Melissa Harris-Perry returned to Princeton on October16 to talk about and sign her book, “SisterCitizen: For Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Politics When Being Strong Isn’t Enough.” Not in Our Town Princeton will discuss the book (a first chapter is available on Amazon) at its forum, Continuing Conversations on Race, co-sponsored by the Princeton Public Library, at the library on Monday, November 7, at 7:30 p.m.  The initial chapter is available at Amazon.
She listed three familiar stereotypes. The first is The Mammy as inHattieMcDaniel (and, there’s that “The Help” book again.) The second is The Jezebel. The third is the Angry Black Woman, as in Sapphire.
A current stereotype is “Strong Black Woman,” but Harris-Perry questions whether that should be today’s acknowledged goal. 
She got an uncomfortable laugh from the packed room at the library when she noted that, if “strong” is the compliment for a black woman, the highest compliment for a white woman is “thin.” In the book she says that the goal of strength contributes to “pervasive experiences of shame for black women… a shame management strategy that has both emotional and political implications for black women.” It leads to “political anorexia.”
Skimming the book (a long, long line to get it signed) brings me to comments about Michelle Obama, a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law, who decided not to take an active role in her husband’s administration in order to focus on being Mom in Chief. “She subverts a deep, powerful, and old public discourse on black women as bad mothers….Black single motherhood is blamed for social ills ranging from crime to drugs to urban disorder…”
“Michele Obama’s insistence on focusing on her children is also a sound repudiation of the Mammy role. Mammy…ensures order in the white world by ignoring her own family and community. Calling on Michelle Obama to take a more active policy role while her children are still young is in a way requesting that she use her role as First Lady to serve as the national Mammy. Michelle refused.”

(This post appears in a different form at Princeton Comment.)