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In full disclosure, I’m one of the interviewees in Tamara Winfrey Harris’ debut, The Sisters Are Alright: Changing The Broken Narrative of Black Women In America.
With that out the way…what can I say about this book?
First, Winfrey Harris admits her love and her book’s limitations upfront: even though she knows her interviewee pool is limited to mostly educated, middle-class Black women, she fully acknowledges that her tome is a tool–not The Tool–to bend the arc of justice toward Black women across class–as well as regional, sexual, and other–lines.
To that end, Winfrey Harris’ book is a balm in this political age of #SayHerName, where we’re witnessing white cops–and, more broadly, the white-supremacist upholding criminal-justice system–offing Black women through omission and commission, be it by medical neglect, suicide, or suspiciously unknown circumstances. And even then, we had to advocate harder to make their lives matter just as much as the men we seem to so quickly, so easily, so urgently disrupt cities and the media for. Her book not only names us (some using our real names, some not, and for our own reasons) but says that our lives need to be considered–and while we’re still living.
The book is a hug that assures us Black women that our complicated lives are just fine while taking apart the tangled web of stereotypes that make our lives unnecessarily harder, namely Mammy, Sapphire, and Jezebel and their offspring, the Strong Black Woman (SBW) and the Welfare Queen. Winfrey Harris understands why, for example, some of the sisters put on the SBW cape even as she examines how detrimental the cape’s weight can be to our bodies and souls. However, she doesn’t rest the blame solely on our shoulders, but on the greater society that tells us that it is our “natural” lot to do this because of our inhuman and unfeminine strength–the same society that’s upheld by the aforementioned white cops who use those very stereotypes to justify killing us.
And this book is that late-into-the-night talk, on the phone or through instamessaging, where compassion is the rule of engagement. Winfrey Harris’ tone is warmly conversational as she synthesizes the stories we interviewees told her about bumps and lumps we carry about sex and love, health, beauty, and motherhood–the very things the greater society is quick to castigate us about because this collective states our race and gender automatically means we’re doing it wrong. Before, during, and after each interviewee’s story and insight and throughout the book, Winfrey Harris offers an understanding reflection back about each woman who speaks her lived truths and, by extension, to the reader. Interspersed in these are “Moments of Alright,” factoids about the how we’re really doing OK, in spite of the ridiculousness of how our intraracial communities and the greater culture views being Black and female in the U.S. as a patently and existentially absurd.
Whereas Paula Giddings’ When and Where I Enter, Melissa Harris-Perry’s Sister Citizen, and Lisa Jones’ Bulletproof Diva go before Black women as historical, political, and socio-cultural criers about the validity of Black women’s complexities in the squares of public discourse, Winfrey Harris’ book comes with us, both the celebrities and the sistahgurl down the street, letting us speak our own lives to power in this moment on our own terms. And, as an interviewee, I can honestly say that it wasn’t easy, but it–and I–will be alright.