The Sisters are Alright by Tamara Winfrey Harris (2nd edition)

The Sisters Are Alright, Second Edition: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America

The Sisters Are Alright, Second Edition: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America by Tamara Winfrey Harris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


“… the world does not love Black women – not in the way we deserve to be loved. It doesn’t truly see us. Our authentic collective and individual selves are usually hidden by racist and sexist stereotypes that we can’t seem to shake – or rather, images that other folks won’t let us shake.”

Having read Feminist AF by the Crunk Collective, Bad Fat Black Girl: Notes from a Trap Feminist by Sesali Bowen, Blaxhaustion, Karens & Other Threats to Black Lives and Well-Being by Theresa Robinson, I’m pretty deep into feminism and particularly the way Black women navigate in these feminist waters, under the Alice Walker’s coined term, Womanist. I whole-heartedly love the way Tamara Winfrey Harris discusses all of the issues Black women face today, with a look back into the past to see where and how far we’ve come, in order to set our selves up for the future.

Harris discusses misogynoir, how Black women are depicted in the media, how Black women are treated, talked to, passed over, looked under, maligned, dogged, and abused by every body on this planet. She informs the masses that Black women, despite the many generations of wrongful mistreatment, we are still amazing beings. “Black women are a million different kinds of amazing.” We have been the shit since the beginning of time, and if you aren’t hip, then you lose out. Period. “No one can define Black women like Black women.”

Harris talks about the beauty industry and how Black women are constantly being erased, dumbed down, lightened up, hair straightened, shaped and molded to perfection to be consumable. She talks about how the “unfiltered Black” has to constantly be on guard, least she be erased because of her refusal to adhere to White standards of beauty and comeliness. Harris discusses how our own generational traumas are perpetuated by people who are our own. Those who talk out the side of their neck to uphold patriarchal stereotypes and ideals just to save face and/or have a place in society without reproach. However, no matter what you do as a Black women, no one is coming to save you. We have to save ourselves because everyone is trying to pit us against each other and keep us in this impossible box that serves no one. We cannot allow ourselves to feel responsible or buy into the notion of adapting to oppression, we must demand that society and those around us stop treating Black women differently than others.

Harris also warns about the dangers of respectability politics, which Sesali Bowen brings up in her book. The respectability politics harms us more than anything. Respectability politics has the ability to deny Black women pleasure, and education in numerous ways that can lead to our detriment. We have to be authentic if we’re going to love ourselves correctly. Trying to appease to white culture and their standards of living, beauty, love, and fairness is not something we can do. Or should be anything we should strive for… it’s not for us. We have nothing to prove. We are alright. We’ve always been alright. We will continue to be alright. Nothing is wrong with us. We are human. We are complex. We are amazing.

Harris also discusses Black motherhood, village raising, revolutionary self-care, self-awareness, self-love, how to deal with race, gender, socioeconomic problems, and the myth of the Strong Black Woman. The ‘Strong Black Woman’ trope is killing us. We are complex human beings that deserve rest, relaxation, to be stress free, and to see ourselves fully, not just when things are going well or wrong, but in all capacities. We are deserving of love. We are deserving of protection. We are deserving of being vulnerable. We are deserving of existing in our own right.

We, the Black women, the sisters, we are still alright. Don’t let nobody tell you otherwise. You are a queen deserving of all the praise. We are pushing back against the stereotypes, and are making people accountable for treating us poorly. We are getting free every single day. This book, will help you see that you, my sister, are alright.

Highly recommend: 5 stars



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White Like Her by Gail Lukasik

White Like Her: My Family's Story of Race and Racial Passing

White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing by Gail Lukasik

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I read this book for my bookclub, and would not have picked this book up on my own. I know I can be somewhat nit-picky about books and how they are written, but this one in particular grated on my nerves.

From the first chapter I was in dislike, not with the actual story of Gail Lukasik learning about her family, but of the way in which she wrote about this journey she took herself on. I understood why and how she felt the need to learn more about her ancestry, but I felt like she wrote this from a white woman’s gaze who wanted people to take sympathy in her naivety about her not knowing anything about her mixed heritage.

So she finds out she’s Black because her mother secretly passed for white, and now her white woman entitlement and tears and whatever white fragility she has comes screaming out as she learns she’s not as white like she thought. Her book has the vibes of, “woe is me, I’m Black now. Here comes the disappointment and feelings/shame of being less than…” That’s what I got. I feel like she wrote this book in the vein of having won the prize for being white, but then it gets snatched away because she finds out she’s Black and now has to live in inferiority. In one instance she equated Black life to now all of who she is and her accomplishments are going to be questioned, and that makes Black people, who are Black and look Black, question and see themselves from a perspective that see us as less than, inferior, always questioned about our credentials, etc. I was deeply offended when I read that in her book. As if being Black should be a damning curse. Maybe to white people, being Black is a curse, but damnit, being Black is beautiful, and this book didn’t come across as finding out something exciting and thrilling, but finding out she’s a burden on society, having to navigate white spaces in fear, and thinking her life’s work is going to be questioned just because people are finding out that she’s Black. I wanted to throw this book away, but I couldn’t, ‘cause it was a library book.

