Iconic: Decoding Images of the Revolutionary Black Woman by Lakesia D. Johnson
Release date: 2012 / 170 pages
Synopsis (from Amazon.com): Angela Davis, Pam Grier, Alice Walker, Michelle Obama. Revolutionary black women have evoked strong reaction throughout American history. Magazines, political campaigns, music, television, and movies have relied upon deep-seated archetypes and habitually cast strong, countercultural black women as mammies and sexual objects. In Iconic Lakesia Johnson explores how this belittling imagery is imposed by American media, revealing an immense cultural fear of black women’s power and potential. But the media does not have the last word…
Review: Iconic opens with a 2008 interview during which Larry King repeatedly asked Michelle Obama whether false accusations about her husband angered her. The author then explicates how Mrs. Obama defused the line of questioning and successfully separated herself from the historically entrenched stereotype of the angry black woman. Johnson states “A shadow is cast when light is placed on an object — the light of public scrutiny that black women face when they dare to speak truth to power… Selling the ‘shadow’ is one of the strategies that African American women have learned to use to make sure that ‘the substance’ of who they are, the struggles that they face, and the good they desire are not obscured by the insidious narratives and images of black people that support racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression.”
Iconic is a fascinating survey of how revolutionary black women have managed to “sell the shadow” throughout history — from Angela Davis and Kathleen Cleaver to Pam Grier to Alice Walker and Audre Lorde to Erykah Badu and Me’shell Ndegeocello — returning to Michelle Obama in the concluding chapter. And, true to its name, Iconic features many illuminating images that visually emphasize Johnson’s premise through the ages.
While Johnson, an Assistant Professor of Gender, Women’s, & Sexuality Studies and English at Grinnell College in Iowa, explores why black women have been portrayed as dangerous, subversive and angry, she primarily focuses on “…black women… who are engaged in progressive or revolutionary politics designed to achieve social justice… [and are able to] resist oppression and redefine black womanhood.”
Thank you to Shelf Awareness for asking me to read and review this! Interested in a winning a free copy — leave me a comment!