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The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America

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What's wrong with black women? Not a damned thing!

The Sisters Are Alright exposes anti-black-woman propaganda and shows how real black women are pushing back against distorted cartoon versions of themselves.

When African women arrived on American shores, the three-headed hydra--servile Mammy, angry Sapphire, and lascivious Jezebel--followed close behind. In the '60s, the Matriarch, the willfully unmarried baby machine leeching off the state, joined them. These stereotypes persist to this day through newspaper headlines, Sunday sermons, social media memes, cable punditry, government policies, and hit song lyrics. Emancipation may have happened more than 150 years ago, but America still won't let a sister be free from this coven of caricatures.

Tamara Winfrey Harris delves into marriage, motherhood, health, sexuality, beauty, and more, taking sharp aim at pervasive stereotypes about black women. She counters warped prejudices with the straight-up truth about being a black woman in America. "We have facets like diamonds," she writes. "The trouble is the people who refuse to see us sparkling."

160 pages, Paperback

First published May 27, 2015

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About the author

Tamara Winfrey Harris

4 books164 followers
Tamara Winfrey-Harris is a writer who specializes in the ever-evolving space where current events, politics and pop culture intersect with race and gender.

She says, “I want to be a storyteller of the Black female experience and a truth-teller to all those folks who got us twisted—tangled up in racist and sexist lies. I want my writing to advocate for my sisters. We are better than alright. We are amazing.”

Well-versed on a range of topics, including Beyoncé’s feminism; Rachel Dolezal’s white privilege; and the Black church and female sexuality, Tamara has been published in media outlets, including The New York Times, The Atlantic, Cosmopolitan, New York Magazine and The Los Angeles Times. And she has been called to share her analysis on media outlets, including NPR’s “Weekend Edition” and Janet Mock’s “So Popular” on MSNBC.com, and on university campuses nationwide.

Tamara’s first book, The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America was published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers in 2015 and called “a myth-busting portrait of Black women in America” by The Washington Post. The book won the Phillis Wheatley Award, IndieFab Award, Independent Publishers Living Now Award and the IPPY Award. Her sophomore effort Dear Black Girl: Letters From Your Sisters On Stepping Into Your Power is forthcoming in March 2021 from Berrett-Koehler Publishers, and available for pre-order.

Her essays also appear in The Lemonade Reader: Beyonce, Black Feminism and Spirituality (Routledge, 2019); The Burden: African Americans and the Enduring Impact of Slavery (Wayne State University Press, 2018) and The Arlington Reader: Fourth Edition (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013).

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 235 reviews
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,762 followers
September 5, 2015
As a white American woman seeking to become a better-informed, more effective ally to people of color, I believe it is my responsibility to seek out and listen to the stories of women and men whose daily lives are impacted by racism. Those of us who are angered and dismayed by systemic and institutional racism in this country have a tendency to rush toward a "fix" without taking the time to understand the many layers and complexities of history, how stereotypes and prejudices have evolved and the true extent of the damage they do.

It struck me a couple of weeks ago when friends' Facebook feeds celebrated the anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment on August 19, 1920, granting all women the right to vote, that not one recognized the disenfranchisement of black women. As hard as black women fought for suffrage in the decades leading up to ratification of the 19th Amendment, it was not until the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 that American citizens of color were granted their full voting rights. And so is the historical problem with feminism: in celebrating our accomplishments, we are quick to forget the sisters we have left behind.

Tamara Winfrey Harris, with wit and clarity, takes on and tears down the stereotypes of black women that are the result of exclusionary, often violent, politics and systems, and are perpetuated by consumer and pop culture, willful ignorance and outright racist behavior. She shows us how American culture has commodified a black woman's sexuality, denied her the right to express it freely, and trapped her in the roles of "Mammy, Sapphire, and Jezebel." And she shows us how women have pushed back against these stereotypes, creating a narrative of strength and health, despite vulnerabilities created by bias.

"Black women are a million different kinds of amazing. It is not our race or gender that makes this true; it is [our humanity]. This book is about that humanity—the textured, difficult, and beautiful humanity that lies in the hearts of the all the black women I love."

I felt as thought I'd been invited into a circle of celebration, laughter, outrage, and warmth, and all that was asked of me was to listen. Listen and hear. Listen and hear and check my own assumptions, biases, and privileges at the door. It was an honor to do so.

