Gendering Africana Studies: Insights from Anna Julia Cooper.
In 1886, at the age of twenty-eight, Anna Julia Cooper stood before the black male clergy of the Protestant Episcopal Church and argued that the issues affecting black women and poor and working-class African Americans needed to be placed at the center of racial uplift efforts. The image of the young but resolute Cooper standing at the center of a male-dominated space, representing the needs and perspectives of black women and the working poor, creates an apt metaphor for illustrating the importance of Cooper's place in the development of Africana studies. (1) In this address, published in A Voice from the South (1892) as "Womanhood: A Vital Element in the Regeneration and Progress of a Race," and throughout her career, Cooper located her scholarship and activism firmly within an Africana-centered paradigm. (2) In doing so, however, she chose not to subordinate issues of gender to race or vice versa. Instead, Cooper viewed the issues of race, class and gender as inextricably linked. An analysis of Cooper's intellectual work and activism reveal an early Africana studies pioneer who put issues of race, class and gender at the center of racial uplift efforts) Her goal was to shift the priorities of the early Africana studies practitioners from concerns she viewed as primarily male-centered and elitist to the issues she believed had impact on the least-represented, most neglected members of the African American communities.
In "The Legacy of W. E. B. Du Bois for Contemporary Black Studies," James Stewart argues that to better understand the intellectual development of Africana studies, scholars must become more self-conscious about the development of the field. Stewart invites contemporary critics to recover the historical precedents established by early Africana studies pioneers such as Martin Delany, Carter G. Woodson, and Paul Robeson. While his own work focuses on Du Bois as an "exemplar" of an early black studies paradigm, Stewart calls for additional analyses of other important figures as a way to develop a much-needed comparative approach to the study of the historical development of Africana studies.
In this essay, the authors argue that establishing Cooper as one of the key figures in the early development of Africana studies allows us to recover a disciplinary history that exhibits at its foundation a diverse set of social and intellectual goals, objectives, and commitments. By first establishing Cooper as a forerunner, then by detailing the priorities she espoused, and finally by examining her theoretical orientation and methodological approach, the authors explore the continued implications of Cooper's work for the current field of Africana studies. In fact, Delores Aldridge identifies as the current "overriding issue" in Africana studies the question of whether or not "we [Africana women] need an Africana Studies movement separate from the general movement, or if Africana Studies will be able to incorporate the experiences of black women" (198). Examining Cooper within the frame of Africana studies responds to Aldridge's injunction by bringing attention to the role of black women in relation to the historical development of Africana studies, and forces us to ask how our understandings of the discipline change if we recognize Cooper as a foundational figure. Furthermore, and equally significant, an analysis of Cooper's role in the development of Africana studies allows us to evaluate how responsive the discipline has or has not been to the mandates that Cooper articulated over a century ago. Simply gaining a space for herself within the prevailing structure or discourse was never Cooper's goal. It was not enough for her to secure a seat for herself at the table; she sought also to inspire those in educational, social or financial positions of privilege to use their advantages to support and propel systematic programs of social change. One of the hallmarks of Africana studies is the call for social responsibility and the production of knowledge that can facilitate social transformation (Karenga 13-14); Cooper's conjoining of scholarship and activism fails squarely within this tradition.
When Cooper addressed the black male clergy of the Protestant Episcopal Church, she began by denouncing the selfishness and ambition of some current black leaders, those men and women, she explained, who "exhaust their genius splitting hairs on aristocratic distinctions and thanking God they are not as others." Instead, she lauded as true leaders, the "earnest, unselfish souls, who can go into the highways and byways, lifting up and leading, advising and encouraging..." (Cooper, "Womanhood" 64). She then laid out for the men of the church the program she believed they should be espousing. She identified the amelioration of black women's oppression in all forms as the most pressing priority. Next she argued for improving black women's station in life, especially through the development of educational opportunities. In addition to her focus on the condition of black women, Cooper advocated for the elevation of working class and poor blacks through education and increased job opportunities. Finally, Cooper impressed upon the black male clergy the importance of personal sacrifice for the sake of group organization and community advocacy. While trying to convince these men to adopt her program for social change, Cooper did not shrink from pointing out where she felt their previous and current efforts to reach African Americans were misguided. She asserts that the Protestant Episcopal Church has been too dismissive of the majority of black people's existing customs and traditions, has not been attentive to black women's needs, has been too intellectual and abstract in its approach, and has been too focused on the exceptional stories of individual progress and achievement. Despite these critiques, it is important to note that while Cooper wanted to reorder the existing priorities of the black male intelligentsia, she sought to do so by first engaging, then transforming, their existing paradigm. In other words, Cooper identified her agenda as central to, rather than separate from, their racial-uplift efforts.
