Book: Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, And Black Women In America by Melissa V. Harris-Perry
Genre: Political Science
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 2011
Pages: 300

Source: Purchased

cover of Sister Citizen by Melissa V. Harris-PerrySummary: In Sister Citizen, Melissa Harris-Perry names three stereotypes that burden black women in America: Jezebel, the hypersexual woman; Mammy, the woman devoted to white families; and Sapphire, the angry black woman. Women trying to live from their authentic selves are tossed about by reflections of these stereotypes in popular culture or in faulty assumptions by the people around them. One of the more effective reactions is a characterization that black women have made of themselves as strong women. But this brings its own problems because it doesn’t allow for normal human vulnerabilities. All of this together makes political action by black women on behalf of their own interests difficult.


photo of Melissa V. Harris-Perry

Melissa V. Harris-Perry, author of Sister Citizen and speaker at the Washington University School of Medicine's annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration Lecture

Thoughts: I have so many thoughts, that I’m not sure this is going to come out as a coherent narrative. So, musings, wanderings, flights.

Sister Citizen was our Diversity Book Club selection last night. Several of us went to hear Melissa V. Harris-Perry on Martin Luther King Jr. Day when she spoke at the Washington University Medical School. The title of her talk was Race, Politics and Community.

Several times during her talk, Melissa Harris-Perry used this phrase, or similar: a political imagination greater than the political moment. She used it to describe people in the past, from Jefferson to Martin Luther King, Jr., who believed in a greater equality than they saw in front of their eyes. And, she used it as a challenge to us today. Right now in this time of divisiveness and anger, right now in this election year, how can each of us express a political imagination that is greater than our political moment?

Melissa Harris-Perry was often funny during her talk. Not so much in the book. But, then, it wasn’t that sort of book. It’s a scholarly sort of book, but not dry. Every time that I thought we were headed into academic loftiness, she pulled out a story from a focus group, a literary reference, or a metaphor that rang like crystal.

Members of the Diversity Book Club (and others) attending the MLK Day lecture by Melissa V. Harris-Perry. That's Kayla in front. Rebecca, also in purple, is behind her. Belinda is next to Rebecca talking to Kathy. Antona also attended but she ended up in a different corner of the room. And, we didn't know it at the time, but Becky was there and came to our book club for the first time last night.

Rebecca, pictured above, led our discussion last night.

Kayla, also pictured above, had an excellent answer to Rebecca’s question: “What are your hopes for the information in this book?” Kayla was in college during the height of feminist consciousness raising in the 1970s. Her hope was that this book could bring similar experiences to black women–and that this would be empowering for them and powerful for the rest of us to witness.

Signature of Joy Weese Moll


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Book Review: Sister Citizen by Melissa V. Harris-Perry — 4 Comments

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