Before Bria left for California, we went to the library to browse around. During our browsing, Bria and I found many books on African-Americanism in the United States, and after picking up several of them, she picked a couple, if I remember correctly.
One of them was The Sisters are Alright by Tamara Winfrey Harris.
SUPER-DUPER Brief Reason Why This Book is Important to Me:
During my last couple of years in college, I became convicted about how little I really knew, and sometimes even appreciated, the African-American heritage that I carry in my biology. I didn’t grow up with my father (who is African-American) presently in my home, so I didn’t really get fully immersed in what it means to be an African-American in the society I am in. I did get little lessons in our culture and heritage when I got to see him during holidays or during the summer, which were great, and I am completely thankful for those lessons. He taught me a lot in the time we had, and it means so much that he was willing to do that.
But still, not being able to grow up with it was kind of a challenge. Which left me learning what it means to be African-American – an African-American woman at that- to my classmates, church members, and other people I was surrounded by. Plus the media. And all those perceptions of this culture and race were not always accurate.
Long story short, my junior year of college I began to wonder aloud exactly what was this culture and race that I had carried with me, yet didn’t really know? I was always embarrassed to ask questions because everyone assumed I already knew everything. And I honestly was wondering if I could even categorize myself as “black” since I technically was half. I didn’t want to call myself something that I wasn’t, especially with everything in the U.S. currently happening. I didn’t want to claim myself to be black because people would assume I “knew the struggle,” when truthfully, I didn’t know half of it. And I was embarrassed to say I didn’t.
But shoot, I am black. It’s in my blood, it’s on my skin. I love my melanin, yes I do. I associate myself with the black culture and race, even though I still have a lot to learn about it. I admit my lack of knowledge so I can embrace learning more about it.
Thank God for best friends who don’t judge you. And for new friends to help you along the way. Bria and a good friend of mine Nabil have really helped me learn things about African-American culture, and being black in today’s world. Nabil even hooked me up with some music too (I still listen to those playlists haha).
Not only do I learn things from discussion with friends and Spotify playlists, but also from documentaries and reading. And after Bria borrowed The Sisters are Alright from the library, and read it, she told me it was such a great book that I needed to read it too. So I did.
A Super-Duper Brief Review…and a Tangent
“Black women are a million different kinds of amazing. It is not our race or gender that makes this true; it is, as I will say later in the book, our humanity. This book is about that humanity – the textured, difficult, and beautiful humanity that lies in the hearts of all the black women I love.”
That quote from the preface pretty much sums up the book for you. I’m not going to go into too much detail because it’d be cool if you guys read the book for yourselves. But the author, Tamara Winfrey Harris, goes through seven areas (beauty, sex, marriage, motherhood, anger, strength, and health), and speaks of the stereotypes that have been hovering over black women in these areas for decades, centuries. She goes through the “three-headed hydra of distortion that dogs black women yet today – Mammy, Sapphire, and Jezebel,” and the roles they’ve played in twisting how people perceive all black women.
I read this book, and was confronted with views I myself had because of listening to what others around me said, and what the media said as well. Not everyone I surrounded myself with before college or even in college said things against black women, or had poor perspectives. But sometimes we are just given a poor perspective, and we support it without realizing what we are doing.
I’m just as guilty as anyone else. And of course, some stereotypes are made because those things happen. But we can’t place that blanket over everyone that has the same skin color, or the same background. Just because one black girl listens to country music doesn’t mean we all do. Some of us may. Half of us may. But not all of us do.
The chapter that struck me the most was on anger. I remember being in middle school, and blatantly telling people that “they didn’t want my black side to come out,” meaning that they didn’t want me to get angry. I am so embarrassed. Please forgive my ignorance.
Because clearly, everyone gets angry. Angry black women have just been displayed way more often on television, on the Internet, in movies. Black women are seen as aggressive, so when we actually do have a right to be angry, people just use the stereotype to downplay the rage. Harris said that a plumber said once about black women being angry, “You know how y’all are.”
Have there been times when black women have been so driven by their anger that they make mistakes, they overreact, they act violently? Yes, of course, but so have many other people of other races. And males get mad too.
The opposite of not showing the anger is holding it in, because you don’t want to be seen as the “angry black woman.” And sometimes when a black woman does this, she’s seen as a doormat, and isn’t given any respect. And with no respect from other people, we start to lose respect for ourselves. So, where’s the balance here?
At the end of this chapter a woman who tried to be silent when she wasn’t treated fairly at her job finally spoke up, and was fired because of it. Originally, she didn’t want to be the “angry black woman,” but she finally had enough, got angry, and she demanded respect, raising her voice at her boss. Now, I’m not condoning yelling at your boss or yelling at anyone. But I do believe that everyone has a voice, and should use it if there is injustice happening. And black women should be able to use that voice without being accused of being violently angry or aggressive just because of the color of their skin.
I know I’m only scratching the surface on this book, but I honestly won’t be able to do it justice. You’ll just have to read it yourself.
A big thing I gained from this book, along with talks with Bria, is that really…I don’t need to be black to care about these issues. Okay, I knew this, but I think I needed to say it out loud, to come to terms with it. Because for most of my life, I was worried whether or not to call myself black. If I said I was, I thought I had to know and understand everything that the culture was about, from rap music to #blacklivesmatter. But if I said I wasn’t, clearly, you can look at me and see where the issue would be. I can’t deny it. But I was so worried about not offending anybody, and trying to be racially correct, that I wasn’t getting the point:
It doesn’t matter what race you are, people are people. And people are complex – they live in different ways and styles, and care about different things. And the fact that some people are mistreated because of their race – WHATEVER race it is, white, black, Asian, Latino – should be enough for us to care, to want to ask questions, to figure out how we can change our perspective for the better. That was something that Bria had to tell me to my face, and it still sticks with me, and it will forever. I know it seems like a “well, duh” concept, but I really needed to hear it.
And especially as a Christian, it really never should have mattered to me what I considered myself to be race-wise. Knowing that there are races and cultures, just PEOPLE, that are going through struggles should be enough for me to drop what I’m doing to learn exactly what the problem is, and how I can help in anyway I can to make it better. That may be through prayer, volunteering, or reading a book and sharing information. As a Christian, I should have been ready to share the love of Christ to those who were hurting. And my mind was so caught up in the racial tape, I wasn’t seeing the bigger picture.
Anyways, I went on a MAJOR tangent to basically say – read this book. I definitely don’t regret it. And I learned so much. Not everything, of course, but a lot. And it’s pushed me to want to read more, learn more, watch more. Not just about black culture, but about people in general. The world.
But in particular, this book has got me wanting to support my fellow black sisters in raising a different perspective of who we are. We are ALL sorts of things. I’m not searching for all people to love black women. Would that be great? OF COURSE. But I do want black girls and women to love themselves. That’s something that Harris stresses in this book.
If you read it, tell me what you think!
What’s something that you’ve read that’s changed your perspective on life? What is it? I may just read it!