Having Black girlfriends is a newer phenomenon in my life. I grew up in a fairly rural town and attended college in another rural town. I never liked being the only Black person in my classes or at events, but after a while, I just got used to it. While not having many Black friends impacted me in significant ways, it took many years before I started to see how. Not until recently have I begun to address the insecurity and anger I’ve been carrying my entire life. Developing relationships with other Blacks, especially Black women, is what empowered me to do so.
The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America by Tamara Winfrey Harris reminds me of all the Black women I’ve become close with over the last few years and how grateful I feel for each one. It’s a book that reminds me that I’m not alone, and that I’m not crazy. All those moments I felt insecure or inadequate as a young adult — a young adult without many Black girlfriends until I became a young adult — weren’t simply psychosomatic. By utilizing the anecdotes of other Black women, Winfrey Harris inspired me to wonder how my story might resonate with others, just as theirs resonate with me.
In the first chapter, Winfrey Harris describes four of the most common stereotypes ascribed to Black women; the Mammy, the Jezebel, the Sapphire, and the Matriarch. These stereotypes contribute to the erasure of the totality of Black womanhood. At least in terms of how we’re perceived.
Winfrey Harris notes:
“Black women’s lives are diverse. The diminishing mainstream portrait of black womanhood cannot contain its multitudes.”
This is likely why Winfrey Harris utilizes engaging anecdotes — all pulled from the interviews she conducted in preparation for this book. In doing this, she provides a platform for voices we don’t often hear from in the media. Each chapter addresses different topics: beauty, sex, marriage, motherhood, anger, strength, and health. The author additionally provides refreshing statistics and historical data, her own witty analysis, and features the successes of various Black women.
Not even twenty pages into the book, I had a “Eureka!” moment while reading the chapter on beauty. “I absolutely must discuss this book with my mom. My mom just has to read this as soon as possible,” I thought. After making a mental note to lend my copy to her the next time I see her, I came across this quote from Jamyla Bennu:
“My political feeling is that it is very serious work to love yourself as a black person in America. I think it’s an intergenerational project of transformation and healing that we are embarking on together.”
This instance of affirmation was just one of many that I experienced while reading The Sisters Are Alright. Of course I know there’s a big difference between a book and actual Black women, like the ones I am close to today. Even so, this book somehow feels like a literary version of the sisterhood I desperately craved so long ago. There’s no doubt in my mind that had I read this book in high school or college, its encouragement would have been life-changing. My skin color might have felt less isolating, my isolation less harsh. I’m not one to dwell in regret, so all I can feel is thankful that The Sisters Are Alright exists now. It’s a well-written book, an entertaining book, and a much-needed book.
Too many sisters don’t know that they’re alright. Perhaps no one ever told them, or maybe they’ve just forgotten. My hope is that each of these women receives the reminder she deserves, sooner rather than later. If you’re one of them, don’t worry, you can snag yourself a copy of Winfrey Harris’ book right here. May her words (and the words of those she interviewed) not only remind you, but encourage you. Because you’re not just alright. You’re more than alright.