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Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America Paperback – July 27, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

USA Today correspondent Jones and psychologist Shorter-Gooden initiated the African American Women's Voices Project and recorded the experiences of 333 survey respondents and 71 interviewees. The results are here compiled to form an urgent narrative, doggedly chasing the hypothesis of the book's title: that the twin bigotries of race and gender force black women to constantly "shift" between identities in order to accommodate the expectations thrust upon them by black men and white America. "From one moment to the next, they change their outward behavior, attitude, or tone, shifting `white,' then shifting `Black' again, shifting `corporate,' shifting `cool.' " The authors argue that the contemporary survival tactic of shifting is rooted in slavery, but history does not figure strongly, with the bulk of the book composed of quoted testimonies from the research subjects, tracking their shifting experiences in the realms of communication, mental health, beauty standards, romance, child-rearing and religion. Compelling and educational tribulations are piled on, but the authors rarely pause to reflect on the contradictions or solutions the stories present. Yet the book makes a real contribution, as men and women of all races will find it an illuminating if sometimes shocking record of life between two "isms."
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Jones, national correspondent for USA Today , and Shorter-Gooden, a psychologist, team up to examine how black women cope with racism, sexism, and the myths--from the image of hypersexuality to long-suffering strength--that govern their lives. Based on research garnered from the African American Women's Voices Project, the largest study to date of black women, the authors detail these women's survival strategy of "shifting" as needed into different roles, personas, and even language appropriate to corporate America or black communities. Drawing on surveys of a cross section of black women, the authors cite troubling statistics on dissatisfaction with their image and their treatment. The authors intersperse the statistics with excerpts from interviews that illustrate how individual women are coping. The poignant individual portraits provide a glimpse into the lives of black women in the church, in their families, at work, in personal relationships, as the women behind the statistics speak with their own voices about the personal cost of the need for "shifting." Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (July 27, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060090553
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060090555
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #203,739 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

67 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Mercy Morganfield on May 15, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book was one of my references for my Master's Thesis. This topic and the research was so relevant and so compelling and true. I am an African-American woman and I have worked inside Corporate America for the past 23 years and yes I shift. I also find myself shifting with Black men, shifting with middle and upper class blacks, and shifting with members of my family who live in the worst parts of the inner city. It is an emotionally and psychologically grueling process--and most of the world doesn't have a clue about the nature of it all. During the process of writing my thesis, my college advisors, who are White feminists, couldn't understand why I wouldn't jump on their bandwagon and give race the obligatory mention that they did. They wanted all women to unite and fight White, male hegemony--never recognizing the White, female hegemony that exists inside Women's Studies Departments. They couldn't understand that the sexism that I experience is totally different from the sexism that they experience because my sexism always has that element of race--even if it's a Black man dealing it. Black women are accustomed to shifting, it's almost a cellular memory for us now. We continue to strive and grow, although we are the most maligned segment of society. African American Studies departments are dominated by African American males and Women's Studies departments are dominated by White females, usually feminists. I found my ability to study topics relevant to Black women severely hampered by the censorship of White female academics--Shifting was a real gem for me. Books like this have a hard time passing academic muster because the academicians giving or withholding approval have no frame of reference for the experience--so of course they dismiss it as inconsequential.Read more ›
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Big Sistah Patty on March 6, 2009
Format: Paperback
I could relate to the stories and the experiences of the these Black women, because I am them. We, unfortunately, have to wear many faces and don masks to survive. It can be stressful having to put on false faces just to survive, hiding your true self, just to make people feel comfortable around you. This reminds me of one of my favorite poems.

Paul Lawrence Dunbar
We Wear the Mask!

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,--
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be overwise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

The world has no idea of who we really are. My mask is taken off for only a few.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By James Ellis III on February 7, 2005
Format: Paperback
Race scholar W.E.B. DuBois presented his veil of double consciousness theory in The Souls of Black Folk. Literary genius Ralph Ellison presented a heart-wrenching story of socioeconomic injustice with Invisible Man. Now, it's time for the sistahs to be heard. And, be heard they will! With Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America (HarperCollins, $13.95), Charisse Jones and Kumea Shorter-Gooden present a unique critique of African American social agenda reform, as it relates to the eclectic character and resilience of African American women.

Together Jones, an accomplished national correspondent for USA Today, and Shorter-Gooden, a licensed psychologist and professor at Alliant University, cleverly discuss the inspirational swagger and inherent splendor that embodies the essence of African American women. Shifting, based on the African American Women's Voices Project, takes the reader on a much-needed journey of spiritual, economic, political, and social importance. Absolute brilliance most accurately describes the excellent scholarly writing, which combined with commentary, interviews, and shocking statistics is sure to keep readers engaged. The stories of insight, pain, joy, and confusion by and about African American women of diverse backgrounds and experiences are eye-opening and jaw-dropping, to say the least.

On a daily basis African American women are forced to deal with a multitude of catch-22s, including, but not limited to, sexual exploitation and expectation, gender discrimination, and pseudo-creative representation in the entertainment field. Yet, they seem to effortlessly rise about the conditions of their oppressors.
Read more ›
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By The RAWSISTAZ Reviewers on January 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In SHIFTING, noted psychologist Kumea Shorter-Gooden and newspaper correspondent Charisse Jones take a sobering look at what they hypothesize is a uniquely African-American phenomenon. "Shifting" is the terminology they use to label behaviors they classify as a coping strategy, developed by women of color, to deal with race and gender bias in a largely white, male dominated culture.
The authors use research, interviews and surveys to show how African American women are forced to lead double lives in their efforts to assimilate into a society that tends to marginalize and stereotype them and their abilities. This book does a remarkable job of raising awareness on how the lives of these women are impacted in their communities, the workplace, and other areas such as child rearing, religion, personal grooming, and even amorous relationships.
SHIFTING is an outstanding collaboration between two noteworthy women that deals with a mostly unaddressed but nonetheless troubling issue from the perspective of the victims. The book makes for a very interesting read and imparts a wealth of information regarding the ongoing plight of people of color in a society deeply scarred by racism and sexism.
Reviewed by Autumn
of The RAWSISTAZ Reviewers
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