My name is Shauna Rigaud. I am a second year PhD Student at George Mason University in the Cultural Studies Department exploring ideas of community and solidarity. In this journey, I see my work examining two varied, but what I understand as connected, research interests: the representations of black women in the media and the experiences of Caribbean Americans.
The first interest grew out of my master’s thesis, which examined the expression of sisterhood (or lack thereof) in reality television. I worked in the non-profit sector with high school students in my first job straight out of college. This experience working with high school girls compelled me to consider images of sisterhood. I watched as these young ladies expressed disdain and distrust of girls their age. They wondered how I could join a sorority and saw little value in their friendships with other young women. At the time, it seemed like we were at the dawn of the reality show boom, where behaving badly had become the norm and where the genre began to feature more Black women. This mix, Black women behaving badly, seemed to be doing work that would prove itself dangerous. Shows like Basketball Wives presumed to feature women as friends, navigating the world of their professional athlete husbands, but for those watching the show, these women could not possibly be friends. Audiences saw a continuation of the loud, angry - and in the realm of reality television - violent, stereotype of Black women. In deconstructing these images, I hope to highlight the very dangerous ways that Black women are presented which reinforce that idea that Black women cannot work together, shattering years of history and theory that would suggest otherwise. In my work, I want to reframe Black female solidarity as a tool for liberation.
My second interest looks at the experiences of Caribbean Americans, particularly the cultural practices, popular culture and diasporic experiences that create ideas of nationhood and solidarity. As the child of immigrants, I grew up immersed in the food, culture and tradition of my parents. Each summer I traveled to Barbados during the Crop Over season and from my great grandparents’ television, I watched thousands of people draped in feathers, beads and jewels cross the stage on Kadooment day. Once back in the states, my family and I would line the streets during Boston carnival and travel to New York for carnival on Labor Day and I would dream of one day participating in the reveling myself. On carnival day, I was American born, but distinctly West Indian. I believe that these practices and performances allow for a cultural grounding and connection to a homeland that creates community, shared responsibility, and political space.
The piece that binds my interests is this intersecting theme of solidarity. I want to examine the ways in which a collective Black community has historically been imagined, created, forged and solidified in order to understand the ways in which we can collectively resist oppressive systems. Through my work, I see new conversations about sisterhood and solidarity in popular culture; I envision a new archive of transatlantic experiences that tell the stories of first and second generation Americans; and I see the recovery of stories of Black solidarity as a framework for our future.
- Shauna Rigaud