Don’t touch my hair: this should be a sentiment simple enough to understand. However, for many black women this establishment of boundaries can be broken repeatedly and without any regard for personal space. Solange Knowles’ song “Don’t Touch My Hair” and accompanying music video takes this declaration of self and creates an anthem for the empowerment of black women and dismissal of microagressions, white beauty standards, jealousy and appropriation. Her lyrics emphasize the emotional connection that black women have to their hair. But, beyond this pride is an act of self-love militant and radical against white standards of beauty; or is this self-love subscribing to the notion that black women’s hair is an object detached from their personhood- objectifying themselves to other’s gazes and not subverting them? In order to answer this question, theories from Helen Cixous, Audre Lorde and Laura Mulvey—whose theories explain feminine literature, racist feminism’s existence and the male gaze, respectively—will be used analyze the context, production, lyrics and music video for “Don’t Touch My Hair.”
Black women’s hair has never been without politicization. Each wave, kink, coil and curl has carried the weight of systemic oppression by way of racism and misogyny; when the two are not mutually exclusive, they are known as misogynoir. Laws and policies have been in affect since the 18th century to police the appearance and presence of black women in the United States. Tignon laws, as a set of rules from a larger set of sumptuary laws to protect citizens from overindulgence and vice, were imposed along the Gulf Coast from Mobile, Alabama to New Orleans, Louisiana. This rule forced free black women to cover their hair. The reasoning behi...
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...and a source of pride. The collection of theorists Lorde, Mulvey and Cixous intertwined provide a figurative roadmap for liberation of the objectified. This piece of art takes advantage of the fact that black women are viewed as objects; in taking advantage of the male gaze in Mulvey’s theory Knowles forces the viewer to see the black women has unique characters not homogenous objects. Knowles also does not subscribe to the traditional song or music video structure in telling her truth; following Cixous concept of feminine literature that is without definition. The fierce truth that Knowles depicts in her art highlights the differences that Lorde says that feminists must embrace and learn from in order to be united in their cause. “Don’t Touch My Hair,” is a work that empowers black women to be in their truth, take pride in it and for others to embrace their truths.
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