To me, the book was empty. Other than writing a book about the journey she went on to find out her mother’s race, the rest of the book was empty filler and uninteresting. Her point of view sounded like she was teaching white people about something she just learned, but in fact has been here for hundreds of generations. “Passing” is nothing new in the Black community. It does come with great trepidation, especially if one is caught trying to “pass,” but it can also come with great rewards for being able to step over the color line and not look back. It can also be isolating and harrowing, living your life in fear of being found out, but also never able to really be yourself… always pretending.

I felt like this book was a behind-the-scenes view of what she went through to write her book and also learn about her mixed race heritage. I also felt like this book was a bore and did not uplift the Black community at all with her learning of how rich her ancestry actually is, she sounded very ashamed in many ways to find out she has some Black ancestry in her heritage. Even after she learns she has some Black heritage, she’s very careful to share how small the percentage actually is, to be sure to other white people, that it’s nothing crazy, it’s only a drop, so I’m still safe and white, and … and… and…

“Passing” is nothing easy. You lose family. You couldn’t go back and forth like you can now. It was a grave danger to “pass” for white because you would automatically be entitled to “The American Dream.” If you are found to be living a lie, then horrendous dangers could come and annihilate you and your entire family. Her mother was brave to have passed over, but to wind up in the throes of a racist bigot, now that’s ironic.

Her mother’s depression I’m sure came to be because she had lost her family and couldn’t go back. That she had somehow finagled her way into white spaces all to be married to a bigot, and had to live in fear of her own husband. I’m glad that Gail finally had a chance to solve her family’s mystery, but she doesn’t get kudos from me. Being Black is a blessing and not a curse, and Black people should not have to live in fear of being found out. It was horrible that her mother had to make a huge life decision to actually “pass,” and to do so that came with some fear and trepidation in her own home. No wonder she had depression.

I don’t believe Gail fully understood the enormous bravery it took her mother, and the toll it took on her life to be able to do what she did. It seemed like Gail was scared to be Black, scared to learn that people in her family were enslaved and slave owners, and that she is apart of the society that discriminated people like her mother. Maybe now that she’s learned of more family, whether they are Black or non-Black, she should cherish them for who they are and not what they are.

2.5 stars – rounded up to 3.




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Honor by Thrity Umrigar

Honor

Honor by Thrity Umrigar

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Whew chile!! This book will do something to you, ok?! Wow! I was not ready!

So first off, the writing is immaculate. Simply divine and absolutely literary. Such a compelling story, I could not put this book down, even though some parts were so tough I screamed and cried, but I had to pick it back up to see what was going to happen. If you are not familiar with traditional Indian culture, this book will surely shore you up quick, fast, and in a hurry.

Immersive, absorbing, engaging, compelling, emotional… all of those descriptive buzzwords… this is that book! I was immediately submerged in this book from the moment I picked it up to the very last word in the book. As a reader, I could taste, see, smell, feel and hear all of the sights and sounds in this book. The burnt rubber, the abrasive horns, the constant chatter from people, the harsh smells of the environment, the feel of the ground beneath my feet. I was totally transported into the country of India, and city of Mumbai and surrounding villages.

This book is about Honor, in all manners of speaking. A parallel story of two women, who have experienced the traditional and patriarchal society of India, in their own, but similar ways. Mixed in, there is a man, Mohan, who also symbolizes the entitled male privilege that is so often seen and expected in India, that you get to see the contrast to why his role is so important in the telling of this story. Mohan also represents the good in India, and how one from that country (or outside) can absolutely fall in love with what the country has to offer in its culture, food, music, social and economic complexities, diversity, religion, and tradition.

However, this story is hard and tough. But Umrigar does not shy away from the bitter reality of what life in India brings to many women. India is a very patriarchal and religious society that relies heavily on tradition and cultural norms. The country relies on it so hard and heavy that it can literally kill you if you are not aware of what’s going on at every moment, or if you go against tradition and the family’s wishes/consent.

Told in parallel stories throughout the course of 4 book sections, we learn about Meena and Abdul, who grow to love each other secretly and eventually get married without the consent of either party’s family. Abdul, a Muslim man, and Meena, a Hindu woman, find themselves trapped between culture and religion, and their love pays the ultimate price for this non-consent.

