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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

4.19  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,975 Ratings  ·  204 Reviews
Jezebel's sexual lasciviousness, Mammy's devotion, and Sapphire's outspoken anger—these are among the most persistent stereotypes that black women encounter in contemporary American life. Hurtful and dishonest, such representations force African American women to navigate a virtual crooked room that shames them and shapes their experiences as citizens. Many respond by assu ...more
Hardcover, 378 pages
Published September 20th 2011 by Yale University Press
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Sister Outsider by Audre LordeBlack Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill CollinsAin't I a Woman by bell hooksSister Citizen by Melissa V. Harris-PerryFeminist Theory by bell hooks
Black Feminist/Womanist Studies
4th out of 99 books — 50 voters
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret AtwoodThe Bell Jar by Sylvia PlathJane Eyre by Charlotte BrontëA Room of One's Own by Virginia WoolfThe Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
Best Feminist Books
167th out of 1,387 books — 1,965 voters

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Community Reviews

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Melissa Harris-Perry pulls no punches with her insightful and scathing indictment of the institutions and the damaging myths about black womanhood that keep them from fully realizing their citizenship and their identity. She explores the genesis of such stereotypes as the promiscuous Jezebel, the self-sacrificing Mammy (once again made popular with the inexplicable success of The Help) and the emasculating Sapphire. The book is filled with anecdotes, but it's also backed with meticulous research ...more
May 31, 2014 Willow rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best books on a sociology science that I’ve read in a long time. As a former professor at the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University, Melissa Harris Perry has written a thoughtful and insightful book about stereotypes and societal shaming, and she has backed up her assertions with tons of data. I wish all books were this well researched.

Harris-Perry starts out by saying that being a black woman in the United States is like trying to stand up straight in a
Dec 28, 2015 arieswym rated it it was amazing
Shelves: for-jnm
Loved it and am going to buy it (the copy I read was via the public library)

Skillfully weaves a narrative about the 3 major stereotypes of black women: Sapphire, Jezebel, and Mammy; and the ways that they still impact the way black women view themselves and are viewed/portrayed by others.

Most impactful/resonant to me were the parts on shame and the strong black women, building on what I'd read in When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip-Hop Feminist Breaks It Down and Shifting: The Double Li
Apr 22, 2012 Angela rated it liked it
Recommends it for: my book club
Recommended to Angela by: Colbert Report appearance
Having written a several-paragraph review of "Sister Citizen" before running out of battery and seeing it completely erased, I will attempt to rehash it with slightly more brevity. In her book, Melissa Harris-Perry covers roughly four major topics: the three traditional stereotypes faced by black American women (the promiscuous "Jezebel," the angry "Sapphire," and the nurturing "Mammy"), the more superficially positive stereotype created in response to this of the strong black woman and why it c ...more
Jan 08, 2013 Bette rated it it was amazing
I found "Sister Citizen" to be the most comprehensive book I have read regarding the stereotypes plaguing black women. The book is clear and concise. This has helped me to better understand myself as a black woman and how I fit in our country. I felt validated about a lot of personal experiences. Ms. Harris-Perry proves again that she is one of America's most incredible political minds. I appreciate how she is using peer-reviewed sources, empirical data,and recent events to tie her themes togeth ...more
What I really like about this book, besides the fact that Harris-Perry is one of the most honest authors I have ever read, is the fact that it is about women and politics, and not about women and media.

However, the most distrubing section (and most powerful in some cases) is the brief paragraphs were Harri-Perry mentions a desire by a certain group to errect a Mammy monument on the National Mall, right near the Lincoln Memorial.

It is a very powerful book, though at times very analytical. Yet, c
Sep 28, 2011 Bill rated it really liked it
I picked up Sister Citizen because I am interested from a legal perspective in the implications that stereotyping of African American women has in the workplace. The book more than rewarded my interest.