Profile Image for Jennifer Stoy.
Author 4 books9 followers
September 10, 2015
This is the 101-201 level resource that white women/white feminists NEED to read before they open their mouths on social media to talk about black womanhood in America. (I say this as a white woman) If you are someone who is legitimately ready to understand what misogynoir is and how you are probably contributing to it, read this book. It is a fast, accessible read that covers major issues black women deal with today as well as the stereotypes that fuel a lot of pop culture representations of black women as well. It's not a deep dive, but it doesn't need to be a deep dive considering how many professional writers (I'm looking at you, Alessandra Stanley) don't understand that bringing up the Angry Black Woman is a bad idea if you don't know jack about how that stereotype is still used against black women.
Profile Image for Lisa D..
85 reviews10 followers
July 12, 2015
The Sisters are Alright:.. should be a mandatory read not just for adults, but for teenage girls - particularly, African-Americans, as we are subjected to the mental and stereotypical abuses and misconceptions more than any ethnicity on this planet. Winfrey-Harris' research, interviews and personal thoughts are refreshing and to the point. She shows us the ugly sides we face as African-American women in the media and our own backyards, but also shows that we don't have to take any of it and rise above all.
Profile Image for K.c..
28 reviews3 followers
July 16, 2015
Zora Neale Hurston put it best “Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.” Every black girl and woman should read this book.
Profile Image for Maya Smart.
39 reviews47 followers
October 3, 2016
In her compendium of propaganda against black women, “The Sisters Are Alright,” Tamara Winfrey Harris exposes America’s historical and ongoing contempt for “the sisters.” She identifies stereotype after devastating stereotype, from whitewashed beauty standards to angry-black-woman clichés, and calls for recognition of the diversity and humanity of black women.

Although billed as a pep talk, Harris’s collection of panicked headlines, cruel criticism, and biased studies assailing black women makes for tough reading. On more than one occasion, I thought, It’s a wonder any of us survive.

And that’s the point. Most black women are not thriving, because we are doubly burdened with racial and gender discrimination. When we show up in the real world, we are too often seen through a thick veil of negative stereotypes. This limits our educational and employment opportunities, threatens our health, and makes it difficult to solicit and receive help.

Harris describes the brutal, sometimes deadly, consequences. Witness the frightened Detroit homeowner who shot teenager Renisha McBride in the face when she knocked on his door to seek assistance after a car accident.

But Harris didn’t write this book to enlighten people who discriminate against black women. Her goal is to bolster our self-esteem so that we can better navigate the toxic landscape. She peppers the book with positive messages called Moments in Alright. These vignettes highlight positive notes about black women, such as business ownership and educational attainment progress, and anecdotes about us excelling and helping one another. The nuggets offer little relief, though, set as they are against a backdrop of grim stereotypes.

It’s often said that it takes five expressions of praise to balance out a single criticism, and in this instance I craved more detailed stories of black women overcoming adversity, more insight into the self-talk that helps us flourish, and more explanation of how we’ve come to know we are alright, even when media coverage and social customs suggest the opposite.

For me, the book was not uplifting. But it offered something more valuable: honest and unapologetic insight. It is a fine example of how to consume media thoughtfully–one writer’s conscientious rejection of the tired notions and labels society tries to pin on black women. It’s a tough job. I’m glad she did it.
Profile Image for Zanna.
676 reviews945 followers
June 2, 2017
Tamara Winfrey Harris writes for Bitch magazine, and this book is written in the same accessible style and with the same joyful right-onness as her articles. It summarises key points from other wonderful writing by Black women relevant to the subject (particularly Patricia Hill Collins’ book Black Feminist Thought, and deploys arguments that followers of certain blogs and denizens of certain regions of Twitter will find familiar, but certainly satisfyingly succinct, clear and convincing here.

One of the central strengths of the book is its use of direct experience, primary evidence: Black women speak throughout in their own words. Tamara Winfrey Harris is adept at folding their words of witness into her flow, and the whole is a thing of beauty and righteousness :)
Profile Image for YupIReadIt.
171 reviews97 followers
June 1, 2017
Relevant of course. I appreciate the new perspective this gave me on black motherhood and feminism.
30 reviews
July 21, 2015
Excellent. I wanted more.

Thank you Ms. Harris for this book. At a time when all our assets are being appropriated, this affirmative message was definitely needed.
Profile Image for Adira.
432 reviews241 followers
December 2, 2017
THIS is a MUST read for any African/African-American woman who's ever been called angry, irate, ugly, hard to deal with or any of the other things we get called on a basis. It's the textual equivalent of being thrown into a sister circle and being reaffirmed that you're going to be alright. We maybe painted as "the problem" by others, but we as women of the diaspora know the truth of who we are and how we came to be. Thankfully, with tis book, Tamara Winfrey Harris thankfully puts together a work of social commentary and research that not only lets us air out our grievances, but also a book that takes the critics of African/African-American women to task and demands recognition for all that we do.

