I remember when she started as an apothecary in Brooklyn on Atlantic Avenue. It was in the early 90s… She used heavy mason jars, essential oils of ylang ylang, bergamot, sandalwood with *actual* jasmine flowers — all made to order and combined to heal. Her potions and balms were an indulgence and were more than affordable considering the quality. I used her baths and oils to pamper my young babies and spoil myself whenever I could and could not afford it. (She was artisanal before artisanal was a “thing” and the originator of what Joan Morgan’s doing nowadays.)
Fast forward a decade and a half
==>> Department stores began carrying Carol’s Daughter after word caught on. Once time had passed I noticed a decline in more than just the packaging and now I can’t tell the difference between Tui Oil and Hot 6
Though to be perfectly fair, I’m not the same hand-dyed-gele-headwrap-wearing-radical-vegan these days, m’self… I’ve made more than my fair share of personal adjustments over the years trying to pay bills just like everybody else.
Who am I to criticize? And if I really think about it, it’s been Carol Daughter’s — whether it be her originally sourced ingredients or outsourcing to L’oreal — that has inspired me to get back into my kitchen with my butters, mixers, and essential oils to indulge the scents and sensuality of my personal beauty routine and grooming habits.
So I say, Play on playa! Go on with yo’ bad self, Sista Lisa and tua u. That last part means “thank you” in early 90’s Black Brooklyn speak. (And if you have to ask, you’ll never understand!)
Cute is a longstanding strategy for winning over the dominant interests in public debates and motivates white economic investments to push for substantive political changes. Interestingly enough, the decades-apart public anger precipitated by the killings of Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin was not necessarily amplified by the visuality of cuteness, but was more about the gestures of cuteness as a performative act reflecting childish (and legal) innocence. Till and Martin, after all, were both going about the normal business of adolescence and visiting the candy store. The sheer cuteness of behaving as any child is expected to, at least in the cases of Till and Martin, provides a posthumous racial pass of sorts. Dominant perceptions of African American masculinity in the white public sphere are not so readily second-guessed, especially by the ordinary television media.
Or consider the groundswell of public sentiment in support of stricter gun control laws (as in the case of the Trayvon Martin killing). And, as alluded to at the beginning of this post, the heartbreak surrounding the tiny victims of the Sandy Hook elementary school is sobering. The media tributes honoring the mostly white classroom of innocent first-graders and educators in the small Connecticut town has been relentless. All this is to say, that I’m just as moved by this recent gun massacre as anyone else and wish that color were not a part of this discussion. Though unfortunately, the rhetorical power wielded by the ongoing tributes to this group of slain youngsters does speak to dominant sentiments and racial perceptions regarding cuteness.
I’ve even heard some people personally criticize Obama for supposedly not demonstrating enough grief over the epidemic of gun violence prematurely snatching the lives of hundreds of Chicago’s mostly brown and black children. But how would we even know this to be true? It could be that Obama has publicly demonstrated pain over the deaths of this particular group of kids, but it simply eludes coverage. And what about in his private moments with Michelle and his daughters? From all accounts, the loved ones of many of these children were personally known to the first family. Some of the more extreme online memes claim that Obama actually delights in the drone attacks by Afghan children have been killed as opposed to American kids tragically cut down by gunfire. This latter idea is utterly ridiculous as it commits the logical fallacy of moral equivalency in a most reprehensible fashion. On the other hand, the issue of Chicago gun violence is valid. Not because of Obama’s supposed lack of personal grief, but for how it calls attention to the lopsided racial narratives of commercial “news” coverage.
This racial rhetoric of cuteness continues to operate in surprising ways and draws focus to matters of racial discrimination and privilege. This is why I believe the materiality of cuteness is racially determinative of people’s life chances and helps us better understand the technological and ethical interplay of aesthetic judgements of human worth.
One rhetoric of cuteness is expressed through the sentimentality of the New Year. Of course, I’m talking about the symbolism of Baby New Year, which is representational of new beginnings and future possibilities. Somehow most (if not all) of us subscribe to the false linearity of this “hit refresh” chronology. You know, something like a perpetual reset button.
I think this temporal aspect of cute rhetoric can be understood by looking at the spatial conceptualizations laid out by Henri Lefebvre in The Production of Space. According to Lefebvre, social spaces give rise to time spent as social production. This relationship happens so readily that an ostensibly obvious relationship between where we are when we are/were/have been doing something easily lends itself to a tautological frame. As I see it, this a/cute rhetoric of an annual “new year” forecloses on notions of space as arenas of revolutionary production by enclosing our cortical and tactile perceptions of spatial arrangements in such a way that our day-to-day practices actually seem as though they can be readily controlled (and thereby, ultimately predicted).
This workaday rhetoric is expressed through our bodily interactions and “[r]epresentations of the relations of reproduction [as] sexual symbols, symbols of male and female, sometimes accompanied, sometimes not, by symbols of age — of youth and old age” ( 32, emphasis mine). Could this mean that the entire economy of modern global culture significantly depends on a cute notion of temporality for the perpetual renewal and replenishment of libidinally attached families — as the notion of “the family” is seen as the primary incubator that generates and re-generates seemingly natural power relations and structural economies? In other words, do cute spaces offer themselves up to quarters of efficiency?
Of course this social classification process that sorts individuals into various markets is necessarily reproduced in calendars that make time a fetish or object — as though the collection of these little objects — seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years, decades, and so on — can be somehow a/cutely contained within a single lifetime or within the span of a few generations. This sense of “legacy” is absolutely necessary for the perpetuation of inherited class standings and all the subsequently naturalized social relations — namely labor markets — that govern the ongoing reproduction of spatial practices in the way that we have come to re-cognize them as unavoidably True. Therefore, cute can be seen as a means of marking time through the sorting of populations. Here’s where Marx’s conceptualization of time as material history really offers itself to an interesting critique of cuteness.
Actually, if you think about it, cute kitten calendars are a literal extension of this idea. Every single month we face a brand new pay/billing cycle with a furry little friend to help us keep track of it all.