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Black Girls Queer (Re)Dress: Fashion as Literacy Performance in Pariah

by Eric Darnell Pritchard

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As the many works on the vast scholarly landscape of fashion studies has shown, we underestimate the significance of fashion and style as a tool at our peril. Fashion has much to tell us in an analysis of and intervention into systems of power and domination historically, sociologically, economically, and rhetorically. Merging this claim with another, that the sociopolitical stakes of fashion deepen within a Black queer context, this article employs literacy theory, fashion theory, Black feminism, and Black queer theory to examine how the adornment performances of Alike Freeman, a Black queer girl who is the main character of director Dee Rees’s Pariah , disrupts rigid representations of race, gender, class, and sexuality. Such interventions, I argue, show how fashion functions as a literacy performance toward the pursuit of protection and desire. Through analysis of these literacy performances I demonstrate that the intersections of literacy and Black queer identity in the film require an understanding of literacies that are inclusive of, but not exclusive to, writing, reading, and traditional forms of literacy. Through dress, and in some instances undress, Alike refashions representations of Black girlhood and racialized masculinities that have held discursive prominence. Alike’s use of dress is situated on a genealogy of Black girls’ literacies actualized for self-definition, self-affirmation, self-love, and other pursuits and expressions of freedom.

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