If you've got a tambourine, be ready to shake it because Motha Harris wrote 'de truth in these pages. I recommend it to EVERYONE!!!!!!!
Profile Image for Nakia.
385 reviews232 followers
October 13, 2017
Nothing new or groundbreaking, but still a very uplifting alternative to the often negative and complicated way the mainstream handles Black women. If you need a factual #blackgirlmagic pick me up, this may help.

It was also great to see a lot of women I've known online for years featured in the book.

A 3.5 star read for me.
Profile Image for Shernell.
88 reviews43 followers
January 8, 2017
Excellent, concise book on black women stereotypes and issues!
Profile Image for Irina Elena.
671 reviews172 followers
September 17, 2020
As a white woman who has grown up and lived exclusively in European countries, I started this book knowing shamefully little about the perception of black women in America and how this affects every facet of their lives. I watch the news like most of us, sure, and hear about the latest crazy horrifying cases of police brutality or internet scandals online, but I rarely do in-depth research about things that are so far away from me geographically. I would love to say that things in Europe are very different from what's described in this work and that that's part of the reason why I didn't know all of this, but I can't - I simply don't know enough. And that's probably part of the problem.

I found this an incredibly easy to digest, yet eloquently written work. It's factual and clear-eyed, but also elicited a lot of empathy for me, because of its tone and because of the interviewed women who got to voice their thoughts about their own lives.
I'm grateful I had the chance to learn about something so prevalent and pervasive, yet so invisible to me a lot of the time, and in reading it I realized that when given the tools to analyze all of this, I can spot it everywhere, from American news reporting and TV shows to conversations that happen around me in person. Tamara Winfrey Harris took theory and scholarly writings and wove in media content that I can recognize from the past few years, and taught me how to do the work of seeing all this myself.

It's a hard read at times, objective to the point of being painful, but it's also celebratory and positive, and it's one of those very few books that I would say everyone needs to at least get a taste of.
Profile Image for Kat Olmstead.
23 reviews13 followers
May 16, 2015
After winning this from GoodReads I found this book very eye opening and inspiring. Written with passion and flair. A must read!
Profile Image for LeeTravelGoddess.
771 reviews49 followers
December 30, 2017
This is the book you talk with your sisters about and pass on to your daughters. Finally!!! I enjoyed this book from beginning to end, I really fed and lifted my soul!! 💚
Profile Image for Christina.
309 reviews8 followers
December 28, 2021
"... the world does not love Black women - not in the way we deserve to be loved. It doesn't truly see us. Our authentic collective and individual selves are usually hidden by racist and sexist stereotypes that we can't seem to shake - or rather, images that other folks won't let us shake."

Having read Feminist AF by the Crunk Collective, Bad Fat Black Girl: Notes from a Trap Feminist by Sesali Bowen, Blaxhaustion, Karens & Other Threats to Black Lives and Well-Being by Theresa Robinson, I'm pretty deep into feminism and particularly the way Black women navigate in these feminist waters, under the Alice Walker's coined term, Womanist. I whole-heartedly love the way Tamara Winfrey Harris discusses all of the issues Black women face today, with a look back into the past to see where and how far we've come, in order to set our selves up for the future.

Harris discusses misogynoir, how Black women are depicted in the media, how Black women are treated, talked to, passed over, looked under, maligned, dogged, and abused by every body on this planet. She informs the masses that Black women, despite the many generations of wrongful mistreatment, we are still amazing beings. "Black women are a million different kinds of amazing." We have been the shit since the beginning of time, and if you aren't hip, then you lose out. Period. "No one can define Black women like Black women."

Harris talks about the beauty industry and how Black women are constantly being erased, dumbed down, lightened up, hair straightened, shaped and molded to perfection to be consumable. She talks about how the "unfiltered Black" has to constantly be on guard, least she be erased because of her refusal to adhere to White standards of beauty and comeliness. Harris discusses how our own generational traumas are perpetuated by people who are our own. Those who talk out the side of their neck to uphold patriarchal stereotypes and ideals just to save face and/or have a place in society without reproach. However, no matter what you do as a Black women, no one is coming to save you. We have to save ourselves because everyone is trying to pit us against each other and keep us in this impossible box that serves no one. We cannot allow ourselves to feel responsible or buy into the notion of adapting to oppression, we must demand that society and those around us stop treating Black women differently than others.

Harris also warns about the dangers of respectability politics, which Sesali Bowen brings up in her book. The respectability politics harms us more than anything. Respectability politics has the ability to deny Black women pleasure, and education in numerous ways that can lead to our detriment. We have to be authentic if we're going to love ourselves correctly. Trying to appease to white culture and their standards of living, beauty, love, and fairness is not something we can do. Or should be anything we should strive for... it's not for us. We have nothing to prove. We are alright. We've always been alright. We will continue to be alright. Nothing is wrong with us. We are human. We are complex. We are amazing.