To enact this transformation of priorities, Cooper deployed her characteristically savvy rhetorical strategies. She creates a rhetorical basis for her argument by enlisting both chivalric ideals and traditional Christian principles as a way to challenge the male clergy to make these abstract "universal" ideals a reality for their specific communities and families. She moves continually between the abstract ideals and the historically specific realities of black women, linking the theoretical concepts to which the clergy most certainly subscribed to the need for practical action on behalf of African American women. She appeals to the men's sense of Christian charity, stating that the ideas she is proposing--the protection and uplifting of women and the poor--flow from foundational Christian doctrine. (4) She then asserts that it is "effete and immobile" civilizations that do not honor women, while "fresh and still vigorous" societies recognize the need to value, protect, and support women's development (Cooper, "Womanhood" 54). Finally, Cooper utilizes a bit of reverse psychology. Offering a sideways challenge to the male clergy as she professes to confide in them, she says: "However much then the facts of any particular period of history may seem to deny it, I for one do not doubt that the source of the vitalizing principle of woman's development and amelioration is the Christian Church, so far as that church is coincident with Christianity" ("Womanhood" 57). Thus in her address to the black male clergy, Cooper locates her argument firmly within the discourse of Christianity, arguing that those who adhere to the principles laid out by their own church doctrine could not possibility deny the validity of Cooper's cause, which indeed she has shown should be their cause as well.
Cooper then levels her gaze, presenting the clergy with an even more direct injunction as she reminds them that they have not gathered at the church on this day as an intellectual exercise. She explains that as a race "We look within that we may gather together once more our forces, and, by improved and more practical methods address ourselves to the tasks before us" (Cooper, "Womanhood" 61). Again, in calling for "improved and more practical methods," Cooper is pushing for the move from theoretical considerations to practical action. She asks bluntly of her audience how they are going to use the successes they have achieved, noting that "we too often mistake individual honor for race development and so are ready to substitute pretty accomplishments for sound sense and earnest purpose" (Cooper, "Womanhood" 62-63). She suggests that lauding the exceptional accomplishments of the few is misdirected, and instead she insists that efforts need to be focused on building schools in the South and improving educational opportunities and working conditions throughout both the North and the South. Lest her audience remain unconvinced, Cooper reminds them that even "the Congregationalists have quietly gone to work" setting up schools throughout the South and so "Congregationalism surely and steadily progresses" (Cooper, "Womanhood" 69).
Having provided several not-so-subtle reminders and incentives, Cooper calls for two specific outcomes from the meeting. First, she implores her listeners not to pontificate further, but instead to establish and support schools that provide educational opportunities for African American women and poor blacks. Black women, especially, have been neglected by the Church's ministry--their development promoted only "if they can pay their way and fall in with the plans mapped out for the training of the other sex" (Cooper, "Womanhood" 70). The clergy and congregation must "work aggressively," Cooper argues, to reach these marginalized groups and provide them with the necessary education and training to become active agents of change in their communities.
Unlike the educational philosophy espoused in many of the white Northern missionary projects, however, education for Cooper was not an accommodationist attempt to "civilize" the black masses. Further, she did not believe education should provide merely industrial training, or simply inspire intellectual musings. Much to the contrary, education, in Cooper's view, was a crucial component in the project of social transformation. As Vivian May contends, "As an educator and activist, Cooper held to her conviction that all forms of education, be they classical, professional, or vocational, full-time or part-time, should be sites of liberation." May convincingly argues that Cooper "sought to foster in her students and in her community what Paulo Freire would later describe as condentizacion--an overtly critical and political consciousness centered around the struggle for self-determination" (Visionary 64). Espousing a truly revolutionary approach to education, Cooper believed that by awakening a critical consciousness, creating a sense of agency, and instilling a commitment to social responsibility, real systematic change was possible, or as Hazel Carby succinctly states, "education would empower black women so that they could shape an alternative course to a future society" (102).
Although still two years shy of thirty when she admonished the clergy to go to work improving educational conditions for black women and the working poor, Cooper had already created a formidable example for them to follow. She had spent thirteen years as a peer tutor and educator at St. Augustine's Normal School and Collegiate Institute, chaired the Department of Languages and Science at Wilberforce, and then returned to St. Augustine's as a professor of Mathematics, Latin, Greek and German (May 12, 15-16). The year after her address to the clergy, she would begin a long career at the M Street School, later Dunbar High School, one of Washington, D.C.'s most prominent high schools for African Americans, and when well into her seventies, she would become president of Frelinghuysen University, an adult education school for D.C.'s black working class. Thus in practice as well as in theory, Cooper espoused a policy of personal responsibility as a means of enacting social change.
In addition to increased educational opportunities, Cooper also urged the formation of organizations for the protection and development of black women. While the notion of "protecting" black women may sound like a plea for romantic chivalry, much to the contrary and despite her Victorian rhetorical pose, Cooper called for the protection of black women from the real, ongoing and immediate danger of sexual assaults and other forms of harassment. Loosely adhering to the day's dictates regarding decorum, Cooper suggests that black women are subject to psychological, physical and sexual abuses, explaining that they are "dispirited and crushed down" by the "all-leveling prejudice" of the American "caste" system which "cynically assumes 'a Negro woman cannot be a lady.'" Cooper conveys with carefully chosen words the sexual nature of the "dangers" to which she is referring. "English womanhood" she states, "is beset by no such snares and traps as betray the unprotected, untrained colored girl of the South." Cooper then adds that the young black woman's only crime is often "her unconscious and marvelous beauty," calling on her audience to be moved in both thought and action: "Negro sentiment cannot remain callous and Negro efforts nerveless in view of the imminent peril of the mothers of the next generation ... [the] weak, struggling unshielded girl" ("Womanhood" 64). Having suggested the nature of the dangers, Cooper then positions the actions she encourages her audience to take, not just as acts of altruism, but also as the means of producing systemic social change; the protection of black women is paramount to creating future generations of healthy individuals and families.
