It would be nice to think that we’ve gotten away from mammy and welfare queen imagery, but even a shallow look at black women’s portrayal in the media would tell you otherwise. The angry black woman is a stereotype most of us hate but some can’t break free of, and the strong black women archetype, or independent woman as we call it today, is a label we’ve come to embrace in many ways.
In her new book, Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes and Black Women in America, columnist and Tulane University Political Science Professor Melissa Harris-Perry examines how black women are perceived in America and how these stereotypes affect the way we view ourselves.
The book’s main title is a nod to Audre Lorde’s “Sister Outsider,” a collection of essays focusing on race, gender, sexual identity, and social class. The subtitle, “For Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Politics When Being Strong Isn’t Enough,” refers to Ntozake Shange’s inspirational choreopoem, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.”
“Fictive kinship” is one part of black women’s problem in terms of cultural and self-perception, Harris-Perry says. “The term fictive kinship refers to connections between members of a group who are unrelated by blood or marriage, but who nonetheless share reciprocal social or economic relationships. In this book, I draw on the deep tradition of black fictive kinship when I refer to black women as sisters. This imagined community of familial ties underscores a voluntary sense of shared identity.”