We also meet Smita, Indian born, but American raised, news correspondent, who travels to India looking to help out an old friend who is going through a surgical procedure. However, little does Smita know that her life is about to take a turn that she was totally unprepared for. While in India, Smita is paired up with Mohan, to her misfortune she believes, and has to spend the next few weeks with a man she barely knows while trying to cover her friend’s news story that sounds that she isn’t all that keen to dive into in the beginning.

While uncovering the news story of Meena and Abdul, Smita also realizes that she has to face her past and come to terms with what happened to her and her family when she lived in Mumbai.

A very chilling story, we learn that Honor can mean so many things to so many people. In India, honor and shame are the common themes that are shared in this book. Honor can be used in a myriad of ways in this culture, and they are not all by honorable means. Honor is something that is so fragile here, that the tiniest mistake could lead to death because of wounded pride or dishonor or embarrassment to the family, particularly to the men in the family. However, honor can also mean pride, and love, and doing what’s right to honor someone genuinely, and in this book, the meaning of honor is described in both positive and negative ways.

There is also a religious and cultural clash here that is going on in this story, and worldwide quite frankly. There is so much Islamophobia in the world today, that is so shameful. People will persecute others for their religion, all to save face, show ‘cultural pride’, or assert their own religion over someone else’s beliefs. In this story, you see the clash of the Muslim faith over Hinduism, and the dangers that come from Islamophobia, but more so, the dangers of wounded pride in men.

Smita, who hasn’t spoken about what happened to her and her family publicly, shares her heartbreaking details to Mohan after witnessing the issues with Meena. We see how Smita and her family dealt with the fears and bullying that happened to them in their own clash of religion over tradition with people in their neighborhood and city. Smita also recognizes the similarities in her story with Meena, and with newfound energy is able to put forth some effort to help Meena as best as she can.

Mohan, also gets a taste to see how his male privilege and his caste, places him in certain situations and how unaware or aware he can be in these circumstances. He also helps to show Smita the beauty of India, and helps her navigate her feelings around her conflict with her home country; restoring her honor and pride in her India that she was born into.

A beautiful, but heartbreaking story of events that shares the dangers and the lengths that patriarchy goes to in protecting “honor,” but also how beautiful honoring someone can be for standing up for their beliefs and values over cultural tradition. This book also sheds a light on how we, as humans, can be so damaging to others, fickle, mean, backstabbing, evil, and demoralizing. This book also sheds a light on how we as humans have a need to help, to protect, to love, to encourage, to go above and beyond for, and to respect others.

I was completely infatuated with this entire book, that I simply cannot stop thinking about it, especially in light of recent events in India, with another family who murdered their sister for not following cultural traditions and gaining consent, for which are called “honor killings,” if honor can be used in that nature.

This book puts everything in the light, and does not shy away. I was not ready! This is such an important and timely book, as it opens the discussion to what is actually being done in India, and how people can step in and help out. Honor killings need to stop, and we need to smash the fcking patriarchy to death.

If you don’t read anything else this year, read this book! 5 stars.

Topics:
– Betrayal
– Religon
– Culture
– Patriarchal society
– Male entitlement
– Tradition
– Honor killings
TW: death, burning, murder, islamic phobia, molestation, trauma bonds.

Thank you to Algonquin Books, and author Thrity Umrigar for this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.



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How Much of these Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang

How Much of These Hills Is Gold

How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A very expansive historical fiction novel that reveals the demographic responsible at the beginning of the gold rush, and the era that follows into the railroad boom. Told from the perspective of the oldest daughter, Lucy, we learn about the Chinese presence in Northern California during the gold rush era.

A small Chinese-American family, is moving through the West trying to support themselves and discover something of value, namely gold. However, tragedy strikes, and 2 young girls, Lucy and Sam, are left on their own. Each sister now has to discover who they are on their own, and learn what each of them brings to the table in order to help support themselves and/or the other sister in their time of need. This book shines a light on what family means, what support looks like, what love looks like, gender roles, survival, identity, and the legacy we all leave behind.

Two sisters are on their own in the midst of the gold rush and railroad boom. One is a rule breaker and the other a rule follower. Early into the book, we learn how they become orphans and what prompts them to live a life on the run and strive for a better quality of life.

However, what also is revealed is racism. Blatant and overt. We see violence of the white men who control and attempt to dominate over others who have found wealth and success without their help. Sexism is also on the forefront. We learn how men make more money than females, and how girls and women make 1/8th of the amount to men even though they are doing the same type of work. Also Sam, decides to live her life as a man as it’s easier and more tolerated by the father who has always wanted a boy. Today, Sam, would be most likely considered as Transgender.

