Sister Citizen: Slave, Shame, Stereotype and Black Women in America by Melissa Harris-Perry
First, try to evoke an image of a nanny. Next, think of a black
nanny. Now, search your mind for a picture of an
African-American domestic worker.
Most people, at some point, envision a stereotypical
“Mammy”: a large, dark-complected woman who is
always smiling because she is so gratified to be satisfying
the needs of the white family she serves.
Melissa Harris-Perry examines the Mammy stereotype, as well
as Sapphire, the Hottentot, the Welfare Queen, the Superwoman, and other media-promoted
images of black women. In her book, the author investigates the debilitating political, cultural,
and social pressures put upon African American women.
Your interest in this book by Professor Harris-Perry will be piqued by her views on “The Help,”
which can be seen online on C-Span
She explains real black women who worked as domestics when Medgar Evers died didn’t
have aMiss Skeeter. She encourages us to read the facts and explore the history. In reality,
black domestics walked out of their jobs and protested in the streets themselves without help
from any white people.
She finds it condescending to suggest that Minny Jackson would find the courage to leave
her abusive husband only after her white boss, Celia Foote, cooked her a meal. Would
simply having a white woman’s gratitude lead her to leave her husband?
When Viola Davis’s character, Aibileen Clark walks out of her job in the oppressive South
at the end of the movie, audiences cheer as if the character is a strong woman. But, Professor Harris-Perry questions why we applaud. In reality, Aibileen was walking into the oppressive
South and would not have been hired again after being fired at that time and place. In reality,
she actually may have been arrested because the white character Hilly Holbrook accuses
her of stealing her silver.
Harris-Perry states her perspective about the book and the movie just past the halfway point
on the show, but we found the entire hour provocative and insightful. Please click here
the entire program.
The author’s strict adherence to analysis of empirical evidence and data is as welcome as it is uncommon. The concepts of fictive kinship, linked fate, and the crooked room are intriguing
enough to justify purchase of the book.
Harris-Perry helps you understand race does matter. Gender does matter. She helps you
see the importance of the structural barriers to individual achievement and the inherent
inequality of using stereotypes to judge an individual. All women, especially black women, can benefit from reading this book.