WAPPP Seminar Series: Sister Style: The Politics of Appearance for Black Women Political Elites


Thursday, March 25, 2021, 12:00pm to 1:00pm


Hosted Online

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Nadia E. Brown | Associate Professor and University Faculty Scholar of Political Science and African American Studies at Purdue University

Although the United States has witnessed an increase in the number of Black women elected officials, little is known about the impact of these candidates’ race-gender identity on their campaigns and elections. Black women’s appearances impact electoral politics and the political experiences of Black women office seekers. The corporeal markers of both race and gender are bound together in the physical personhood of Black women candidates. Thus, these candidates are keenly aware of (a) how their bodies and corporeal experiences are racialized/gendered, (b) how their bodies fall outside the hegemonic constructions of beauty and femininity, and (c) the impact of race/gender-based perceptions on voters’ decisions. Brown and Lemi illustrate the importance of an intersectional approach to Black feminist research on politics that pays attention to embodiment, American political culture, gender and racialized performance, and Black women’s stereotypes. In this talk, Brown discusses the everyday politicization of Black women’s bodies and its ramifications for politics

In the first part of the talk Brown argues that to understand Black women’s subject positions, we need to ask a different set of questions about their experiences of running for office. Scholars should ask whether a focus on Black women’s appearances provides a more complex and nuanced understanding of how their raced-gendered identities impact their political experiences. Black women politicians’ bodies are deeply politicized in the United States, as Black women political figures consistently encounter inappropriate commentary on their bodies. Often, this commentary is negative.

Nadia E. Brown (Ph.D., Rutgers University) is a University Faculty Scholar and Associate Professor of Political Science and African American Studies at Purdue University. She specializes in Black women’s politics and holds a graduate certificate in Women's and Gender Studies. Dr. Brown's research interests lie broadly in identity politics, legislative studies, and Black women's studies. While trained as a political scientist, her scholarship on intersectionality seeks to push beyond disciplinary constraints to think more holistically about the politics of identity.

She is the author or editor of several award winning books – including Sisters in the Statehouse: Black Women and Legislative Decision Making (Oxford University Press); Distinct Identities: Minority Women in U.S. Politics (with Sarah Allen Gershon, Routledge Press); The Politics of Protest: Readings on the Black Lives Matter Movement (with Ray Block, Jr. and Christopher Stout, Routledge Press); Approaching Democracy: American Government in Times of Challenge (with Larry Berman, Bruce Allen Murphy and Sarah Allen Gershon, Routledge Press). Professor Brown is the lead editor of Politics, Groups and Identities. Professor Brown is part of the #MeTooPoliSci Collective where she spearheads efforts to stop sexual harassment in the discipline. In July 2021, Dr. Brown will be a Full Professor of Government and Director of Women’s and Gender Studies at Georgetown University.

Professor Brown lives outside of Indianapolis with her husband, three young daughters, her mother and their dog, Ziggy.