An important work on an essential subject, Fierce Angels explores and explodes the idea of the “strong black woman” as never before. Authoritative yet deeply personal and daringly confessional, Sheri Parks’s bold new study of the black female’s role as communal savior and martyr will challenge and change anyone who reads it.
Fierce Angels exposes the overwhelming emotional costs—as well as the benefits—attached to this role. Parks, an esteemed scholar and popular media personality, provides exclusive interviews and astute analysis, as well as accounts of her own searing and inspiring experiences, to highlight the myths and the realities of black women’s lives.
Beginning with the oldest ongoing archetype, the Dark Feminine, Parks reveals the layered significance of the fertility of darkness—the abyss out of which the world was spoken into existence, the primordial creator in ancient Greek, Sumerian, and West African cultures, and the essence of Mother Earth herself. As these myths matured, they played critical parts in the assignment of maternal roles to women of African descent, the Dark Feminine acquiring a particularly acrid scent once she crossed the Atlantic Ocean in shackles, bound for a life of slavery.
Parks traces the development of the “strong black woman” throughout her life on Southern plantations and New York streets and in countless kitchens in between. From the Black Madonna celebrated by Italian Americans to the nurturing and selfless “Mammy” forced to nurse her master’s child before her own, these abiding symbols of fortitude and dependability only solidified the mold into which the powerful dark woman was cast and paved a path that her descendants would have no choice but to follow.
Fierce Angels follows the inheritors of this legacy of power, compassion, and familial devotion into today’s world, seeing her in Coretta Scott King, who relinquished her dreams for those of her husband, and in Angela Dawson, a mother in East Baltimore whose home was fire-bombed when she tried to save her community from drug dealers. Parks also shares important examples from entertainment, cogently reexamined and in some cases surprisingly reclaimed, from Hattie McDaniel in Gone with the Wind to the no-nonsense Lieutenant Anita Van Buren played by S. Epatha Merkerson on Law & Order.
Bringing it all home, Parks recalls the personal costs she’s paid for her own identity and fascinatingly captures those moments when she is expected to be all and know all, whether for her students at work or for strangers in the produce aisle in the supermarket. She investigates the support systems holding these stereotypes in place—latched onto by those both within and outside the traditional black community—and challenges readers, mothers, and daughters alike to examine how damaging and rewarding the assignment of this role can be and to take control of it within their lives.
Credible and cathartic, piercing and provocative, Fierce Angels is a book born of pain and introspection, a work sure to stir debate and become the primary source on this vital topic.
Sheri Parks is an associate professor in the American Studies department at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is also an affiliate faculty member of the Women’s Studies and African American Studies departments and an award-winning teacher and public speaker. She is host of NPR’s Clear Reception with Sheri Parks, and her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Newsweek, and on MSNBC, CNN, NBC News, and many other media outlets. She lives outside Baltimore, Maryland.
"Fierce Angels opens wide a window on black female power: both the reverence for it and what it has wrought.
I want every black woman—and those who care about black women and want to understand us more deeply—
to be as nourished as I was by the reading of this book and its revelations. —Susan L. Taylor, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus, Essence Magazine and Founder and CEO, National CARES Mentoring Movement