Rooks, Noliwe M. 1963–
Rooks, Noliwe M. 1963–
PERSONAL: Born 1963.
CAREER: Writer and educator. Princeton University, associate director of African-American studies program.
(Associate editor) Paris Connections: African American Artists in Paris, 1920–1975, Q.E.D. Press (San Francisco, CA), 1992.
Hair Raising: Beauty, Culture, and African American Women, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 1996.
Ladies' Pages: African American Women's Magazines and the Culture That Made Them, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 2004.
(Editor) Black Women's Studies: A Reader, ProQuest Publishing and the Schomburg Center for Research in African American Culture (New York, NY), 2005.
White Money/Black Power: The Surprising History of African American Studies and the Crisis of Race in Higher Education, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 2006.
SIDELIGHTS: Writer, editor, cultural analyst, and educator Noliwe M. Rooks is a professor and associate director of African-American studies. Her research interests cover the broad scope of African-American history as well as the study of gender and class in African-American communities of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her works have also centered on cultural issues facing African-American women, including those associated with standards of beauty and with the messages imparted by ladies' magazines directed at African-American females.
In Hair Raising: Beauty, Culture, and African American Women, Rooks "offers a study of the politics of race and beauty that coalesces around African-American women's identities," observed reviewer Paulla A. Ebron in Signs. Western definitions of beauty have a considerable effect on the notions of beauty held by African-American women, Rooks notes, but these definitions do not always construct an ideal useful to African-American women. Rooks indicates that African Americans who strive to retain a cultural identity or cultural nationalism often reject western beauty styles, such as hair straightening, while those who live and work in the middle classes and who have greater, more favorable contact with the American mainstream are more amenable to applying Western beauty standards to African-American women. Rooks's "central focus is the desire among African-American women to carve out a distinctive feminine aesthetic," Ebron commented, within a culture dominated by images of white female beauty. Among the notable African-American historical figures discussed by Rooks is Madam C.J. Walker, an entrepreneur who built a successful business in beauty products for African-American women, but whose contradictory approach also offered products that encouraged African-American women to embrace Western concepts of beauty over African ones. Booklist reviewer Lillian Lewis called the book an "interesting" examination of cultural, political, and social influence of hair products and ideas of beauty on the African-American community.
White Money/Black Power: The Surprising History of African American Studies and the Crisis of Race in Higher Education offers "cogent insights into black-studies programs and their reflection on the future of race relations" in America, commented Vernon Ford in Booklist. With origins in the socially and politically volatile climate of the 1960s, African-American studies programs have faced controversy since their inception when the first such program was founded at San Francisco State University. Some have criticized African-American studies programs as being inferior academic programs designed for African-American students seeking to avoid the higher standards and greater workload of other programs and academic disciplines. This perception, Rooks notes, has created a stigma around many African-American studies programs, causing students to avoid them for fear of being accused of academic laxness. Rooks also identifies a shift in African-American studies away from the concerns and interests of black Americans to those of African or Caribbean backgrounds. She explores the background of many African-American studies programs and concludes that they owe their existence to funding and philanthropic contributions from organizations primarily controlled and influenced by whites. Recognition of and dealing with this legacy, Rooks states, is critical to the future of African Studies programs and to making them matter to black students and faculty. A Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded that "this volume is a must for anyone working in the field" of African-American studies.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, July, 1996, Lillian Lewis, review of Hair Raising: Beauty, Culture, and African American Women, p. 1784; February 1, 2006, Vernon Ford, review of White Money/Black Power: The Surprising History of African American Studies and the Crisis of Race in Higher Education, p. 23.
Journal of Negro History, winter, 2001, review of Hair Raising, p. 77.
Publishers Weekly, December 5, 2005, review of White Money/Black Power, p. 44.
Signs, winter, 1999, Paulla A. Ebron, review of Hair Raising, p. 545.
History News Network, http://hnn.us/ (April 14, 2006), "Noliwe M. Rooks: African American Studies Began in a Multiracial Movement for Social Reform," profile of Noliwe M. Rooks.
Pop Matters, http://www.popmatters.com/ (March 16, 2006), Jonathan L. Walton, review of White Money/Black Power.
Program in African American Studies, Princeton University Web site, http://www.princeton.edu/aasprog/ (April 14, 2006), biography of Noliwe Rooks.