Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sister Citizen

Just received in the mail my copy of Melissa Harris-Perry's Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America.  Can't wait to get to it. (I caught up with Harris-Perry at her publisher [Yale UP] in May.)

Sister Citizen by Melissa Harris-Perry
Skimming the table of contents, it's obvious that Harris-Perry takes a non-traditional approach to the topic of Black women's understanding of ourselves in relationship to American citizenship and politics. Preceding her chapters on myths, shame, disaster, strength, God and Michelle (FLOTUS, of course), are excerpts from Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and Alice Walker's The Color Purple, as well as poems--"Praise Song for the Day" by Elizabeth Alexander and "The Bridge" by Kate Rushin--and a lyric, "No Mirrors in My Nana's House," by Ysaye Maria Barnwell (Sweet Honey in the Rock.)

Harris-Perry uses literary passages as an overarching frame to discuss negative stereotypes that undermine Black women as we navigate the all too real American social and political terrain. The myths she isolates are the "Mammy" (the Black woman devoted to white people's needs); the "Sapphire" image (the angry Black woman) and the "Jezebel" (the myth of the hyper-sexed Black woman.) That we are negotiating the impact of these myths while trying to be all we can be to our families, acting as if we don't need any help, is problematic. In fact, Harris-Perry calls out Black women on our self-sacrifice, letting us know the high price of trying to fulfill the myth of the "Strong Black Woman."

A blurb on the dust-jacket by Lester Spence (Johns Hopkins University/political science) says that Harris-Perry "does an excellent job of weaving literature, social science, and personal accounts to produce a powerful work on black women's politics. Brilliant."

I've been yearning for the voices of regular, ordinary Black women to reach the national stage on critical topics of American discourse--whether education, employment, our children and youth. Hope this book helps to break down walls to liberate more Black women to participate in the political struggle in America. Our voices are desperately needed at every level of political engagement. Organizing along common interests is the key.

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