Troubling Subcultural Theories on Race, Gender, the Street, and Resistance

by Janice Cheddie


The article examines the linkage made between the urban street, racial authenticity, resistance, and black style within fashion and subcultural theories. A conceptualization that has located the urban street as a site of racial and political authenticity for the black subject; making a series of political and visual associations between the urban street, formations of race and resistance and concepts of black style. This article traces the development of this linkage by drawing upon three case studies: Tom Wolfe’s essay “Radical Chic” (1989[1970]), the media image of the Black Panthers, and fashion images from Harper’s Bazaar (UK) 1968- 9. These case studies illustrate how fashion commentary, fashion theory, documentary photography, and social protest impacted upon the visualization of the black body within 1960s fashion photography and subsequently. Furthermore, this linkage, between the street authenticity and black style is premised by drawing upon the work of British subcultural theorists—on the assumption of a masculine political subject. In accepting uncritically this discursive positioning the author asserts that subcultural and fashion theorists continue to structurally exclude black woman. By drawing upon the work of Judith Butler and Jacques Derrida, the author questions the continuing use of the concepts of race, resistance, and black body stylization to analyze concepts of black femininity with fashion theory and fashion photography.

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