Harris also discusses Black motherhood, village raising, revolutionary self-care, self-awareness, self-love, how to deal with race, gender, socioeconomic problems, and the myth of the Strong Black Woman. The 'Strong Black Woman' trope is killing us. We are complex human beings that deserve rest, relaxation, to be stress free, and to see ourselves fully, not just when things are going well or wrong, but in all capacities. We are deserving of love. We are deserving of protection. We are deserving of being vulnerable. We are deserving of existing in our own right.

We, the Black women, the sisters, we are still alright. Don't let nobody tell you otherwise. You are a queen deserving of all the praise. We are pushing back against the stereotypes, and are making people accountable for treating us poorly. We are getting free every single day. This book, will help you see that you, my sister, are alright.

Highly recommend: 5 stars
Profile Image for chantel nouseforaname.
628 reviews312 followers
May 28, 2021

Sometimes you just need to remind yourself that you’re not nuts. That it’s the world around you trying to drag you into some narrative that you’re not actually involved in, but that they want you to wear.

Tamara Winfrey Harris doesn’t offer up anything too new and she doesn’t deep dive too far into too much research and stats, though they are there. She doesn’t go super far into her own personal experiences, but she offers that up some too. What she does expertly in this short perspective is she gathers folks together in this book and demystifies a lot of false narratives that folks would like to pin to Black women — she turns all that shit on its head.

The Sisters Are Alright is above all a love letter for Black women and I’m always here for these. They speak to me. This book was wonderful. After the final page, I closed the book, played my Kendrick and felt love flow all over my body. I loved the insight from the women she interviewed. All in all, it was a fantastic read.

A great quote from the book that I love was given to us via the legendary Deesha Philyaw, writer of The Secret Lives of Church Women, who said..
"“Let folks perceive you however they want—Jezebel, angry black woman, welfare queen—as long as they get the hell out of the way and let you do your thing. Stop looking for approval and permission from people who hate you and want to see you fail, and stop spending all your energy railing against their perceptions. Give yourself a daily/weekly/monthly allotment of outrage, and then be about the business of building.”" — 68% in 'The Sisters Are Alright' by Tamara Winfrey Harris

This quote was followed up with: "Let the church say “Amen.”" and trust me, I was all about an Amen!
7 reviews
September 22, 2015
I wish this book had come out when I was 14 or 15. Though some of the topics would have been over my head, I would have learned a great deal. It would have been a book that I picked up again at 20 and again at 25. It is something I plan to gift to black girls growing up and to black women in general.

I really enjoyed they way this book gave me affirmations and made me feel included. As an awkward black girl and now care free black woman, there were many times growing up that I needed to know being me was ok...that though I didn't fit in all the time, I still belonged to a community. This book made me feel included and confirmed that there are women like me going through the same things.

This book also came at a time in my life where at 28, I am dealing with mental illnesses that I have developed since early childhood. The way I was taught to think of mental health was paralleled with ways women in The Sisters Are Alright were taught to think. This book helped me to see that I am not less than for seeking help. I needed that.
Profile Image for Alana Benjamin.
135 reviews52 followers
February 29, 2016
This is book is a must read for any black woman from the age of 16 upwards. It is a really simple read that highlights a lot of the issues facing black women.

It uses a lot of popular culture references to explain how black women are portrayed negatively as well as positively while reinforcing the resilience of Black Women.

One of the last pages of the book quotes a lady called Deesha, who's story is told in the book, that 'systemic racism and sexism need to be acknowledged and fought, but she adds that black women also need to be living as we are fighting. Raising conscious children, creating extraordinary art, getting the best revenge by living well in spite of racism and sexism . If I spend all my time reacting, I can't act. I can't initiate and steer the course of life.' -- This quote is a good idea on what the book is truly trying to convey.
Profile Image for Eliza.
Author 16 books145 followers
March 10, 2016
One day. I read this joint in one day.

It was completely engrossing and intriguing. A wonderful quick read that managed to explore intersectional feminism & womanism in a refreshing 21st century light. It tackled many complexities about the life of the black woman: sexuality, health, anger, beauty standards, etc. Using the lens of pop culture, the author also called out unacceptable views of the black woman.

