Commercial dance choreographer, director, and producer Fatima Robinson is shifting how Black women are viewed in 21st-century American popular culture. Robinson’s hip-hop fusion choreography exemplifies what scholar Brittney Cooper titles disrespectability politics. In opposition to the demonized sexualization of Black women in respectability politics, disrespectability politics includes aspects of disrespectfulness and respectability to provide new theoretical and practical pathways of presenting complex Black womanhood that does not lead to the disrespect of Black women. Through a historical overview of respectability politics and choreographic analysis of Sparkle and Dreamgirls, this article argues that Robinson engages in disrespectability politics, creating sexually liberated choreography based on Black woman-centered pleasure. Robinson rejects the limitations of respectability politics and defies existing U.S. social scripts embedding a critical black woman oppositional gaze that positions Black women as active subjects who create their own liberation.
Fatima Robinson is a Black woman, choreographer, director, and producer who gives BOSS energy; she knows what she wants, breaks the mold, and lets nothing stop her from achieving her goals. Robinson spreads her dynamism to other Black women through her artistic praxis. Fatima Robinson came of age in the 1980s in Los Angeles as a young self-taught dancer rooted in the foundations of hip-hop club culture. Since then, Robinson has established herself as a hip-hop artist who fuses hip-hop elements into her creative projects as a choreographer, director, and producer. By examining Robinson's cinematic choreography of Sparkle and Dreamgirls, I argue that Robinson engages in disrespectability politics, creating sexually liberated choreography based on Black woman-centered pleasure. Her hip-hop-infused choreography rejects the limitations of respectability politics and defies existing U.S. social scripts for Black women. Robinson embeds a critical black woman oppositional gaze that positions Black women as active subjects who create their own liberation.
In the late nineteenth century, stereotypical depictions surrounding Black life dominated American culture to justify the continued oppression of Black people. After the end of slavery in the U.S., White Americans continued to reproduce many negative stereotypes surrounding the intellectual, physical, and emotional assumptions about Black men and Black women that justified and helped sustain their unequal treatment in American society (Johnson 2019). Racist perceptions of Black people as lazy, dirty, childish, sexually loose, and immoral were made popular by Whites (Amin 2014). Black women of the post-Reconstruction Progressive Era sought ways to reject the stereotypes of Black women as hypersexual, unclean, pathological, messy, and promiscuous (Higginbotham 1993). Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham coins this refusal of negative stereotypes of Black people as the “politics of respectability” (1993). Members of the Woman’s Convention, which grew out of the National Baptist Convention in the late 1800s and early 1900s, sought to demand equality by correcting the behavior of fellow Black people. Higginbotham articulates how Black Baptist Women advocated for self-respect, professionalism, and equality with White Americans by deploying respectability politics.
Black women churchgoers sought to earn respectability in American society during the Progressive Era by condemning negative behaviors and emphasizing morals and manners. Respectability politics sought to provide dignity to Black people divorced from income and race (Higginbotham 1993). Respectability politics required cleanliness, polite manners, sexual purity, and Christian morality to create an elevated social class within the Black community in which Blacks claimed equality with Whites. Respectability politics sought to function as self-help for Black people to uplift themselves into American society (Higginbotham 1993). Black evangelicals utilized respectability politics as a way to establish racial pride.
Booker T. Washington, an influential figure of the Progressive Era, was another prominent champion of respectability politics, encouraging Black communities to focus on educational and economic opportunities and blaming Black people for ignorance and inexperience instead of condemning the systemic oppression they navigate (Harris 2014, 34). However, these ideologies of respectability have been harmful. Blacks buying into the promise of racial uplift perpetuated by respectability politics began to see other Black people, those not following respectability politics, as the enemy and the reason for subjugation based on race (Harris 2003). The personal and the political become deeply entwined in respectability politics, and individual behaviors become political statements that reflect negatively on the entire race (Harris 2003). Black elites, like Washington, blamed ordinary Black people for acting outside the rigid respectable confines, justifying the racism they experienced instead of recognizing them as victims of racism (Higginbotham 1993).
