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Shirley A. Hill. Black Intimacies: A Gender Perspective on Families and Relationships.

Shirley A. Hill. Black Intimacies: A Gender Perspective on Families and Relationships. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira P, 2005. 255 pp. $24.95.

Shirley A. Hill's third book Black Intimacies: A Gender Perspective on Families and Relationships, forms part of the AltaMira Press's Gender Lens Series. According to Editors Judith A. Howard, Barbara Risman, and Joey Sprague, the series "has been conceptualized as a way of encouraging the development of a sociological understanding of gender. A 'gender lens' means working to make gender visible in social phenomena; asking if, how, and why social processes, standards, and opportunities differ systematically for women and men. It also means recognizing that gender inequality is inextricably braided with other systems of inequality" (ii). Hill's study makes an important contribution to the series's commitment to social change directed toward eradicating gender inequalities. Using ethnographic materials from her own investigation, research, and personal interviews, Hill interrogates the historical and cultural definitions of African American identity and the multilayered systems of oppression affecting African American women.

Hill's work as a whole focuses on three goals: "bringing a 'gender lens' to the exploration of how the identities and experiences of African Americans have been shaped by dominant societal norms about patriarchy" (10); "contributing to the development of intersectionality theory by integrating it into new areas of study while also critiquing some of its limitations" (11); and helping to reframe the notion of culture so it is reflective of the dominant structural analyses of African American experience (12).

Chapter one explains the evolution of intersectionality theory and also states the focus and framework for the book; moreover, it provides a chapter by chapter overview of the book. Notably, Hill begins almost every subsequent chapter with a section that clearly conveys her argumentative framework by outlining the objectives for that chapter. This practical tool helps readers to retain a cohesive mental discourse while moving from one chapter to the next.

Hill begins chapter two with an examination of the historical and contemporary economic, social, and cultural forces at work in the diversity experiences of African Americans. The reader unfamiliar with the codification of racial politics among African Americans will find this chapter extremely useful in understanding the hierarchal stratifications that have always existed in black America. The chapter ends with an analysis of the racial and social disparities that continue to exist between blacks and whites, and the ongoing debate as to whether these disparities are a product of continuing racism or black people's behaviors.

This chapter is followed by a close analysis of how gender is constructed by family, resources, and the powers related to gender in the experiences of African American women, which in turn affect their family and marriage decision-making. The objective of chapter three is "to understand black women as active agents in their own lives who made provisions to protect themselves, their children, and their cultural and material resources by resisting conformity to dominant family norms" (57).

In chapter four, Hill explores how African American couples have challenged gender expectations in their intimate relationships. She examines notions of relationship trouble and intimacy among African American women and men to "deepen our understanding of African American intimate relationships by showing how gender expectations operate in class and race context" (96).

Chapter five continues the discussion of African American women's nonconformity to the gender ideologies of the dominant culture. Hill shifts her inquiry to issues of power and gratification among poor women of color, particularly as these issues are often associated with motherhood. She critiques the narrow scope of literature available on "the cultural value of mothering work in black communities" (121), and then constructs and critiques what she calls the "black cultural ethos of motherhood by examining it within the framework of changing societal and family resources" (121).

"How do race and class shape the gender socialization of black children?" (150). This question emerges at the center of Hill's focus in chapter six. Based on her own survey and interview data collected from a diverse group of parents of young children, Hill concludes that securely (second generation) middle-class parents are more likely to teach their children gender equality than are newly (first generation) middle-class parents who struggle with status anxiety and religious and sexual orientation. Economically disadvantaged parents were the least likely to teach their children gender equality.

Chapter six segues into chapter seven, in which Hill assesses the connection of racial inequality to the increased likelihood of poor children's exposure to domestic violence. In chapter seven she analyzes the link between racial oppression, black subcultural behaviors, and violence against black women by black males. She also argues that the relationship between persistent racial oppression and the perpetuation of black cultural behaviors that foster violence needs to be re-examined. In the last chapter Hill offers a summary of the issues she has discussed throughout the book.

Hill's discussion about the gender expectations a secure middle-class mother has for her 12-year-old son concretizes the overall objective of this book. She quotes the mother as saying: "I have the same expectations of him as I do from my daughters.... I tell my daughters that they should be able to take care of themselves, and he should be able to take care of himself, whether he's married or not. He should know how to wash his clothes, keep his house, take care of his books--he should be able to be independent, just like the girls should.... We talk about this all the time, and when I forget, my girls remind me!" (157). This book, birthed out of Hill's research for her first book, Managing Sickle Disease in Low-Income Families, will surely inspire debates and conversations that will reexamine gender roles among African Americans. A reassessment of African American gender roles is one of the first steps in moving African American families of all economic levels toward living life in gender equitable ways. The book makes a great contribution to the movement for teaching children the value of gender equality; it broadens that movement.

Reviewed by

Shawnrece Miller

Stetson University
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Author:Miller, Shawnrece
Publication:African American Review
Date:Mar 22, 2007
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