Black women were born with fire raging through their veins. And throughout their lives, they have used that fire to fight for themselves, and for others, in a world that sees that them as less than; as nothing; as non-citizens. While this fire can be empowering for black women, it often burns them in a world that uses black women’s passion and emotion as way to invalidate the very real struggle that they face in a hostile world. We are asked to be quiet, to be respectable, and to be grateful for the small scraps people are willing to throw our way. Yet, it is our emotion, more specifically our anger, that will save us. It is what allows us to fight everyday against the injustices that befall us and all other oppressed minorities. It is the power of this anger that Brittney Cooper’s Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers her Superpower takes on.
A mix of personal memoir and the political, Eloquent Rage breaks down the many ways in which black women face disrespect and subjugation, from the way they are treated in romantic relationships to the responsibilities that their churches and communities place on them. In the chapter, “White Girl Tears,” Cooper addresses the relationship that men, black and white alike, have with black women, who they’re happy to have take care of them, but refuse to love. She talks about the ways in which black men are quick to defend white women over black women *ahem Daniel Caesar*, and the way in which black-white interracial relationships can be coded by internalized racism and hatred towards black women. In “Orchestrated Fury”, Cooper argues that respectability politics—”the belief that Black people can overcome many of the everyday,, acute impacts of racism by dressing properly and having social comportment”—has been used by both black and white communities to invalidate black women who don’t play by the rules. Black women that fail to remain poised and respectable, who are seen as “ghetto”, are accused of being a ‘disgrace to the race’. Respectability then, is used as a way of silencing black women, allowing their continued mistreatment. As Cooper says, “respectability might have got us to the highest office in the land, but it could not ensure any level of long-term respect for Black humanity.” In the chapter, as in the rest of the book, Cooper passionate and careful navigation of such politics encourages black women to let go of the rules that don’t serve them and empower themselves.
What’s great about Eloquent Rage is that Cooper doesn’t hold back. The topics that she addresses are controversial any day of the week, and Cooper is quick to call out everyone, from white feminists to Black Panther leaders. No one is exempt from her critique. Even better, Cooper stans hard for black women. While she doesn’t disregard the experience of other oppressed minorities, she makes it clear that she is riding for black women and their experience.
Reading Eloquent Rage was a necessary education. Of course there were things Cooper said that I’d heard before but there were also stories and details that I’d never heard before. And it made me think of how my desire to be likeable and agreeable to people is so closely tied with wanting them to see me, a black woman, as digestible. Without really knowing it, I’ve held the principles of respectability politics like a Bible to the chest. And Eloquent Rage showed me the power that could come from living freely; it showed me that my emotions were completely valid even when the world wants to tell me that I’m being too sensitive.
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