African American Women’s Historian and Black Feminism scholar Paisley Harris (2003) argues that respectability politics limited the freedoms of Black Americans and did not alter the negative perceptions of Black people held by White Americans. Negative stereotypes like the Mammy, the happy, fat, subservient, and nonsexual servant, and the Jezebel, the wild, aggressive, sex-crazed woman, are both embedded in the American social consciousness and used to justify the disrespect and disenfranchisement of Black women. Throughout her choreographic work, Robinson makes an effort to emphasize the complexity of Black women, resisting their flattening and minimization in 21st century mainstream popular culture. Robinson's use of Africanist hip-hop-based principles, such as individuality, aesthetic of the cool, and polycentrism, are used to subvert the rules of respectability politics and present Black women across the African Diaspora as active subjects in control of their sexuality (Gottschild 1998; Welsh-Asante 1997).
Respectability politics were extremely limiting for Black women and sought to use strategic essentialism to present all Black women as assimilated, respectable citizens deserving of racial equality. The Black Baptist women of the Woman's Convention promoted the ideology that Black women were responsible for managing their individual behaviors and upholding a standard of control, order, cleanliness, and purity while raising a respectable family in a clean, orderly household (Higginbotham 1993). Whenever a Black person strayed from the moral ways of the Baptist church, the Black mother was to blame for not offering a proper upbringing or home (Higginbotham 1993).
The church also blamed Black women in any cases of infidelity. Black women were judged sexually immoral and condemned for their rapes during slavery. Respectable Black women of the Progressive Era were supposed to combat this by dressing modestly. They were discouraged from wearing bright colors, culturally specific designs, or anything that displayed physical charms because it was said to lower men's respect and welcome sexual advances (Higginbotham 1993). Those who did not abide by respectability politics were ostracized and shamed publicly. Black women were asked to leave the church, summoned and chastised in front of the church, or forced into marriage (Higginbotham 1993).
A culture of dissemblance is an element of respectability politics. Darlene Clark Hine's theory of dissemblance explains that Black women were also required to keep quiet about intimate details or problems they faced (2019). Black women adopted a culture of dissemblance, or a practice of invisibility or secrecy, for physical and emotional protection (Higginbotham 1993, 194). Dissemblance became a psychological shield that allowed Black women to persevere through extreme oppression (Johnson 2019). As a result, dissemblance and respectability politics require Black women to swallow and hide their emotional frustrations regardless of their validity (Johnson 2019). The culture of dissemblance was used to resist the oppression and stereotypes Black women and girls faced; yet, it was double-edged as it became difficult for Black women and girls to express emotional depth and vulnerability. Therefore, the intentional display of confidence and vulnerability within Robinson’s choreography rejects dissemblance and respectability politics.
Thus, respectability politics breeds self-consciousness and perpetuates hegemonic structures rooted in White supremacy (Higginbotham 1993). Existing in a Black body and participating in Black culture in the United States automatically expose Black people to racism. Since racism is a system of injustice embedded in all facets of American culture, there is no way for victims of racism to irradicate it through individual actions (Drake and Henderson 2020). Respectability politics thus positions disrespect of Black women and their bodies as a justified default until they earn respect through assimilationist practices. Sadly, this dogma has persisted in 21st-century American society.
While named for its rise in the Progressive Era, respectability politics has morphed into a hallmark of Black politics that persists into the twenty-first century (Harris 2014, 33). Ideologies that require Black people to “lift as we climb” or “go high” are double-edged as they call for Black elitism that assimilates to Whiteness and division from other Blacks (Harris 2014). In this era of 21st century neoliberalism, respectability politics requires poor Black people to lift themselves and seek opportunities instead of advocating for equitable treatment that does not require them to earn the full benefits of citizenship (Harris 2014). Neoliberalism has further conflated money and self-worth. Ergo, linking financial stability and acceptable behavior works to the detriment of Black people by erasing the systemic nature of poverty in the Black community and reinscribing blame on the Black people who are victimized (Harris 2014).