The book is a pastiche of literary excerpts, critical essays, news analysis, focus group reporting, and statistical surveys that covers everything from the writings of Zora Neale Hurston and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to the success of Michelle Obama and the shaming of Shirley Sherrod. In
Jan 22, 2012 Andre rated it it was amazing
I love the analogy that undergirds this book, "trying to stand up straight in a crooked room." Ms. Harris-Perry does a remarkable job of explaining this challenge that is often mis-diagnosed by all. She provides history mixed with present day situations that make hers analysis clear and insightful. The discussion of myths and stereotypes and the effects of them on Black women is instructional. I hope that not only Black women embrace this book, but my fellow Black men do so as well. There is no ...more
Tayari Jones
Nov 06, 2011 Tayari Jones rated it really liked it
The crux of Harris-Perry's argument is that the prevailing stereotypes of black women profoundly affect the ways that black women are seen by America, but also the ways that they see themselves. This misrepresentation shapes and often limits black women's participation as American citizens. While scholars may find some of the ground covered here to be a bit familiar, "Sister Citizen" is written for the benefit of all Americans - sister citizens, brother citizens and anyone else who cares about t ...more
Alex Templeton
Feb 04, 2012 Alex Templeton rated it it was amazing
This is one of those books that I am truly glad I read, because it has taught me valuable things that I feel that I should know as a feminist interested in social justice. Harris-Perry writes convincingly of the stereotypes that shape African Americans womens' lives, personally and politically: the oversexed Jezebel, the caretaker Mammy, the Strong Black Women. Her arguments consist of the ways in which those stereotypes determine behavior (going out of one's way to behave in a way that refutes ...more
Jul 02, 2016 Alison rated it it was amazing
This is a powerful, thorough account of what it means to be an African American woman in the US, both historically and in the present. The intersectionality embodied by women of color is an important and poignant viewpoint from which to see our culture, society, and political landscape. Melissa Harris-Perry does a wonderful job of making this viewpoint clear and accessible, and shows us how it feels to live in the mind, body and soul of a black woman in the US - the struggle for recognition as a ...more
Telly Ree
Jul 15, 2015 Telly Ree rated it it was amazing
Any black woman not awaken politically to the American society and how black women must navigate it, then the words, statistics, and examples used by Harris to explain the crook room (destructive, inhibiting stereotypes) that black women live in America will go over your head. I love how Harris base black women's politics around the crooked room theory, and have to find ourselves in this room misaligned with the stereotype of Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire and the "strong black woman." Two passages fr ...more
Melissa Harris-Perry is a political commentator for MSNBC, hosting her own round table show, writes columns for The National, is an author of two works of gender and race, and is a professor of political science at Tulane University. In the past year she has been a guest on The Colbert Report and has been in the spotlight for an unfortunate comment that was made on-air about Mitt Romney's family and her subsequent apology.

As she is a very honest and direct commentator, her persona on her show on
Oct 23, 2011 Heather rated it it was amazing
Melissa Harris-Perry’s latest book, Sister Citizen, takes a look at the traditional stereotypes that have affected Black women throughout history: the oversexed and oversexualized Jezebel; the asexual, loyal and nurturing Mammy; and the matriarchal Sapphire (the Angry Black Woman). It describes the origin of each of these stereotypes and the ways in which these stereotypes have affected Black women not only in their personal lives, but also in their political lives. Harris-Perry uses statistical ...more
Jennifer Cross
Dec 14, 2013 Jennifer Cross rated it it was amazing
Shelves: feminist-nf, race-nf
I have three words to sum up this book:


Prof. Harris-Perry succeeds in delving deeply and often painfully into the many trials and tribulations that black women endure and how it affects us all on the macrocosmic level. What makes this work poignant is Prof. Harris-Perry's use of empirical and anecdotal evidence, mixing the old oral customs with 21st century evidence gathering, to paint a larger picture on how trapped black American women are in terms of race, gender, class and abili
Aug 08, 2013 Naomi rated it it was amazing
Melissa Harris-Perry's analysis of the relationship betweens racist and gendered stereotypes on the political participation and experience of citizenship for African American women is detailed, nuanced, and compelling. A fine addition to the body of literature on shame and its effects in contemporary society, now we need a next actions, counteracting the shame manual for liberation. Harris-Perry grants the reader glimpses of how we might change this experience and truly recognize one another wit ...more
Dec 15, 2013 Donald rated it really liked it
I found this book interesting and informative - it examines the stereotypes of black woman in the USA - she identifies three main ones -- which she calls Sapphire (the angry matriarch), Mammy (asexual nurturer) and Jezebel (oversexed)and the author shows how difficult it is to break free from the stereotypes.

I took my time with this book, as I had to consider the main points. On reflection i could see how these "roles" played out with the people around me and those in the public eye.

It certainl
May 21, 2015 poingu rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
A moving, beautifully written, carefully argued, far-ranging examination of the stereotypes that shape and constrict the lives of Black American women. I loved the particular mix of examples Harris-Perry chose to build her arguments, from literature to journalism to historical events to focus groups. I felt guided through some very tough territory by this thoughtful author. She gave me confidence to expand my thinking and to recognize the ways cultural stereotypes have misshaped my beliefs. Some ...more
Feb 25, 2014 Jim rated it really liked it
Not a light read - Melissa Harris-Perry is obviously very intelligent and she has done her research. (And some of the experiments and surveys were conducted by her.) That being said, if you can spend a little time with it, this book is fairly accessible.

She gives a compelling argument:

"It is African American women, surviving at the nexus of racialized, gendered, and classed dis-privilege, who mark the progress of the nation."