If you have a real interest in intersectional feminism or if you just want to understand what you think you already know about black women, please read this book.
Profile Image for BookOfCinz.
1,404 reviews2,358 followers
January 29, 2016
I think this book is more relevant now more than ever. I like that Harris is trying to change the narrative of the Black Woman living in America. She offers key example and insights that pushes you to think deeply about the issues facing a Black Woman. While I am not living in the US the book really resonated with me. Not only did Harris make a strong point with this book, she’s showing the world that the Sisters are indeed alright!
Profile Image for Shari (Shira).
2,106 reviews
April 11, 2019
I'm reeling, tearful, and yet inspired. Almost 20 years ago, I wrote a dissertation of the portrayal of African American girls in picture books. The most prevalent image was a girl who is kind, responsible, smart, and independent. Very different from the "helpless little white girls" in picture books. One of my advisors suggested that it was the story that the big publishers want to put out there. Harris tells us what happens to those kind, responsible, smart, and independent girls when they grow up. I wish it could have given this book to my daughter when she was a teen. I wish someone had given this book to me when I was a teen.
Profile Image for Melania &#x1f352;.
540 reviews86 followers
September 22, 2018

Such an important book with such an important message. I can’t give it 4 stars since it is so short and I feel that this complex problems can be discussed in so much more depth. But, again, I feel like because it is so short more people should pick it up.
Profile Image for Bina.
172 reviews56 followers
January 20, 2016
The Sisters Are Alright is first of all a love note Tamara Winfrey Harris has written to other black women. It’s a warm, welcoming book that celebrates their complexities and humanity. I hope Harris’ book will be a gift given to many young black girls. I read this book to understand the specific lived experience of black women in the United States, become a better ally and just rejoice in the celebration of women of color.

Some of you might know the author from her blog What Tami Said or from her editor work on Racialicious. In her first book, Harris starts by introducing the history of propaganda against black women and the major harmful stereotypes that were introduced during slavery and have become the backbone of the current racist, sexist society of the US. This first part will be very educational for anyone not part of the target audience, but it is tough reading as Harris covers everything from Sapphire to the welfare queen and the Moynihan Report to hurtful current beauty and marriage double standards.

Harris shows how stereotypes of the ‘angry black women’ are still pulled out even on successful women like Shonda Rhimes or Michelle Obama. Or how the myth of the ‘strong black women’ hurts black women emotionally or physically, causing stress and serious health issues when they try to appear strong all their lives.

But Harris writes engagingly and encouragingly, dismantling these misogynoir traps and interspersing them with little boxes called ‘Moments in Alright,’ which shows that black women are indeed alright. Here Harris presents snippets about black women as successful business owners, achieving amazing educational goals and more.

There’s one caveat, but Harris is very upfront about it, the women she interviewed and focused on are largely well-off middle-class and for the most part straight. Make sure to read about these experiences, too. Recommendation: Black Girl Dangerous on Race, Queerness, Class and Gender by Mia McKenzie.
Profile Image for Evette.
Author 10 books110 followers
January 4, 2016
"The Sisters are Alright" is a welcomed addition to the Black Feminist canon. Tamara Winfrey-Harris combines personal narrative, extensive research, and interviews with an array of Black women to produce a comprehensive look at what it means to be a dimensional Black woman. While it is heavy subject matter, Winfrey-Harris navigates difficult terrain around marriage, health, sexuality, and even beauty, to paint portraits of complex Black women attempting to navigate a world that oppresses us without remorse. "The Sisters are Alright" is a powerful book that deserves space on every Black woman's shelf. We are, indeed, alright.
Profile Image for Crystal.
126 reviews
February 11, 2017
I think this is a fantastic book for anyone newly "woke" to the experiences black women face (or, truthfully, just want a better overview of what we face), because it does take century-long struggles, condenses them into an easy-to-follow narrative and gives a reader positive affirmations that despite all these things, black women are still capable of thriving—not because we're "strong," but because we deserve our own happiness. But, for me, it didn't offer new to the table. While it was genuinely nice reading everyone's stories, I do wish we got to hear more from lower class and/or LGBT black women.
Profile Image for Janeen.
79 reviews16 followers
January 18, 2016
This book was alright.

I think I would have enjoyed it more if the chapters were essays by other authors. I knew from early on -- I didn't get the black girl magic I was hoping to pull from the pages. Easy read, not a lot of critical thought.
Profile Image for Tiffany Tyler.
670 reviews95 followers
July 12, 2021
I didn’t learn anything new from this book, however as a Black woman it was gratifying to read experiences that are similar to mine. I would recommend that all women, especially white women, check out this book.
Profile Image for Britt.
111 reviews56 followers
February 11, 2016
Black sisters, mothers, aunties and friends, the perspective that you need to have to make sure that you don't ruin your own life one day at a time is right here.
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