In the same way respectability politics could be seen in the speeches and ideologies of the Black elite, respectability politics permeates the mundane corporeal manifestations of Blacks and controls how they carry themselves and dance. Roots of White supremacist assimilation dominate the Black body with respectability ideology. Katrina Hazzard-Gordon examines the impact of social dance on the African American community and cultural identity. She brings attention to the ways Black private organizations and churches in northern Black communities reinforced rules of respectability through resisting popular dances and Africanist influences (Hazard-Gordon 1990). Hazard-Gordon discusses how the “race betterment” dances or balls of the late 1800s held by various urban elite Black organizations “closely paralleled white dances” (Hazard-Gordon 1990, 70). To present Black balls as respectable African influences, such as animal dances and drums were disallowed, and instead, polkas and waltzes became the central dances performed (Hazard-Gordon 1990). Thus, participants of the Black elite tried to dance themselves into the respectable cover of Whiteness. These practices reaffirmed essentialism on an embodied level and created avenues for division within the Black community.
Concurrently, jook joints were flourishing as sites of pleasure for Black people. Although often poor, dirty, and smelly, jook joints allowed Black people to find fellowship, gamble, eat, drink, and dance (Hazard-Gordon 1990). Jook joints became essential for Black communities because they allowed for the embodied preservation and expansion of knowledge related to Black identity (Hazard-Gordon 1990). Nevertheless, participation in jook joints was precisely the behavior Black Baptist women censured, citing the “disrespectful” public behavior as confirming stereotypes and fueling discrimination (Higginbotham 1993). Respectability politics explicitly warned against Black women dancing, citing improper dancing and jazz music as poisons that demoralize women (Higginbotham 1993). Although history shows that jook joints were beneficial for Black people and Black life, through the lens of respectability politics, they were considered a sure way to ruin (Higginbotham 1993). However, notions of civilized body control have done less to advance or protect Black people from discrimination than the pleasure of free, bent knee, hip-shaking, polyrhythmic, dynamic dancing (Gottschild 2005).
Respectability politics, while well-intentioned, has harmed Black women. Black Feminist scholar Brittney Cooper proclaims that respectability politics is not working for Black women (2017). While respectability politics intend to provide Black women with protection and self-esteem, Cooper asserts how Black women who follow Christian morals and mild-mannered behaviors are not recipients of the promises of safety, fortification, appreciation, or worth. Instead, Cooper proposes that disrespectability politics, which includes aspects of disrespectfulness and respectability, can carve out a new path forward (2019). While 21st Century Black women may execute disrespectability politics differently, it is an essential intervention as it leaves theoretical and practical space for disrespectful behavior that does not lead to the disrespect of Black women. Robinson’s choreography ignites Black women's oppositional gaze to present them as confident subjects who actively assert their sexual agency, an explicit facet of disrespectability politics. Through Robinson’s choreography, Black women gain and claim their sexual subjectivity and pleasure.
Robinson’s choreography provides an embodiment of Black women that resists the respectability confines that plague Black women in the 21st century. Past American enslavers often abused Black women's bodies to foster financial gain and strip Black women of their bodily autonomy. Therefore, respectability politics calls for Black people, especially Black women, not to move in ways that could reinscribe negative stereotypes of promiscuity (Higginbotham 1993). Any movement with an Africanist basis violates ideas of respectability. Joyful, free, polycentric, grounded in the earth, and liberal in the hips dancing, while African-derived has dominated American popular culture (Drake and Henderson 2020). However, the Black bodies and people practicing these dances in American society are portrayed as troubled, un-worthy, and wrong (Drake and Henderson 2020, 239).