This book is about exploring the myths of African American women, as
Jan 08, 2012 Micah rated it it was amazing
The last quarter of this book kicks it from four to five stars. This is a thorough look at black women in American politics, but not in the traditional sense. This is more a look at how all the things that go into being a black woman inform how they think and act politically. Even that is an over simplification of what the book sets out to do.
The book is well researched and well documented. That's a plus. I feel like the last part of the book really brought together all the little pieces. The f
Melissa Harris-Perry's exploration of how black women are impacted emotionally and politically by the stereotypes--both negative and positive--surrounding them is recommended reading for everyone.

It feels like black women live with the Miranda warnings permanently hanging over their heads in all situations: 'You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you...' Perceptions about African American women don't often correspond to their realities. Harris-Perry li
Nov 11, 2012 Msladydeborah rated it really liked it
Sister Citizen is a book that calls a thing by its proper name and makes it real!

Melissa Harris-Perry did a very nice job of using fictional characters to deal with the subject of Black women's oppression within the American society.

I found myself waving my hand and nodding my head in agreement over the issues that are pointed out in this work.

Even though the body of work is supported by research results, I found the overall book to be a good read. Harris-Perry's writing style has a nice flow of
Mar 12, 2012 Jenn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: truth
"African American women face specific, damaging, and deeply embedded race and gender stereotypes that make it difficult for them to enjoy accurate recognition in the public sphere. The crooked room created by these stereotypes has psychological consequences for individuals and social and political consequences for black women as a group. The strong black woman ideal is an attempt to straighten these crooked images. But even though the strong black woman is a more positive image than Jezebel, Mam ...more
Oct 07, 2014 Caroline rated it it was amazing
Reading this is like taking an interdisciplinary crash course in literature, media studies, political science, etc. Harris-Perry brings some interesting empirical data to studying seemingly abstract ideas like 'shame' and how stereotypes actually affect people's actions and political decision making. It's not a particularly cheery book but smart and eye-opening, and I came away from it with an expanded reading list.
J Beckett
Sep 05, 2014 J Beckett rated it it was amazing
This is a must read for all women and men. A surprising, informative and extraordinary trace of the history and often tragic social view of African-American women. Melissa Harris-Perry provides a wonderful script confirming the amazing strength and unquestionable beauty of African-American women despite stereotypes, narrow minded historical assumptions and inaccurate media driven images.
Mar 24, 2016 Leslie rated it it was amazing
Slow, thunderous clap for this one. I'm not giving this 5 stars because it's flawless. It's very dissertation-y (which means repetitive in parts and overstating what's already clear) even though there was obvious effort to make it readable to a more general public. And while I agree 150% about her analysis of black women and religion, specifically the Christian church, I found that chapter lacking word economy to a degree that became frustrating. But that's it. I think every bibliophile has a bo ...more
Nov 03, 2015 Britt rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
This book was amazing. I appreciate the research, the ideas and the insight it presents. While the perspective is profound the book is succinct and digestible for a wide variety of audiences. This is the kind of book you buy and then borrow out over and over again...
Ivy Pittman
Dec 07, 2014 Ivy Pittman rated it it was amazing
Harris-Perry nails it again. This is a must read for black women who want to read a historical breakdown of America's view of black women over time. Her use of literature as a parallel point of reference puts Sister Citizen on a shelf with the best of historians.
Mar 03, 2016 Linda added it
Shelves: feminist
This is a moving and powerful book that wakes me up to my own white privilege and hope that in the few short years I have left in this world I can make a small difference for other women, especially women of color and disparity. My eyes were opened to some of my own misconceptions and Ms Harris-Perry added more books to my March 2016 women only read list.

The research behind this book is so important so that I have references to help others understand.

Thank you Melissa Harris-Perry for your trem
Feb 14, 2015 J.P. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Damned if they do, damned if they don't. That's what comes to mind understanding how the images that are portrayed of black women in society affect them & how they are scrutinized.

The book begins with Hurricane Katrina & it's aftermath & how black people, especially black women, were portrayed in the media & their response to the disaster. It is clearly demonstrated how in that situation, as it has been throughout history, black women have had to struggle with simply being recogn
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Melissa V. Harris-Perry is professor of political science at Tulane University, where she is founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South. She previously served on the faculties of the University of Chicago and Princeton University.

Harris-Perry is author of the eagerly anticipated new book, Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in Amer
More about Melissa V. Harris-Perry...

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“The disobedience if Eve in the Genesis story has been used to justify women's inequality and suffering in many Christian traditions. Thus, what is understood as women's complicity in evil leads much traditional theological reflection on suffering to offer the "consequent admonition to 'grin and bear it' because such is the deserved place of women." Similarly, when Jesus is seen as a divine co-sufferer, the potentially liberating narratives of Jesus as a revolutionary leader who takes the side of the poor and dispossessed can be ignored in favor of religious beliefs more interested in Jesus as a stoic victim. Christ's suffering is inverted and used to justify women's continued suffering in systems of injustice by framing it as redemptive.” 14 likes
“Loss of social standing is an ever-present threat for individuals whose social acceptance is based on behavioral traits rather than unconditional human value.” 7 likes
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