The Sisters Are Alright: Changing The Broken Narrative Of Black Women In America by Tamara Winfrey Harris

The Sisters Are Alright: Changing The Broken Narrative Of Black Women In America by Tamara Winfrey Harris explores the negative narratives around black women in the United States of America. Ms. Harris walks us through some of the most pervasive stereotypes faced by black women in our modern society. In some instances she sheds light on the origin of these myths while also debunking them where necessary. She begins the book by asking “what is wrong with black women” to which she answers “to hear some folks tell it…everything”.

She lists the various American ailments that black women are blamed for in her introduction and how they have become fodder for a very big mill including comedians, politicians, clergy, etc. Ms. Harris then moves into a discussion of seven major areas where the narrative around black women is the most erroneous: beauty, sex, marriage, motherhood, anger, strength and health. She is careful to separate fact from fiction where needed while also calling attention to the fact that black women aren’t alone in these categories. Throughout the book the author has planted some much needed positive reinforcement in what are called “Moments in Alright”. The Sisters Are Alright is short and to the point.

What Worked For Me

This is a careful exploration of the messages being put out and received about black women. First, while some of the narratives have basis in fact they are often overblown or singled-out. In each of the seven areas Tamara Winfrey Harris looks at the message to say what is the fact about it and what has been laid on top of that fact to make it seem that black women are simply America’s cast offs. For example, pundit Bill O’Reilly criticized Beyonce for her song Partition saying that it set a bad example for young black girls who are essentially suffering from an epidemic of teen pregnancies (my words). While I tend to agree with appropriate messages for young people in general, this was a bit off the mark for Ms. Harris and myself (also Ms. Harris). Beyonce is talking about having sex with her husband, while maybe not a topic for dinner table discussion, she’s branded a whore while a white woman doing the same thing is not (singled-out). Further, as the author points out, teen pregnancies among black girls has been on a steady decline, along with white girls.

Another popular topic discussed in the book is that of marriage and black women’s perpetual singleness. She points out that in 2011 barely half of all US adults were married, which was a record low. More and more people are opting to co-habitate, remain single, or single parenthood. That’s all Americans. But, again, when black people engage in the same behavior it’s over blown. There are myriad examples of these type of misrepresented facts. I am especially fond of the section on anger. Black women aren’t allowed to express themselves without being demonized. When we are rightfully upset or express a dissenting opinion we are angry. We, as a black women, are often held to a different standard.

I, of course, loved the positive reinforcement throughout the book essentially pointing out that despite popular opinion the sisters are in fact alright.

What Didn’t Work For Me

Hard to say. I found that I wanted more, but not sure more of what. I think books like these help to solidify the issues and validate us so that we don’t feel crazy. It isn’t just us. I also like to use books like these to recommend to others, especially in the workplace, to illuminate the damage that these perceptions cause. Along those lines I would have liked to have seen her providing recommendations to the majority and black men frankly on how to remove the anti-black woman filter that is broadly applied. What I find in my personal courageous conversations about the treatment of black women is that even if they believe me, whites don’t really know what to do to address the issues. There is always a “that’s not me” attitude, yet, in fact, we are having the conversation because they likely engaged in unconscious bias against me or they don’t believe me when I say that it is happening to me. Some are afraid to have these conversations out right but would benefit from a book such as this.

For example, the notion that black women aren’t as attractive as white women, in fact are considered to be the least attractive of all women is a topic many disregard. Many men would simply reply to this as “if they’re not my type that doesn’t make me a racist”. First, most things white people do don’t make them racists. Second, they are missing the point of how black women are systematically  excluded from images of beauty. There is little or no consideration of the idea that perhaps society is being conditioned to see our features as ugly. My point is I would like to see included in this books and others like it recommendations on how black women can actively engage those around us to help change the narrative. Most non-black people not only want to be a part of positive change, they often aren’t aware how they are contributing.

The Verdict

Get this book. We as black women need this book. We need to know and have affirmation that we are alright. We are the same as everyone else. We have ups and downs. We have strengths and weaknesses. Read this book to understand where some of these narratives come from but more importantly read this book to strengthen your sense of being in a world that, right now, continually tells you you’re not enough. Not true.

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Nile Harris
Nile Harris, the Chief Chick, is a word weaver and dream believer with 20 years of experience in healthcare, finance, and education. This aspiring motivational speaker, TED presenter and LinkedIn Influencer is committed to valuing people, driving healthcare access and innovation, and weaving words that move people to action. Her views are her own.
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Genre: Non-Fiction, Social Science
Subjects: African American Studies, Black Women

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