Speaker reveals dual lives of black women

Campus Times
April 16, 2004

by Janelle Krug
Staff Writer
and Bailey Porter
Managing Editor

Author Kumea Shorter-Gooden discussed the challenging issues of race and gender facing black women today – the focus of her bestselling book – at the University of La Verne on April 2.

Shorter-Gooden’s book, “Shifting: the Double Lives of Black Women in America,” explains the shift in identity that black women must make in order to deal with bigotry. She and co-author Charisse Jones interviewed women from around the United States and used these women’s stories to explain the survival skill of shifting that can limit black women from leading authentic lives and cause emotional distress.

According to the authors, shifting is used to accommodate expectations placed on black women by a racist and sexist American culture.

Black women are constantly shifting their personalities and appearances when they are around different types of people, Shorter-Gooden said, adding that most shifting takes place at school and in the workplace.

She said that when people think about women they mostly refer to white women, and when people think about blacks they mostly think about men. This is a “double whammy,” she said, of being both a woman and black.

“It is quite informative and helpful to understand African American women’s experience in U.S. society,” said Rick Rogers, director of the counseling center at the University, about the book.

Rogers is familiar with Shorter-Gooden’s work and attended a conference for directors and therapists of university counseling centers in the fall where the author gave a keynote address.

Rogers said Shorter-Gooden, a mentor of his, has taught him to have more empathy for African American women’s experiences.

Bailey Smith, director of the Learning Enhancement Center, said the selections from the book Shorter-Gooden read during the lecture were fantastic in terms of the discoveries made in telling these women’s stories.

“I think (Shorter-Gooden) enjoyed the diversity of the audience,” Smith said, adding that the audience seemed to find ways to relate to the stories and the author’s concept.

“This knowledge allows me to be more sensitive,” Rogers said. He uses Shorter-Gooden’s concept of shifting with his clients, he said.

He has even lent a copy of “Shifting” to one African American client he believes has medical problems related to shifting.

The 400 women interviewed for the book were between the ages of 18 and 88, from both rural and urban settings.

The author also talked about the “sisterella complex” affecting women who will bend over backwards to help others but will forget about themselves.

These women sometimes overachieve to hide their pain, she said.

Shorter-Gooden said her book is not only for black women, but for all people who want to understand the part of American culture that forces black women to find ways to deal with bigotry.

“Being a white guy and having African American friends and colleagues, I have a limited idea of what it’s like,” Rogers said.

The book offers insight into the anguish caused by the shifting constantly taking place in families and communities as black women strive to fit in and maintain their own identity, he said.

Shorter-Gooden concluded the talk expressing her hope that people would be open-minded enough to understand others and “listen even if it makes us uncomfortable.”