Oneka LaBennett

Associate Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity and Gender and Sexuality Studies
Oneka LaBennett

Research & Practice Areas

Youth culture and Black girlhood; race, gender, and popular culture; urban anthropology; migration and the African Diaspora; the global Caribbean.


Oneka LaBennett is the author of She’s Mad Real: Popular Culture and West Indian Girls in Brooklyn (NYU Press 2011), and co-editor of Racial Formation in the Twenty-First Century (UC Press 2012). 

The only ethnographic monograph on Brooklyn’s Caribbean adolescent girls’ identity mediations vis-à-vis popular culture, She’s Mad Real anticipated the emerging subfield of Black girlhood studies as a critical departure point for addressing questions related to coming of age in the African diaspora, Black feminism, and the delineation of raced/gendered/age-based/classed power.  

LaBennett’s volume, Racial Formation in the Twenty-First Century (co-edited with Daniel Martinez HoSang and Laura Pulido), brought together thirteen essays by leading scholars to engage critical race theory in the last twenty-five years. She has also contributed to a number of journals and volumes, including an article, “‘Beyoncé and Her Husband’: Infidelity and Kinship in a Black Marriage,” in a special issue of differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies

LaBennett’s OpEds and public commentary have appeared in platforms such as Ms. MagazineThe Guardian, and PoliticoElle Magazine ranked her course, “Women in Hip Hop,” among the top ten in a list of “College Classes that Give Us Hope for the Next Generation.” 

Her forthcoming book, Global Guyana: Shaping Race, Gender, and Environment in the Caribbean and Beyond will be published by NYU Press (2024). Previously ranked among the hemisphere’s poorest countries, Guyana is poised to become the world’s highest per capita oil producer—offering a critical vantage point for parsing the environmental consequences of the resource extraction that fuels our modern world, as well as pernicious forms of erasure that structure Caribbean women’s lives. Global Guyana develops a powerful set of heuristics to trace the entwined histories of descendants of enslaved Africans and Indian indentured laborers, alongside the contemporary dynamics of the outsized Guyanese diaspora, and the broad reach of the nation’s extractive industries. The book explores distinct yet interrelated realms, including media depictions, women’s kinship ties, sonic routes, and the circulation of oil and sand, to uncover how this understudied place reshapes transnational gendered racializations and the very topography that has come to be emblematic of the Caribbean region—beaches and shorelines. Another in-progress book project, Daughters of the Diaspora: Reading, Writing, and Rhythm, considers the influence that genre-defying Black women artists located in global cities such as New York, Port of Spain, Cologne, and Amsterdam have on global South/North dialogues. 

At USC, LaBennett serves as the Chair of the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity’s Graduate Admissions Committee and as Faculty Chair of the Africana Research Cluster. Previously, she was Associate Professor of Africana Studies and a Faculty Fellow with the Atkinson Center for Sustainability at Cornell University. She also conducted oral history research on art and culture in the Bronx with a focus on Bronx women’s contributions to hip hop music in her capacity as Director of American Studies and Research Director of the Bronx African American History Project at Fordham University. LaBennett was born in Guyana and raised in Brooklyn, New York. 





  • Ph.D. Social Anthropology, Harvard University, 2002
  • Research Specialties

    Youth culture and Black girlhood; race, gender, and popular culture; urban anthropology; migration and the African Diaspora; the global Caribbean.

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