Tamara Harris offers the Sisters hope
KENYATTA GIDDINGS | 1/10/2016, 8:44 p.m.
The Dallas Examiner
The fate of Black women has been publicly discussed by just about everyone – conservative pundits, hip-hop superstars and talk show hosts – but perhaps not enough by Black women. Tamara Winfrey Harris aims to change that with The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America.
Harris credits today’s negative sentiment toward Black women to centuries-old stereotypes that have been embedded throughout American culture. The stereotypes stemmed not from mere folklore, but as necessary narratives used to justify the physical, sexual and psychological abuse to which enslaved African women were subjected. It’s this need for justification, as Harris points out, that fuels the problematic narrative created by White outsiders.
The narrative includes the dismissal of Black beauty, positioning European features as the epitome of female beauty and womanhood. The root stereotypes – that of Jezebel, Sapphire and Mammy – exist as counterpoints to idealized conceptions of womanhood reserved for White women. These stereotypes are constantly projected onto Black women in discussions of health, government resources, beauty, motherhood, romance and intelligence. Harris explains that the constant filtration of this outside ideology all but destroys positive feelings toward Black women from within their own community.
The author touches on criticisms directed toward first lady Michelle Obama, Beyonce, Nicki Minaj, everyday professionals and even school-aged Black girls. From positioning motherhood as a revolutionary act, to expressing agency through sexuality and appearance, Harris elaborated on ways Black women have acted not so much against, but more in spite of, derogatory criticisms.
The natural hair revolution saw many Black women rallying together for solutions that would enhance – not alter – their features. While Black-owned businesses and blogs fueled this movement, mainstream businesses have taken notice and reacted by releasing their own products, marketed toward this info-seeking audience. Harris skimmed over the weight of this shift in beauty ideals amongst a community constantly told to hide, tame and distance themselves from their natural features. Startups, mentorship programs and community initiatives – both physical and digital – have sprouted from Black women seeking to find and create their place in fitness, technology and other areas in which this group has been marginalized and ignored.
Toward the end of The Sisters Are Alright, the reader may feel a bit saddened or possibly burdened. However, Harris makes it very clear that this book is not merely a lamentation, but instead an expression of the many ways Black women are overcoming the many odds placed against them. Throughout the book, inserts entitled “Moments in Alright” feature various accounts of success achieved by Black women, placing examples of accomplishment alongside tales of oppression.
Harris celebrates the idea of Black women celebrating themselves and one another, regardless of negative thoughts from the outside world.
“While everyone whispers about our wrong, we can nod knowingly to each other and celebrate our right,” she wrote.