Media @ McGill

Cheryl Thompson | Sale and Runaway Advertisements of the Halifax Gazette, 1752-1830

Submitted by hive on

Sale and Runaway Advertisements of the Halifax Gazette, 1752-1830: Black Bodies, Racial Stereotypes, and the Marketing of Servitude

The specific project that I will use the Graduate Research Fellowship to develop is a scholarly article focusing on runaway and slave auction advertisements in eighteenth century Halifax newspapers. While my overall dissertation interest is in the historical development, production and dissemination of black women as marketing figures for “good hair,” which includes advertisements for hair, skin and beauty in mid-nineteenth century African-American periodicals and twentieth century black beauty and fashion magazines,the slave advertisement was the first public announcement of the black body, in its physical form. Similar to the United States, England, France, and the Caribbean, Nova Scotia’s history is imbricated in the transatlantic slave trade. This project will involve a content analysis of advertisements of the Halifax Gazette and the Nova Scotia Gazette and the Weekly Chronicle from 1752 up until the 1830s, when the use of such advertisements began to disappear. My aim is to articulate how the bodies of black slaves are described in such advertisements, and explain the ways in which such advertisements functioned as a normative part of everyday life during this period in time.

This research ties in nicely with my overall dissertation which aims to uncover assumptions around skin-shade, hair-texture, and how an iconography of black women’s beauty (was) is used in advertisements to promote the social benefits of light skin and “good hair”.Across the Black Diaspora, hairstyling is viewed as either a challenge to white hegemonic notions of beauty, or as an assimilatory act that subscribes to dominant norms. Depending on its aesthetic difference – texture, length and style – black hairstyling is a complex practice. During slavery, black bodies were different coded based on a skin-shade, hair-texture hierarchy, where light-skinned blacks were said to have “good hair” and dark-skinned blacks to have “bad hair”. Focusing in on Canada’s diverse black populations (e.g. African-Canadians, Caribbean-Canadians, African-Latina Canadians) I plan to engage in ethnographic fieldwork in Toronto, Montreal, and Halifax – cities with the largest black populations in Canada – to explore how the hairstyling practices of black women have been (are) shaped by histories of slavery, traditions of colonial visual representations (such as slave advertisements), and the global black beauty industry.

My proposed research will help articulate distinctions across Canada and the United States, both historical and contemporary, with respect to access to images of black beauty, availability of hair and skin products, and the pressures to obtain “good hair”. An important part of my research will also include tracing the distribution channels for hair, skin and chemical products, in order to articulate to what extent there are regulations or warnings about product safety and consumer well-being. For example, human hair imports (for hair weaves) in the United States are not governed by regulations from any government agency, and there are no medical warnings on chemical hair straighteners (known as a “relaxer”). I plan to investigate whether there is a similar lack of government intervention in Canada into the importation and sale of such products.