The dehumanization of Black women from slavery has sustained into 21st Century ideology, as Black women's bodies have been vilified and presented as the antithesis of the beauty and purity of White women. Dance scholar Brenda Dixon Gottschild discusses the physical terrain of the Black body and its perception in mainstream American culture in The Black Dancing Body (2005). Gottschild examines how White perceptions hypersexualize Black bodies, though there is no biological differentiation to support these essentialist ideas (Gottschild 2005). One example of this hypocrisy is the Jezebel stereotype, a wild, sex-crazed woman, a racist ideology Black women in the Progressive era rejected (Amin 2014, 8). Undoubtedly, this stereotype leads to Whites and elitist Blacks demonizing and regulating the Black female body, including the butt, breasts, and hair. Stereotypes about Black bodies impact how Black bodies are seen and interpreted while dancing. Hypersexual readings of Black dancing bodies, rooted in stereotypes, often eclipse the movement's actual context and choreographic intention (2005).
Traditional African dances are connected to the people and essential elements of daily life and culture throughout the African Diaspora (Welsh-Asante 1997). African Dance thus serves a cultural and artistic function in addition to its entertaining quality. A wide variety of dances are done within Africa and throughout the Diaspora, but many utilize similar characteristics, one of which is body segmentation (Welsh-Asante 1997, 15). Specifically, pelvis isolations are prevalent throughout several religious and war dances, where there is no sexual connotation (Welsh-Asante 1997). Black isolations of the hips and butt are tied to specific African dance practices, including the Ventalateur in Senegal, in which isolations of the buttocks move like a fan (Welsh-Asante 1997). The Mapouka is another dance featuring the butt practiced in Côte d'Ivoire and other West African countries, performed popularly and ceremoniously (Drake and Henderson 2020). However, likely beginning with the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Christian and White racial purity ideals demonized the Black body and vilified dances that isolated the pelvis.
While distinctly African in its origin and prevalent in American society, the booty-shaking still contributes to what respectability politics seeks to expel from Black culture. Takiyah Nur Amin scrutinizes how twerking, or 21st century booty-shaking rooted in the African Diaspora, is still not permitted by respectability politics. Amin states, "Beyond the booty shaking that is central to twerking, it is a dance that, due to its concentration in the lower regions of the body, upsets traditional Black respectability politics that privilege chastity" (Drake and Henderson 2020, 243). Contention over the Black booty within respectability politics defies what is logically best for Black people in exchange for White acceptance. Twerking provides necessary possibilities for Black pleasure, connection, and liberation regardless of its disrespectful reputation (Drake and Henderson 2020).
Most traditional African dances were not created for the proscenium stage nor meant to serve as a spectacle; yet, African dance and Africanist dance aesthetics are ever present in Western dance (Welsh-Asante 1997). Predominantly White dance audiences serve as the receivers and often reviewers for types of dance they were never meant to witness or evaluate. Thus, acclaimed White reviewers, such as John Martin and Edwin Denby, frequently miss the mark in critiquing Black dance and Black artists. Regardless of the genre, Black dance from a respectable or Eurocentric gaze are unacceptable. Thus, Black choreographers often create work with what W.E.B. Du Bois calls a double consciousness (George-Graves 2010). In the context of choreography, a double consciousness implies that as the work is intended for Black audiences and centers on Black subjectivity and empowerment, the choreographer remains aware that the readability to White audiences may vary, and they may reinscribe the stereotypes they were poised to see initially. Black artists are often judged harshly by those unknowledgeable about the complex codes and ideas Black dances communicate (Gottschild 2005).
