Know Your Roots is located in the present day. However, it references key periods in history that have acutely impacted the personal and social outcomes for black people. These include the transatlantic slave trade of the 18th & 19th  centuries, the subsequent colonising of swathes of Africa, The Caribbean and Asia and the period of immigration related to ‘The Windrush Generation’ following World War ll (Hall,1997). So, a key aspect of the project was to research how black people have been represented historically and how some of those representations have been constructed to introduce and reinforce ideas of difference between Europeans and Africans to justify racist practices and ideologies.These have involved denigrating the physical appearance and intellect of people of African origin such as comparing physical features like – ‘flat noses’, ‘full lips’, ‘dark skin’ and ‘woolly hair,’ (Fryer,1984, p.135).

We adopted an intersectional framework to research and deliver the project. We could not have explored black hair without looking at race, gender, and social class and how these factors overlap. Applying an intersectional lens also allowed us to explore how we can understand the social structures that uphold discriminatory practices and how we can use a ‘turnaround narrative’ to transform potentially negative experiences into positive outcomes through self-agency (Crenshaw, 1987, Wright, 2016).

The prints below are part of a series called Tregears Black Jokes. These illustrations depicted caricatures of people of African descent, constructed to show them as being ‘out of place’ in Victorian surroundings

Attribution Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) terms and conditions Credit Advert for Lux.{‘ ‘} Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

This image was used as part of an advertising campaign by Unilever Brothers. It is over 70 years old. It portrays a stereotypical representation of a Black woman as ‘the Mammy figure’, washing her son’s hair in a tub. The caption ‘won’t shrink wool’ reflects mainstream perceptions of natural African hair at that time.


Images of two women from the 19th and 20th centuries wearing protective hairstyles

Contact: Sandra Vacciana