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

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  3,214 ratings  ·  298 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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The FountainPenDiva, Old school geek chick and lover of teddy bears
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
Compelling and well-researched, Harris-Perry sets it all out in Sister Citizen. She covers a lot of ground here, and there's a strong case for a second edition since its publish date of 2011. The last 6 years have provided a lot of data and cases to bolster her message in this book.

Opening with a passage and analysis of Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, she draws the parallels between the fiction events and the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina 70+ years later. The beginning of the book
Jul 25, 2011 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 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
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
Jan 22, 2012 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
Sep 27, 2011 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
Crystal Starr Light
Feb 07, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Crystal Starr Light by: Christine
Bullet Review:

I don't think I will do a full review of this, but I do want to add to my initial bullet review.

I decided to read this based off my Goodreads' Friend, Christine's, review. Please check her review out, as it will be much more complete than mine.

I ended up catching this on audiobook (thank you again, Audible!) and when my internet went out back in August of 2019 (the Great Internet Outage of 2019), I started listening to this instead of listening to YouTube when doing household chore
Sep 17, 2011 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
Tayari Jones
Nov 06, 2011 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
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
Alex Templeton
Feb 04, 2012 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
Win Scarlett
Nov 24, 2012 rated it liked it
I found the chapter on Shame helpful in creating a framework for analyzing the implications of public vs. private hegemony.
Mar 09, 2016 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
Telly Ree
Oct 19, 2014 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
J Beckett
May 11, 2014 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.
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
Aug 16, 2011 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
Dec 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
There are a bunch of excellent reviews on this book on goodreads. Check them out.

This book is excellent reading for anyone with a desire to understand the intersection of race and gender as it applies to black women in the US. It covers three stereotypes: Jezebel, Mammy, Sapphire, and how they result in tropes that support the systemic oppression of African American women.

The section titled God provides some interesting analyses on the differences in how black women see God and the church comp
Nov 21, 2013 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
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
Nov 11, 2013 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
Jun 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Great analysis and relevant/helpful depictions of all the stereotypes mentioned and their real-life political and social implications. Towards the end, however, MHP starts to throw in all of her perhaps newfound analysis about black female church life and the implications of Michelle Obama and this feels a lot less deliberate, substantiated, and well-developed than her earlier chapters do. Still great, and highly recommended by yours truly.

P.s. Can be borrowed as an audiobook on Hoopla, for tho
Patrice Jones
Sep 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I cannot say I agree with everything that I heard in this audio book, but it was enlightening and informative. The author most definitely did her research well.
I do think it would be better read than listened to, because I found myself wanting to highlight certain things or to go back and hear a certain part again.
Jun 07, 2015 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...
3.5. Megan requested a review so *ahem* here it is. I think that Harris-Perry points out the MANY ways that black women are forced to deal with race and how that differs from black men's experiences, in a concise way (even if sometimes they get bogged down in examples). It absolutely opened my eyes to a lot of things that I hadn't thought of or caused me to really look at myself and reconcile with if I had some of the same assumptions about these various stereotypes of black women (namely Jezebe ...more
Kristi Connell
Jun 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Even more relevant now, nine years after its publication, this book is exhaustively sourced and an eye-opening look at how racial tropes have real impact. It’s an academic treatise, so it went a little slow for me at times - but that last chapter, “Michelle,” hits like a gut punch. SO GOOD.
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 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
I only recently learned that the feminism I have always subscribed to is actually White Feminism. I hadn't heard the phrase Intersectional Feminism until only a year or two ago. This book doesn't use that phrase, but it has given me so much more vocabulary and background information towards understanding that black women are fighting a battle with an almost entirely different (and more sinister) set of obstacles besides the struggle for equal pay and affordable childcare and adequate women's hea ...more
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
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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 Ame

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