Thus, artists like Robinson need to inject their specific creative vision to convey clear messages that provide value, subjecthood, and sexual agency to Black women. Although film choreographers are essential, their contributions are often minimized, and Robinson is no exception. Nevertheless, embodied communication beyond words' limits becomes an indispensable storytelling element (Ross 2020). Robinson has an extensive body of choreographic work, and her most popular choreography is in music videos and award shows; her cinematic choreography is essential as it subverts dominant narratives that present Black women as objects for consumption. Her cinematic choreography also holds tremendous weight in the public consciousness as these films are widely accessible to broad audiences and function within retold narrative stories. Through Robinson’s choreographic reimagining of Sparkle and Dreamgirls, she engages a politics of disrespectability while maintaining sophistication and respect that pays homage to Black women who originated the roles (Cooper 2019). Robinson’s choreography creates an embodied social script that validates the belief that Black women can simultaneously be self-confident and sexually liberated.
While the respectability politics of the 1900s scapegoats Black women and limits their ability for agency and pleasure, Robinson provides embodied possibilities outside the box of respectability to elevate Black women into the best versions of themselves without connection to White supremacy. Within Sparkle and Dreamgirls, Robinson's choreography is a subtle fusion of 21st-century sensuality with traditional Cholly Atkins Motown-style choreography (Malone 1988). Robinson’s choreography contrasts traditional Motown style choreography in which the women emphasize subdued performance style. Traditional choreographic motifs of swaying, gesturing, and micro-isolations of shoulders and wrists are embraced and contrasted with hip thrusts, shoulder shaking, and whole-body movements (Malone 1988). Her choreographies engage a politics of disrespectability in performance that reimagines the ways Black women exist and occupy space in 21st century American culture.
Robinson’s choreography of disrespectability can be found in the piece “Something He Can Feel” in the movie Sparkle in 2012. The 2012 musical movie was an updated adaptation of the 1976 film, showcasing the rise of a Black Motown-era girl group. Salim Akil directed the 2012 film adaptation, which featured Black celebrity artists, including Jordin Sparks Thomas and Whitney Houston. The main storyline surrounds a musical group of sisters who navigate the respectability politics of the 1960s. Sparkle presents a contemporary reimagining of Motown-era politics, including racism, sexism, and socioeconomic status, which combine to impact each woman's personal and professional trajectories. To find personal fulfillment, the sisters navigate financial success, domestic violence, religious expectations, and romantic relationships. Throughout the movie, the main character, Sparkle, uses music to develop her sense of identity and agency.
"Something He Can Feel" was written by Curtis Mayfield, a Chicago rhythm and blues artist, for the original movie and was remastered for the 2012 rendition. Jordin Sparks Thomas, Carmen Ejogo, and Tika Sumpter perform the 1960s era number, emulating popular girl groups. In the first shot of the musical number, Carmen Ejogo, as Sister, the group's lead singer, wears an oversized black coat with an avant-garde high collar that frames her face, which she quickly drops to the floor. Sister sheds her veil of modesty, setting a tone for the rest of the piece in which she controls the gaze and the narrative. The principle of individualism in club-style hip-hop, where one can express their personality and relish in their specific virtuosic style while being mindful of the communal impact, is apparent. As the women dance in unison, they maintain separate identities interlaced as unique pieces to a harmonious whole. Within the choreography, Robinson balances the symmetry of the group with individuality, maintaining the unison swaying but encouraging each sister to strike different poses.
Dancers stroke the front of their torsos and between their bosoms. They use their hands to direct the gaze, often caressing their bodies in erogenous zones such as the exposed abdomen and thighs. After striking the sides of their hips and rolling them, the trio turn profile and smoothly slide their hands up the sides of their butts. The routine ends as the women slink off upstage with their backsides in full view, unaltered by audience applause. The dancers exude poise and tenacity, comfortable with their bodies as they relish their sexual pleasure. Robinson’s emphasis on isolation and the forceful throwing of the dancers’ shoulders to the rhythm of the music exemplifies what Baptist women labeled disrespectable. Traditional respectability ideals shame Black women who embrace their sexuality, yet this trio resists this notion as they maintain high self-respect while delighting in their sexual control.
