Brown BeautyColor, Sex, and Race from the Harlem Renaissance to World War II

Brown BeautyColor, Sex, and Race from the Harlem Renaissance to World War II

Laila Haidarali

Print publication date: 2019

ISBN: 9781479875108

Publisher: NYU Press

Abstract

Between the Harlem Renaissance and the end of World War II, a discourse that privileged a representative ideal of brown beauty womanhood emerged as one expression of race, class, and women’s status in the modern nation. This discourse on brown beauty accrued great cultural currency across the interwar years as it appeared in diverse and multiple forms. Studying artwork and photography; commercial and consumer-oriented advertising; and literature, poetry, and sociological works, this book analyzes African American print culture with a central interest in women’s social history. It explores the diffuse ways that brownness impinged on socially mobile New Negro women in the urban environment during the interwar years and shows how the discourse was constructed as a self-regulating guide directed at an aspiring middle class. By tracing brown’s changing meanings and showing how a visual language of brown grew into a dynamic racial shorthand used to denote modern African American womanhood, Brown Beauty works to unpack a set of intertwined values and judgments, compromises and contradictions, adjustments and resistances, that were fused into social valuations of women.