JOCELYN THOMAS

Mellon-Mays Undergraduate Fellow

This summer I participated in the Summer Research Opportunity Program at the University of California Berkeley to continue work on my Mellon Mays research project. Earlier, I had completed research via a special studies with Paula Giddings, so this was a perfect next step. I did my research under the guidance of Leigh Raiford, Assistant Professor in the departments of African American and American Studies. Part of my work was to create a prospectus for my overall work, titled "Besides Gay Rappers: A Prospectus Exploring Identity Construction and Performance of Black Queer Women in Rap Music."

My project examines how black lesbian/queer women navigate the complicated terrain of individual and collective identity as participants in rap music. Navigate here refers to how BLQW construct and perform identities support, challenge, or reject entirely dominant ideologies of blackness, gender, and sexuality. This project focuses particularly on how BLQW roles as cultural producers and consumers of rap music effect the negotiations of identity in relevant spaces.

Exploring the relationship between BLQW's identity processes and rap music—arguably the most prominent of black popular music forms contemporarily—is important because it first allows us to queer, with a gendered lens, one of the most commercially viable musics of the current moment; and second it allows us to explore, in a particular strain, how a subculture, wherein much of its semiotics have been appropriated into mass media, coexists, resists, and sustains dominant readings of said subculture. Evelynn Hammonds argues that "in overturning the 'politics of silence' the goal cannot be merely to be seen...the goal should be to develop a 'politics of articulation' ...build[ing] on the interrogation of what makes it possible for Black women to speak and act" (Bobo 312). My work then seeks to break from the current trend in Hip Hop Studies to discuss black women and queer persons only in terms of marginalization; but instead to expand theorizing on BLQW's relationship with Hip Hop culture to include a nuanced understanding of agency.

I will primarily use ethnography, oral history interviewing, and visual/ textual analysis to create textured readings of each stage and how the apparatuses, individuals, and groups within them relate.

Currently, I am finding contact information for the performers I want to interview; developing a list of questions; preparing a proposal for the IRB; and reading works on female masculinity.

Jocelyn is a senior major with a minor in women's and gender studies.