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Speaking in Tongues and Dancing DiasporaBlack Women Writing and Performing$
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Mae G. Henderson

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780195116595

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195116595.001.0001

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About Face, or, What Is This “Back” in B(l)ack Popular Culture?

About Face, or, What Is This “Back” in B(l)ack Popular Culture?

(p.209) 14 About Face, or, What Is This “Back” in B(l)ack Popular Culture?
Speaking in Tongues and Dancing Diaspora

Mae G. Henderson

Oxford University Press

This chapter historicizes and theorizes the sexual and commodity fetishization of the black female body/booty in multiple historical and contemporary “scientific,” economic, and cultural venues and markets, including American slavery, European colonialism, modernist primitivism, and hip-hop video culture. Focusing on the “(mis)performance” of the “video vixen,” whose presence in popular culture has undoubtedly served to (re)define black female bodies in the contemporary cultural imaginary, the chapter compares the performance of the “video hottie” with that of her forebears, Saartjie Baartmann (the “Venus Hottentot”) and Josephine Baker (the “Ebony Venus”), examining the staging of the black female body as spectacle, commodity, and fetish on the antebellum auction block, as ethnographic spectacle in nineteenth-century Europe, and as model/dancer in contemporary hip-hop musical video. It concludes by issuing a call to contemporary black feminist scholars to bear critical witness to the video vixen’s “performance of testimony” to the history imprinted on the black female body.

Keywords:   Mae G. Henderson, Josephine Baker, Saartjie Baartman, Venus Hottentot, Ebony Venus, critical witnessing, video vixen, video hottie, identity, misperformance, performance of testimony body/booty, fetishization, women and hip-hop, modernist primitivism, European colonialism

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