Opinion | ‘Once I Step Out, I am a Queen on Mardi Gras’

For a community of Black women in New Orleans, dressing up
as baby dolls is a tradition in which they’re encouraged to be free.

For a community of Black women
in New Orleans, dressing up
as baby dolls is a tradition in which
they’re encouraged to be free.

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For a community of Black women in New Orleans, dressing up as baby dolls is a tradition in which they’re encouraged to be free.

By Vashni Korin

Ms. Korin is a filmmaker.

The short documentary above celebrates womanhood by spotlighting the baby dolls — one of the earliest Mardi Gras traditions established by Black women.

They emerged during the Jim Crow era in New Orleans. Segregated during Mardi Gras, Black Americans created their own traditions, including the baby dolls, who wore ornate dresses and carried decorated umbrellas. I became intrigued by the dolls while studying at Xavier University of Louisiana, by how this group of women gave themselves permission to be free. They were fierce and unapologetic in their self-liberation, challenging how they were expected to exist in society.

Their rich personal stories also contained wisdom about how to thrive and live a life of purpose and about what is possible when people of the African diaspora claim full permission to take on a different identity. Masking traditions like these are a way of setting oneself free in the hope of coming closer to one’s most authentic self.

Vashni Korin is a journalist, filmmaker and an artist based in Los Angeles.

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