Photo of Black woman's face by Shanita Mitchell for The AutoEthnographer
Photo of Black woman's face by Shanita Mitchell for The AutoEthnographer

The Twerking Academic on Black Hair: How Deep Is Your Love?

black hair

The Twerking Academic on Black Hair: How Deep Is Your Love?

This piece explores the ways in which identity and esteem are interwoven into the topic of Black hair while also probing my own level of sentimental detachment. Within the past decades, many Black women have embraced the process of going natural and regard natural hair as a symbol of pride and self-love. So then, confessing that I do not share the same level of reverence during this heightened period of enlightenment and acceptance seems blasphemous. For me, hair is more aesthetic than symbolic. Hair is playful. It is a costume, an accessory.

To clarify, I am not dismissing the significance of Black hair on the social, historical, and cultural level, particularly in the face of Senate Republicans blocking the Crown Act in December of 2022. Truthfully, the original intent of the piece WAS to pay homage and shed light on the Black hair journey and struggle. But, somewhere in the middle of my carefully measured intentions to have a culturally responsible and illuminating conversation, I stumbled upon the reality of my own lackadaisical, whimsical outlook. This video piece is the product of intention meeting reality.

“Well, I would say that hair is a woman’s glory and that you share that glory with your family, and they get to see you braiding, and they get to see you washing it, and they get to see you—it’s a glory. But it’s not a bad thing or a good thing. It’s hair.” ~ Maya Angelou (Stilson, 2009, 0:03:13)

How Deep Is Your Love?

The Twerking Academic: Visual Exploration of Black Womanhood

The Twerking Academic is dedicated to exploring the multilayered lived experience of Black womanhood using multimodal autoethnographic expression. Column installments include an audiovisual piece that focuses on exploring, processing, and communicating meaningful personal experiences that also offer a voice to the experiences of the wider cultural community. Audiences can view each audiovisual piece independently. A written memo supplements each piece explaining context and speaking to significant themes within the work. Themes explored include bodily autonomy, stereotypes, mental health, and the experience of the Black female academic.

The Twerking Academic seeks to probe and question the established idea of what constitutes an academic. It examines the prescriptive, limiting rules that often dictate how one is recognized as an academic by the community. The column title itself is a nod to this goal. It prompts audiences to reexamine preconceived notions surrounding respectability politics and scholarship. In addition, engaging with topics in an inclusive manner that transcends past barriers that have separated the academic and general population is fundamental to the column’s working mission. I hope this column encourages members of the BIPOC community to build spaces that are authentically reflective of their personal style, culture, and preferred method of communication, and promote multimodal/audiovisual autoethnography as a viable investigative method.

Excerpt from 2022 video interview with Renata Ferdinand and Shanita Mitchell:

“For black women, I definitely want them to see themselves, because we don’t see ourselves often.  And I want to see and show us as we’re complicated, we’re multifaceted, we’re multilayered. We’re not just the strong black woman or the angry black woman or the hypersexualized. I want the world to know. We’re complicated and face many battles which the world can’t…. They kind of know, but like, sometimes you really just have to breakdown what these battles are for them. So, I just want us to be like, “I see myself.” And then everyone else to be like, “Oh wow, OK, so this is what’s happening to black women.” Because it’s happening, and we’re here.  READ MORE


Harris, Calvin (2015). How deep is your love? [Recorded by Calvin Harris and Disciples feat. Ina Wroldsen]. On How deep is your love? [Album]. Deconstruction; Fly Eye; Columbia Records.

Stilson, Jeff (Director). (2009). Good hair [Film]. HBO films.

Featured image by Shanita Mitchell

Shanita Mitchell currently serves as the Assistant Director for the Rappahannock Scholars Program at the University of Mary Washington. Since graduating from UMW with her B.A. in 2012, she has continued to pursue her passion for providing underserved and underrepresented student populations with college access opportunities and scholarships by working in and with the Office of Admissions, Financial Aid, and serving as the advisor for various multicultural and performance organizations on campus. That same passion recently led Shanita to acquire her M.A. in English from Southern New Hampshire University with the intent to expand beyond the administrative side of higher ed and into the classroom. Shanita also works as a dance instructor at The Courthouse School of Ballet and Umbiance Dance Studio. In her spare time, Shanita enjoys portrait painting, amateur photography, costuming, video editing, and advancing her study of Black feminist thought, Critical Race Theory, and autoethnography as a meaningful expression of self.