Robinson also choreographed another Motown-era movie musical, Dreamgirls. The movie is based on Michael Bennett’s 1981 Broadway musical, a loose reimagining of Motown and the Supremes. Throughout the movie, the young girl group, played by Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Jennifer Hudson, and Anika Noni Rose, must navigate the music industry, racism, jealousy, fame, and sexism to find success and happiness. The original Broadway musical uses choreography by Michael Peters that closely resembles the finishing school style teachings of Motown’s Maxine Powell (June-Friesen 2007). The initial musical and Motown choreography aimed to maintain a middle-class sense of respectability. However, Robinson’s 2006 choreography rejected these parameters and embraced a movement style beyond what respectability alone offers (Bloom 2006).
Robinson’s choreography of “Steppin’ To The Bad Side” from Dreamgirls also holds space for the embodiment of disrespectability. The trio struts forward in short bright red dresses full of sparkles and fringe, bare legs, and heels, taking full ownership of the stage. They flaunt their fringe by stirring their hips to the rhythm. They even feature their womanly curves by hitting a little body roll in profile, accentuating their butts on the musical accent. While respectability politics would demonize this explicit sensuality, disrespectability politics creates an avenue for self-esteem and sexiness to live in the body together. As the trio makes large gestures in unison, they draw attention from the masculine-presenting dancers on risers in the background. The men on the risers execute advanced street jazz choreography but quickly fade to the background as the girls and their clean, chipper choreography steal the number. Although the women are meant to be backup singers framing Jimmy, the lead male vocalist played by Eddie Murphy, the tight formation transitions and synchronous choreography pull focus from him. Later, this dynamic is reflected in the movie's larger plot as the trio eclipse Jimmy, ascending to stardom. The women create a semi-circle behind Jimmy with their backsides in full view. They bop their hips to the music, accenting their butts, before striking several poses. The emphasis on the butt and the flashy red costumes directly oppose the modesty ideals of respectability politics in favor of more complex and exciting choreography.
Later in the number, the entire ensemble creates a spectacle with tambourines, a significant departure from the initial stage production. Tambourines generate a sense of spirituality and have a cultural significance in the Black church as Black women typically play them to offer praise to the divine. The dancers use the tambourines to create polyrhythms within the choreography that layer an element of the gospel that is typically divorced from the theatrical stage. The trio forcefully slaps the tambourines with their hands and hips and judder them vigorously. The trio and the dancers on the risers begin to shed their clean, precision dancing for more individual interpretations. The uniform nature of the number subsides as dancers begin to embody the sacred and the secular as they sing, "Step, step, to the bad side,” and the number winds to a dramatic close. The overt embrace of “the bad side” in music and choreography is a prime example of infusing a politics of disrespectability.
Robinson’s choreographies confront the myth of cultural isolation, in which Black Americans were viewed as a lost people with no history or roots (DeFrantz 2002). While respectability politics encouraged Black Americans to forget any traces of their African heritage to better assimilate into White America, Robinson provides an embodied substitute for Black Americans to find pride in their Africanist heritage and its dances within mainstream American culture. Robinson utilizes Africanist aesthetics and dance as political resistance expanding Black women's identity in performance beyond the dichotomy of respectability. Instead of alienating Black women who have adopted elements of respectability politics, Robinson uses a politics of disrespectability in her choreography to honor the Black women of the past without reinscribing the harms of respectability (Cooper 2019). Robinson’s choreography celebrates Blackness and Black women while disarming the rigid confines of respectability politics on a corporeal level. Thus, Robinson’s choreography engages disrespectability politics, empowering Black women audiences.
