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

4.19 of 5 stars 4.19  ·  rating details  ·  1,434 ratings  ·  166 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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TheFountainPenDiva
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
Willow
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
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arieswym
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
...more
Angela
Apr 22, 2012 Angela rated it 3 of 5 stars
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
Bette
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
Chris
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
...more
Andre
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
Alison
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
Tayari Jones
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
Bill
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
...more
Alex Templeton
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
El
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
...more
Heather
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
I have three words to sum up this book:

ALL OF THIS!!

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
...more
Naomi
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
Donald
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
...more
Jim
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
...more
Poingu
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
Annie
It has been a long time since I read a book that required me to think HARD in-between chapters and forced me to read all the footnotes, notes, and bibliography. I felt like I was in graduate school again. This was not a quick read and I wished I had read many of the novels and plays MHP was referencing like 'Their Eyes Were Watching God' and 'For Colored Girls'.

MHP does a fantastic job at setting up the rest of the book in her intro and Chapter 1 with American stereotypes of African American/Bl
...more
Micah
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
...more
Korri
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
...more
SooYoung
Sadly did not get to finish this before it was due, but it was a really excellent critical read. Harris-Perry creates a crooked room (society's stereotyping of African American women) and then examines how African American women proceed to live within this room -- do they align themselves with the room and the false stereotypes or do they stand upright against the room and fight the feeling that they are askew? It's a lose lose situation. As a result of this, how African American women are treat ...more
Msladydeborah
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
...more
Caroline
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.
Jenn
Mar 12, 2012 Jenn rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
Ivy Pittman
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.
J.P.
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
...more
Karen Ashmore
In Sister Citizen, Melissa Harris-Perry juxtaposes analyses of three Black Woman stereotypes -- Jezebel, Mammy and Sapphire -- with selections from some of my absolute favorite works of literature.

It opened with a selection from Their Eyes Were Watching God, a breakthrough novel by Zora Neale Hurston, of which I have a first edition.

Then a poem from a book about the intersecting impacts of race, class, gender and sexual orientation, A Bridge Called My Back. I can credit this book with dramatic
...more
James R. C.  Baker
Tonight I closed the back cover on a exceptional work for Black History Month; a book by Melissa V. Harris-Perry, a university professor, and cable news commentator. Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America For Colored Girls Who've Considered Politics When Being Strong Isn't Enough (Yale U.P. 2011) portrays the emotional realities of black women's' lives ending with Shirley Chisholm's remark, "I want history to remember me not just as the first black woman to be elected to ...more
Rhiannon Root
Almost everyone has been unfairly stereotyped in his, her or their life. Stereotypes and prejudices are unfortunate side effects of living in a society such as ours. However, stereotypes can affect more vulnerable populations in a deeper and more powerful way.

Melissa V. Harris-Perry's “Sister Citizen” argues that the stereotypes African American women face on a daily basis not only affect how these women see themselves, but that these stereotypes affect them politically. She identifies these par
...more
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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
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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.” 10 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.” 6 likes
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