It’s always a wonder to me, how NIOT Princeton’s monthly Continuing Conversation forums seem to attract just the right people for the particular evening ‘s subject. That happened again tonight (Monday) when we focused on the new book by Melissa Harris-Perry. These forums, co-sponsored by the Princeton Public Library, are a “safe place” to discuss difficult subjects, and so we don’t ‘report’ on what was said. Everything said stays in the room. However, we distributed a list of quotes to stimulate discussion, and we can share that below……Barbara Fox
SISTER CITIZEN: MELISSA V. HARRIS PERRY: EXCERPTS:
*Just as Janie Mae Crawford is the focus of Hurston’s novel, black women were at the eye of the rhetorical storm of Hurricane Katrina. Issues of race, gender, and class inequality that affect black women’s lives in America point to problems embedded in the fabric of the nation. Katrina rendered these inequalities highly visible. P. 16
*When they confront race and gender stereotypes, black women are standing in a crooked room, and they have to figure out which way is up. P. 29
*Portraying African American women as stereotypical mammies, matriarchs, welfare recipients and hot mommas helps justify U.S. Black women’s oppression. Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought. p. 51
Jezebel: The Myth of Promiscuity: African American women’s lives and labors in the antebellum South contrasted sharply with the iconic (Victorian) womanhood…The myth of black women as lascivious, seductive, and insatiable was a way of reconciling the forced public exposure and commoditization of black women’s bodies with the Victorian ideals of women’s modesty and fragility. P. 55.
*Black women created a culture of dissemblance many sought refuge by donning a mask of asexuality, shielding their authentic personalities,…(crafting) a kind of psychic safe-space beyond the surveillance of white families for whom they worked. P. 58-59
*Club women’s work helped black communities survive economically and politically while offering an alternative image of black women as chaste and temperate. P. 61.
*Welfare policy is intimately linked in the American imagination with black women’s sexuality. P. 67.
Mammy: Unlike the bad black woman who was aggressively sexual, Mammy had no personal needs or desires. …She represented a maternal ideal, but not in caring for her own children. P.73. Re Hilary Clinton and Tubbs Jones.
Angry Black Women: Michelle Obama, Sapphire. This stereotype does not acknowledge black women’s anger as a legitimate reaction to unequal circumstances; it is seen as a pathological, irrational desire to control black men, families, and communities.
The Strong Woman In a country where rugged individualism, the Protestant work ethic, and personal sacrifice are key aspects of the national identity, black women have a heightened sense that their personhood is defined by their strength and independence. 197.
*Religious faith is one way that African American women have felt free to admit their vulnerability and seek authenticity. 218.
*The myth of the strong black woman has measurable consequences. The realities of black women’s lives militate against achieving the mythical position of unwavering strength, and the resulting disillusionment and sense of failure have real effects on their emotional and physical well-being.Framing black women’s citizenship around notions of strength also encourages undue self sacrifice in the political realm. Seeking to sustain their position as backbones of communities and pillars of strength, African American women too often hesitate to demand resources to meet their individual needs. …African American women not only struggle at the intersection of multiple forms of marginalization; they also find that their political labor often leaves them mentally and physically less well. 299
Shirley Chisholm wanted to be remembered as a “black woman who lived in the 20th century and dared to be herself.” 300