Melissa Harris-Perry must be busy. A professor of political science at Tulane University, a columnist for The Nation, and frequent guest and host on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow show, she has spent the last few months giving interviews—on everything from her take on the new movie The Help to her politics—in conjunction with the release of her new book Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America.
In the last several weeks, Sister Citizen has been raved about by Feministing; Executive Editor Samhita Mukhopadhyay called it “a much needed intervention to the ways that black women are talked about in the mainstream media”, and The Root, who recently ranked Harris-Perry #15 on their list of influential African Americans. In a review in the Washington Post, Gwen Ifill commented on Harris-Perry’s use of “a social scientist’s rigor” in covering “an important new front in America’s continuing battles over black and white.”
The heart of Sister Citizen is Harris-Perry’s “Crooked Room” thesis, which states that black women are so defined by stereotypes that it is extremely difficult them to orient themselves in political discourse. She specifically treats the stereotypes of the promiscuous Jezebel, the nurturing Mammy, and the angry Sapphire, who is characterized as irrationally irate. Harris-Perry balances these against the myth of the strong black woman, which, she argues, can be empowering, but also limiting in its own way.
For a description of the unique blend of literature and social science methodologies Harris-Perry employs in Sister Citizen, read this Q&A with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and from an earlier post on the Yale Press Log, an explanation of how Harris-Perry decided a pure political science approach could not fully capture her theme. Instead of focusing only on charts and numbers, she complements her social science research with interviews with black women and texts such as Their Eyes Were Watching God in order to delve into the weighty emotional effects of the crooked room in which today’s Sister Citizen finds herself.
Read a free excerpt from the book, discussing the “Crooked Room” and why it can be so hard to stand up straight when your surroundings are tilted by your own perceptions and those of others. And keep following along on Wednesday, December 14, 8pm EST, for a live Tweet chat with Melissa Harris-Perry!