Hairitage: Women Writing Race in Children’s Literature

Dianne Johnson, University of South Carolina

This essay explores the significance of literary representations of African American hair as a marker of identity and cultural legacy. By situating an examination of hair within a long-ranging tradition of children’s literature from Jessie Fauset and W. E. B. Du Bois’s magazine, The Brownies’ Book, to more recent children’s books, Camille Yarbrough’s Cornrow (1979), Simi Bedford’s Yoruba Girl Dancing (1991), and Carolivia Herron’s Nappy Hair, (1997), among others, the essay demonstrates how descriptions of hair embrace racial pride and, at times, enforce perceived standards of racial inferiority. It argues that African American characters relations with their hair illustrates a dynamic of acceptance and rejection of external, white understandings of beauty, which is also associated with belonging to more than one culture, African and Western. The essay further argues that more recent depictions of black hair in children’s literature have directly challenged the negative, or conflicted, perceptions of African American beauty by celebrating its difference.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]