Culture critic bell hooks argues that Black women spectators critically engage with cultural staples to oppose dominant narratives. hooks states,
When black women relate to our bodies, our sexuality, in ways that place erotic recognition, desire, pleasure, and fulfillment at the center of our efforts to create radical black female subjectivity, we can make new and different representations of ourselves as sexual subjects. To do so we must be willing to transgress traditional boundaries. We must no longer shy away from the critical project of openly interrogating and exploring representations of black female sexuality as they appear everywhere, especially in popular culture (hooks 1992, 76).
Robinson uses her choreography to provide a Black Feminist hip-hop fusion that leaves space for cultural or historic authenticity without erasing Black women's subjectivity. Her work also redistributes the power of the gaze from White men, who have historically been responsible for deciding how and when Black women's bodies should be viewed, to Black women themselves.
Black American women dance choreographers often have their creativity and performance judged through a respectability lens. "For the performing arts, this means that audiences create the bodies as well as their readings of the bodies as they witness a performance" (George-Graves 2010, 41). Talented dancing alone does not protect Black women in dance from the predetermined narratives and verdicts audiences place on them. While times have changed since the early 1900s, the perception of Black dance as improper or immoral still impacts Black communities. Although not every Black woman choreographer is consciously choreographing in response to respectability politics, these ideas lurk in the quiet, impacting how Black women dancers are received and evaluated. Robinson rejects respectability politics by utilizing dancers, movement practices, and subjects beyond what respectability permits. She uses dance as a means of liberation for Black Women, utilizing the double consciousness in which there is an awareness of how dominant culture and respectability politics evaluate Black women's bodies. But, it is dismissed in favor of self-assured embodied ownership and liberation (George-Graves 2010).
When Black women actively resist their stereotypic representations, they engage in the liberatory practice of the oppositional gaze (hooks 1992). hooks states, "The ability to manipulate one's gaze in the face of structures of domination that would contain it, opens up the possibility of agency" (hooks 1992, 116). Black women utilize the oppositional gaze as a function to criticize cultural phenomena and an impetus for the creation of new works that service their intersectional positionality. Throughout her choreographic tenure, Robinson establishes alternative movement narratives that position Black women as intricate human subjects who reinvestigate their sensuality for their pleasure (hooks 1992). Robinson does not reinforce essentialism and the flattening of Blackness for palatability. Instead, she creates a more complex and honest representation of Black women and girls, advocating for Black women to resist and create new possibilities for themselves.
Many Black women choreographers have used dance and theater as activism sites to spur social change. Thomas DeFrantz states, "If theater is a place for seeing, a site of representation (artistic depictions) and representation (the one that stands in for the many), then it is here that one can begin to address important issues concerning the formation and (re)production of individual and social identities” (2002, 127). Black women utilize the oppositional gaze to criticize cultural phenomena and as an impetus for creating new works that express their intersectional positionality. Robinson's intersectional positionality as a Black woman is indicative of her movement vocabulary and logic, as her identities and those of her dancers are explicitly valued and cherished. Often identity is constituted within representation, and Robinson's choreographic counter-narratives encourage alternative forms of mainstream representation for Black women that produce increased agency.
Ultimately, Black women have always been sexy, and their sexuality has been commodified since the Atlantic slave trade; yet, rather than denying Black women’s sexuality, reclaiming sexuality that has historically been commodified for White gain is a necessary shift in popular culture (hooks 1992). There is power in representing Black women beyond the bounds of respectability politics that has dominated Black communities (Higginbotham 2005). Fatima Robinson has used her choreography to represent Black women in positive complex ways within 21st-century American culture. Robinson deploys the oppositional gaze through her choreography, resisting the traditional margins of respectability politics. Instead of creating division in which Black women vilify one another, Robinson's embrace of disrespectability politics encourages Black women to liberate themselves through whatever means of expression best suits them. Robinson's choreography respects Black women, vaunting them as sophisticated holistic humans with ownership over their bodies and as the narrators of the realities rooted in the intricacy of their experiences. The choreographies of Robinson encourage Black women to redefine their gaze beyond Whiteness and the traditional teachings of respectability politics.
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