Studies of contemporary black women are rare and scattered, and are often extensions of a legacy beginning in the 19th century that characterized black women as domineering matriarchs, prostitutes, or welfare queens, negative characterizations that are perpetuated by both white and non-white social scientists. Based on over 200 interviews, this book departs from these conventions in significant ways, and, using a "collective memory" conceptual framework, shows how black women cope with and interpret lives often limited by racial barriers not of their making.
This book, based on interviews and focus groups with 200 black women, aims to examine "how African American women are physically, morally, and spiritually stigmatized by a dominant culture." The authors describe how the common stereotypes of the domineering "Sapphire" and the insatiable "Jezebel" endure. At work, they report, black women are seen as "more controllable by white decision makers." The authors criticize white standards of beauty, though their criticism of predominantly white children's dolls neglects to acknowledge a recent multicultural push. Other sections also seem slightly dated. Perhaps most usefully to readers new to this subject, respondents explain how seemingly small encounters--like indifferent service--create racial friction between blacks and whites. The authors make some worthy points, but their highly negative focus begs for more subtlety: for instance, why criticize Terry McMillan's book Waiting to Exhale without explaining why so many black women applauded it? St. Jean teaches sociology at the University of Nevada; Feagin teaches sociology at the University of Florida.