Date of Award

August 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Writing Program


Eileen E. Schell

Second Advisor

Gwendolyn D. Pough


African American Rhetoric, Black Women's Discourse, Digital Identity, Feminist Rhetoric, Rhetorical Agency, Social Media

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


This dissertation explores the practices and possibilities of Black women’s identity performances on social media. Despite claims that the United States is now “post-racial,” in recent years there have been several examples of negative perceptions and hostile receptions to Black women’s discourse and literacy practices on- and offline. Simultaneously, we have seen hashtags (#BlackLivesMatter and #SayHerName) and user-generated videos created by Black women spark movements and create change. This dissertation extends the theoretical framework of online identity performance (Grabill and Pigg) by looking specifically at ways in which Black women perform their identities online and its outcomes. In chapter one, I provide the context and exigence for this study, the methods I employed, and a conceptual review of the bodies of literature this study contributes to. The following chapters consist of four case studies focused on Black women’s discourse and literacy practices in rhetorical analyses of online posts, surveys, and qualitative interviews of Black women who use the sites studied. Each case works to explain how Black women’s offline discourse and literacy practices are used on social media, what kinds of identities/subjectivities the practices help the women perform and create, as well as what kinds of affordances and constraints the different social media platforms have on Black women’s rhetorical agency. Chapter two focuses on Black women’s discourse practices in community building in Homeschooling with Freedom and Natural Tresses, two Black-women-dominant closed-groups on Facebook. The Black girls’ literacy practices of five Black, female Nicki Minaj followers on Twitter shed light on the aspirations and costs of freer identity performances online. In chapter four, I explore how YouTubers Bondy Blue and Tangela Ekhoff use identity performances in their vlogs to subvert the spirit of colorblindness in the television show Scandal. Chapter five takes a deeper look at how Black women’s discourse practices and literacies fight intersectional erasure on the blogosphere and reshaped the conversation about Beyoncé and feminism. In conclusion, the sixth chapter highlights implications of Black women’s discourse and rhetorical agency online and provides suggestions for how the findings of this study can inform the field’s current understandings of Black women’s discourse and language, rhetorical agency, and digital identity at this moment when so much of our writing, rhetoric, and meaning-making is taking place online.


Open Access