues. This study sought an understanding of what makes some Black women conform to, while others resist, dominant cultural beauty standards? Three research questions explored dominant beauty messages, the impact of those messages, and management of messages. Eurocentric beauty messages that devalue dark skin and short/coarse hair are communicated to Black females via family, male/female peers, educational and social institutions, mass media images and corporate employment practices. Inter-cultural racialized beauty messages produce intra-cultural colorized beauty hierarchies that divide Black females and negatively impact socio-economic conditions of darker-skinned females. Four racialized/colorized beauty parallels of privilege/de-privilege, stereotypes, tensions, and an evolution for change emerged. Examining identities of "mixed" Black females who most often fit within dominant beauty paradigms produced identity confusion and beauty contradictions. These females shared their "bad" experiences with "good" hair, and their experiences of being treated like trophies by males and novelties by females. The study showed that younger, Black females are more accepting of dominant beauty messages. An examination of hairstyle preferences determined that the presence or absence of "straightened" or "natural" hairstyles do not necessarily reflect identity. Age, rather than physical appearance, was found to be the greatest determinant of resistance, and positive family messages counter negative societal messages. Participants stressed self-acceptance as the best resistance tool. ^

Subject Area

Black Studies|Women's Studies|Speech Communication|Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies

Recommended Citation

Robinson-Moore, Cynthia L, "A critical -interpretive analysis of cultural identity and cultural dominance: Communicating Black female beauty" (2005). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3201777.