Reading some of Stuart Hall’s seminal texts has helped illuminate some of the ideas I’ve begun to explore in my MRP. I recently read “What is ‘Black’ in Black Popular Culture?” (1992) and “New Ethnicities” (1989). First, I thought I would reflect on “What is ‘Black’ in Black Popular Culture?” (1992) and then I’ll reflect on “New Ethnicities” (1989) in a separate post. I haven’t structure this post as a short essay but rather a series of reflections on certain quotes.
“What is ‘Black’ in Black Popular Culture?” (1992)
“The first is to remind you that popular culture, commodified and stereotyped as it often is, is not at all, as we sometimes think of it, the arena where we find who we really are, the truth of our experience. It is an arena that is profoundly mythic. It is a theatre of popular desires, a theatre of popular fantasies. It is where we discover and play with the identifications of ourselves, where we are imagined, where we are represented, not only to the audiences out there who do not get the message, but to ourselves for the first time” (Hall, 470).
I would argue that this mythical quality that has popular culture is also evident and applicable to fashion. In fact, I would say that fashion and the experience of fashion (by this I mean making, viewing, reading about, buying, blogging and sharing fashion) is probably as mythical and fantastical as it gets. And although this essay was written long before the emergence and widespread popularity of the blogosphere, Hall’s discussions about the widening of the cultural spaces of production is applicable to the fashion blogosphere.
“Within culture, marginality, though it remains peripheral to the broader mainstream, has never been such a productive space as it is now. And that is not simply the opening within the dominant of spaces that those outside it can occupy. It is also the result of the cultural politics of difference, of the struggles around difference, of the production of new identities, of the appearance of new subjects on the political and cultural stage” (Hall, 470).
Again, if one thinks about how this applies to fashion …
Marginality in fashion is a space that is in the process of transformation and I would say that the fashion blogosphere has helped usher in this transformation. I’ve referred to this in my MRPP as the “democratization” of fashion. Marginality may still exist but with the growing demand for diversity of all kinds in fashion, it is a space that is slowly diminishing.
“But it is to the diversity, not the homogeneity, of black experience that we must now give our undivided creative attention. This is not simply to appreciate the historical and experiential differences within and between communities, regions, country and city, across national cultures, between diasporas, but also to recognize the other kinds of difference that place, position, and locate black people. The point is not simply that, since our racial differences do not constitute all of us, we are always different, negotiating different kinds of differences—of gender, of sexuality, of class. It is also that these antagonisms refuse to be neatly aligned; they are simply not reducible to one another; they refuse to coalesce around a single axis of differentiation. We are always in negotiation, not with a single set of oppositions that place us always in the same relation to others, but with a series of different positionalities. Each has for us its point of profound subjective identification. And that is the most difficult thing about this proliferation of the field of identities and antagonisms: they are often dislocating in relation to one another” (Hall, 476).
What I think Hall is trying to highlight here is the diversity of the black experience. I’ve interpreted this quote to basically mean that the multiplicity of the black experience cannot be reduced to a singular definition. To put it even more basically, just because a group of people look the same does not mean they will have the same experiences. One can apply this quote to the diversity of black style. It can be something that is broadly defined as the dress culture of people African descent by Carol Tulloch. It can be formally defined as an aesthetic of dress, as Gwendolyn O’Neal explains in her article “African – American Aesthetic of Dress: Current Manifestations”.
What I have discovered through photographing street style over the past weeks is that more than anything “black style” is elusive and subjective. For some, fashion is simply sartorial and their racial identity (or anything race related) has little to no barring on how they dress. For others, their racial identity and thus their “black experience” is an influence on how they dress. I’ve alluded to this notion in a previous post and my street style photographs and interviews are evidence of it. Some people I’ve photographed don’t think of black style as a “thing”, some provided insightful definitions of it but don’t think it really applies to how they dress and others seem to fully embrace the term. When I ask people what black style is the most common response I get, is that it depends who you are.
Hall, Stuart. “What is Black in Black Popular Culture?” Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies. Ed. David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen. London and New York: Routledge, 1996. 468-478. Print.