Some topics discussed or touched on is:
– LGBTQIA+
– Gender norms/roles
– Racism
– Classism
– Sexism
– Poverty
– Sacrifice
– Survival
– Feminism
– Equality
– Violence and terrorism against minority groups
– Death
– Grief
– Colonialism/white privilege

This book was sad to me. Forlorn. Depressing. Despairing. However, the author gave this story a very deep and profound literary feel. I was swept up in the storytelling that was passed down from Ba and Ma, their parents, and how both Lucy and Sam used it to their advantage in their lives. This book also shared some coming-of-age reckoning, and how both siblings had to come to grips with each other and themselves throughout the book, in their forced independence after being orphaned as young children. I was appreciative of the backstory from the father’s perspective, but I feel like there was a lot missing since the mother had no voice in the story at all.

The lyrical prose sets you up for a sweeping western novel sharing deep emotions throughout the book, but I felt lost in the first half of the book. It was too poetic and dreamy for me in the beginning, and the dialogue was extremely choppy and slow. The book did pick up for me in the second to third half of the book, but I wish there was more gaps filled in as i felt like I had a ton of questions that never got answered. The ending was anticlimactic for me, and left me guessing, which didn’t work for me, as I still have questions that were never answered.

Overall, this book is a nice detour from what I normally read. I don’t think I’ve ever read a western novel with Chinese-American characters as the main characters, but I did enjoy the overarching message in this book. Home, Family, a sense of belonging, etc. We are all looking to belong somewhere, and belong to something, having a place to call home, but also a place we call home that we can feel like we belong there. I feel like this book presses on a bruise in our history, how people of various ethnicities are often terrorized, bullied, or killed because the white people who show up late, always want to take things away from the people who were here first, or take credit from those that discovered the land first. The dominance and violence shown in this book by white people, is just so tiring. I hate that the indigenous, and other groups of people that were here first always suffer at the hands of entitled white men and their families. When minorities do not give the whites what they want, they always suffer violence, or like Lucy, get erased in books because we didn’t live up to their expectations. This book also has a message, even though you may have been born here, none of this is your land. Also, if you were born here, and you are not white, it is not your land, and the whites will take it away from you by any means necessary because you look different. If you look different, they will treat you different, so always keep your eyes pealed so that you can stay safe.

However, I wouldn’t mind reading another book by this author. Her writing is great, and her storytelling is quite phenomenal in many ways. This book, and it’s technicalities, just didn’t work that well for me, and I wished it was a smoother read. Overall, I’d give this book a 3/3.5.
Would recommend to others who like historical fiction and/or western novels.




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Bright Burning Things by Lisa Harding

Bright Burning Things

Bright Burning Things by Lisa Harding

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


“Actions speak louder than words, and actions takes time to prove.”

A very raw and real story about a woman who previously was an actress who stopped performing, became a mother, and her life took a nosedive into an addiction into alcoholism. Sonya, is having trouble curbing her addition even in the face of her toddler. She is seen around town looking like she needs help, but runs from every person who asks her questions about what’s going on. Her son, Tommy, is a doting 4 year old, who is watching his mom succumb to the power of addiction to alcohol, and is trying to warn his mom in his little ways to stay away from what he sees in the bottles she consumes. However, the addiction is too powerful, and her absent and estranged father is forced to step in to intervene before the worst can happen.

This is a heartbreaking story that shares the power of alcoholism and addiction, the journey of recovery and redemption, and absolute love of a mother and her child working through the stress and trials of recovery.

Sonya, is a very troubled woman, difficult, and hard to understand right away, but as you get to know her in this story, you are just absolutely drawn to her and Tommy. This book is indescribable, and brilliant, and one of the most insightful viewpoints into the world of addiction from a single mother’s perspective. Your heart is just gripped from the very moment you meet Sonya, to the last page, and I could not put this book down.

Harding, absolutely brought Sonya to life in such a vivid way, that as a reader, you truly get caught up in the life and drama and heartache that happens through this book. You become protective of Sonya, even through all the things she does, and the story just pulls on your heartstrings over and over. As much as I was mesmerized, I was also equally fearful, avoidant, and desperate an distressed to know what was going to happen with Sonya and the people in her life.

This book is emotionally taxing on your soul, and you feel every push, pull, whim, fancy… all the emotions just goes through you. Ugh, this book hit me in my feels!

This book was a powerful account of woman who struggles with addiction, and how everyone associated with the one addicted is involved whether they like it or not. The book also shines a light on mental health, parental relationships, support systems, available resources for families and those addicted, and the residual consequences to the actions of the addicted.

So many powerful moments in this book that displayed the power of a person’s will and ability to survive through hard life situations. I was deeply moved, and will remember this book for such a long time.

Topics that were discussed:
– Addiction (alcoholism)
– Recovery/sobriety
– Mental health
– Family support
– Government assistance
– Relationships
– Betrayal

*TW: addiction, alcoholism, CPS, foster care, partner abuse

Thank you to HarperVia and Lisa Harding for providing this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.



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