Hairy Tales

Kimberly Moffitt, assistant professor of American studies, is co-editor of two recently released books that explore perceptions of race in America.

Blackberries and Redbones: Critical Articulations of Black Hair/Body Politics in Africana Communities (Hampton Press), examines the way that hair and bodies shape perception of African Americans through a variety of interdisciplinary lenses, including poems, creative writing and scholarly essays.

“This book is really the first of its kind to bring together a number of voices and multiple perspectives in terms of exploring issues significant to black hair and body in American society,” said Moffitt.

Aside from presenting traditional views of these issues, Moffitt and her co-editor, Regina Spellers Sims, explored perspectives that are not often heard in conversations about this topic, such as the voice of a homosexual African American man.

Moffitt is also teaching an Africana studies class on hair and body politics, and has found that students are eager to share their own lived experiences. In fact, student response has been so positive that Moffitt is organizing an event called “Hairstories” for Tuesday, November 9, at 7 p.m. in The Commons Skylight Room. Describing the event as “the ‘Vagina Monologues’ of hair,” Moffit said that it will be an outlet for all members of the community, not just her students, to share their own experiences with their hair.

“Society throws so many things at us that we inevitably neglect to analyze what we are being bombarded with,” said Ngeri Nnachi ’10, American studies, the student coordinator of the event. “This event will give us a chance to actually start thinking about what it is that we go though and critically analyze our experiences.”

Despite the book’s success in her class, Moffitt is quick to point out that it can be just as useful to people outside the classroom. “We wanted to make this a text that could be used in spaces where folks are just interested in understanding themselves,” she said. Each work within the book is followed by discussion questions, which she hopes that readers will use as a jumping off point for discussions, and the book’s website includes a discussion board.

Another book out this fall was inspired by a conference that Moffitt helped to organize shortly before the 2008 election. The Obama Effect: Multidisciplinary Renderings of the 2008 Campaign (SUNY Press) includes conference papers that captured the essence of the campaign and election in that moment and places Barack Obama’s candidacy and victory in the context of the American experience with race and the media.

“No one else was able to capture that unique space in which Obama was still a candidate, yet deemed successful at changing the way we do politics and campaigning,” said Moffit, who co-edited the book along with Heather Harris and Catherine Squires.

Moffitt’s research interests aren’t confined to issues of race; this December will see the release of The 1980s: A Critical and Transitional Decade? (Rowman and Littlefield/Lexington Books), which she co-edited with Duncan Campbell, lecturer in American studies. The collection looks at the 1980s as a significant decade in contemporary American history and society.