African American new Woman

Painting of Harlem night lifeThe Harlem Renaissance and its invention of the New Negro cast a positive spin on African American cultural life. Jazz was a central part of this celebration, and black women were among the contributors to the post-World War I era artistic achievements. Such writers as Nella Larsen explored the "double consciousness" of being black and female in America (and in her case, mixed-race), and such musicians as Bessie Smith simultaneously embodied pleasure and the blues. Sexuality was less purely a terrain of liberation for black women than it was for white women. Only decades removed from the abolition of slavery, stereotypes of black women's allegedly primitive, exotic, or heightened sexuality persisted. Madame Walker haircare advertisemntIn an era of lynchings, Jim Crow segregation, and mass migration, black women struggled to define their sexuality and gender identities in empowering ways. Blues singers donned glamorous attire, flouted convention, and sought sexual satisfaction. Middle-class club women and political activists were more circumspect, but nevertheless sought to establish new identities for black women. Editor of the women's page of the Negro World (the Universal Negro Improvement Association's publication), Amy Jacques Garvey championed equal positions for women in the popular Black Nationalist movement. The various cultural and political movements in black communities showed the potential of self-help and racial uplift for women and men together.

Society's preoccupation with glamour permeated black communities during the 1910s and 1920s, where beauty parlors were ubiquitous and cosmetics sales soared. While contemporary black artists stressed the beauty and strength of African American culture and people, black women sometimes accepted the assumption that white was better; among popular cosmetics were skin-lightening creams and hair-straightening products. African American hair salonNot all products, however, minimized black features, and beauty culture reinforced cross-generational bonds among black women in small towns as well as large cities. The sale of skin- and hair-care products also fostered a thriving community of black-owned commercial enterprise. Most successful in this regard was Madame C. J. Walker, entrepreneur, millionaire, and philanthropist.


Prohibition Immigration Restriction & The KKK The New Woman The Scopes Trial

The New Woman
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