Books by Kathy Russell

Released: Jan. 13, 1996

An informative but dully written book on one of the thorns in female society's side: divisiveness on the basis of race between women who otherwise would gain tremendously from an alliance. Poet/scriptwriter Russell and psychologist Wilson (coauthors of The Color Complex, 1992, with Ronald Hall) take on a huge subject and break it down into equally huge categories— ``Childhood,'' ``Issues of Beauty and Style,'' ``Sexual Tensions,'' ``Social Activism,'' and so forth—in an attempt to give historical and cultural context to the conundrum of even the most sympathetic woman's inability to comprehend her counterparts of another race. The book is an excellent illustration of the feminist credo that the personal is political, as it is the most personal information—the time and money black women traditionally spend on hair care, for example—that illuminates most clearly the social situation of difference. (``Many White women may have `bad hair' days, but they do not have `bad hair' lives'' is one of the book's few lighthearted sentences.) Unfortunately, Divided Sisters is simplistic in syntax and older- sisterly in the bland and superior way that inevitably annoys younger sisters, no matter how ``helpful'' one's advice. Best is the quoted material—both from literature (strands of prose and poetry by Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Sojourner Truth, et al.) and from personal interviews conducted by the authors. And readers will probably find the answers to questions they didn't even know they had, answers presented in such a way as to truly start ``bridging the gap''—first in imagination, then in real social relations. Like a large gray overcoat—necessary, useful, and uninspiring. (Author tour) Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1992

How prejudices based on skin color (as well as hair texture and facial structure) affect the daily lives and life opportunities of blacks in their dealings with whites and—above all—with each other: A compilation of anecdotes with a familiar historical overview and mostly obvious conclusions. Race-mixing—both voluntary and through white slaveholders routinely raping black female slaves—has occurred throughout American history, with the result that black racial identity now encompasses people with a vast range of physical characteristics. According to Russell (a scriptwriter), Wilson (Psychology/DePaul Univ.), and Hall (Social Work/Augsburg College), status and privilege historically were accorded those blacks who appeared most white and who—though not acknowledged as family—often received educational and economic opportunities through their white relatives. A skin-color hierarchy developed within African-American society, the authors say, with most leadership positions held by the light-skinned, who have often been distrusted by the dark- skinned. Russell, Wilson, and Hall overstate the secret nature of this problem, which has been treated publicly by filmmakers and writers and has been repeatedly discussed on nationally syndicated talk shows. They address the use of hair straighteners and skin bleaches, pointing out that corporate types don't wear dreadlocks; demonstrate that darker-skinned black men are associated with sexuality and criminality, lighter-skinned women with beauty and femininity; and note that these associations affect socioeconomic mobility by influencing who is hired by white corporations and by creating intraracial tensions on the job. Has the feel of a magazine article padded out with term-paper material into a book. Read full book review >