Sister Citizen

Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

Standing Straight in a Crooked World

Harris- Perry references field dependence studies to examine how black women must twist and bend to fit into the world we live in. The book begins with the crooked room and remains a central point of reference throughout. Imagine sitting in a crooked room in a crooked chair and being told to straighten yourself. Black women often can only "straighten" themselves in relation to the other objects around them.

The stereotypes that plague black women not only affect the ways in which they are misrecognized in society by others, but also to expose the ways in which black women misrecognize themselves.

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave - Alex Gendler

Exposing the Myths

Identifying three prevailing myths that affect the way black women are percieved she reveals how these play a role in fitting in politics.

The Jezebel Myth

This myth holds that black women are hypersexual and promiscuous and that their out-of-control sexuality must be regulated to prevent social disaster.

The Mammy Myth

This myth paints black women with a servile devotion to white interests.

The Sapphire Myth

This myth insists that black women are irrationally and perpetually angry.

Then there is the myth created by black women... The Strong Black Woman.

The "Strong Black Woman" can endure any hardship without relying on others and who sacrifices her own needs to ensure that those around her are taken care of.

From Myths to Reality

"To understand black women's politics, we must explore their often unspoken experiences of hurt, rejection, faith, and search for identity."

Black women must fight against negative assumptions primarily due to the myths assign to them. Harris- Perry looks at how these myths manifests themselves in our everyday lives and continue to rob black women of political power. From the Jezebel myth hampering public support of black female sexual assault victims to the Sapphire myth dismissal for being irrational- they all make it difficult for black women to lay claim to the full rights of citizenship.

Politics Within Art

Unlike many other political novels, Sister Citizen is told by carefully weaving in fictional characters from novels into the context of the crooked room. And she doesn't stop there. Harris-Perry uses music lyrics, poems, and even current events to illustrate how the myths of black women affect the larger society.

Questions to Consider

  • What does Harris- Perry mean when she writes about how black women "tilt and bend themselves to fit the distortion?"

  • How do you judge the impact of stereotypes on black women? Do you think any stereotypes are positive or affirming?

  • Do black women as a whole have justifiable reasons to be angry? If so, what are they?

  • Do you think the myth of unique strength has a primarily positive or negative effect on black women?

  • How can black women encourage younger generations to be alright?

Dana Fitzpatrick, M.Ed.

PhD Student

Adult, Professional, and Community Education