Cooper's other writings suggest that her social and political position on the need for the protection of black women emerges, in part, from personal experience. It appears from Cooper's later writings that her mother, Hannah Stanley Haywood, had two sons by a wealthy, white slave owner who presumably then sold or "lent" Hannah to his brother, George Washington Haywood (Giles 623). Cooper identifies George Haywood as her father, stating, "My mother was a slave and the freest woman I have ever known.... Presumably my father was her master, if so I owe him not a sou and she was always too modest and shamefaced ever to mention him" (qtd. in Hutchinson 5). In relating her paternity, Cooper brings to light the sexual abuses often faced by enslaved women, especially those, like Cooper's mother, who worked as domestic servants. Cooper jettisons the stereotypes identifying black women as sexually voracious jezebels, and instead identifies her mother as "the finest woman I have ever known." Her "father," on the other hand, is the recipient of Cooper's disdain. Born, as Mark Giles notes, into the "familiar union between master and slave," Cooper saw the protection of black girls and women from sexual abuse not as a theoretical question but as a moral imperative (623). In this way, Cooper establishes her personal experience, and the personal experiences of other black women as both valid and necessary sources for the construction of social theory and as the basis for social and political action. Much like her work in education, Cooper actively and immediately enacted the changes she argued for in her scholarly and theoretical writings regarding the betterment of black working-class and poor women. Already at the time of her "Womanhood" speech, Cooper was an active member of the black women's club movement, joining the work of Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Mary Church Terrell and Frances E. W. Harper to protect black girls, fight discrimination and racial injustice, advocate for women's suffrage, and improve conditions for African Americans generally, as well as create social outlets and intellectual opportunities for African American women. In 1892 she participated in forming the Colored Women's League in Washington, D.C., a coalition of 113 organizations devoted to improving conditions for black children, women and the urban poor. In 1896, she helped organize the National Conference of Colored Women, combining the two most prominent coalitions of black women's clubs, the Colored Women's League and the National Federation of Afro-American Women (Shaw 10-11). She served on the committee to study Georgia's convict labor system (a system of peonage and forced labor) and state schooling laws in Florida (May 11). Throughout her life, Cooper continued organizing and advocating to improve conditions for all African Americans, but especially those who suffered added wrongs due to their gender and/or class.
Alongside her attention to creating educational opportunities and improved living conditions for African Americans, Cooper waged a continual assault on the ideological underpinnings that sustained social and economic inequities. Her critiques targeted the complex matrix of ethnocentrism, the suppression or vilifying of difference, and the use of power for social, economic, and political domination. Her methodological response was to utilize personal experience or "located knowledge" to create access to alternative forms of knowledge and to arrive at alternative ways of perceiving society. Thus in addition to Cooper's historical location as an exemplar of an Africana studies paradigm, her theoretical and methodological contributions resonate for current Africana studies work as well. Aldridge and Carlene Young, for example, assert one of the primary functions of Africana studies is to critique "the ethnocentrism of Euro-Americans ... insofar as it does not recognize the value or validity of any cultures other than that of Western civilization" (6). Africana studies scholar James Turner echoes Aldridge and Young, explaining that because "most of the major arguments in history ... derive from Euro-American particularism ... that have been held to be generalizable to the universe.... Black Studies represents a disillusionment and critique of 'certified knowledge'" (101). Further, Molefi Asante identifies such claims to "certified knowledge" as emerging from the positivist approach that assumes its categories "constitute the whole of human thought" (181). Africana studies, Asante explains, poses a challenge to the positivist approach by utilizing alternative ways of seeing that in turn produce new knowledge and validate alternative experiences, perspectives and histories.
Central to Cooper's theoretical position is a critique of Western ethnocentric epistemologies and a call for both new sites of knowledge and new approaches to interpreting such knowledge. Positivism, as well as claims to "objectivity" and "pure reason," bore the brunt of Cooper critiques; especially when these epistemological approaches were employed to draw conclusions about "the Negro." In "The Negro as Presented in American Literature" (1892), Cooper turns the tables, assessing the "Anglo Saxon" character while simultaneously critiquing the "scientific" or "objective" approach to the study and representation of African Americans. She remarks sarcastically, "Were I not afraid of falling myself into the same error that I am condemning, I would say it seems an Anglo Saxon characteristic to have such overweening confidence in his own power of induction that there is no equation which he would acknowledge to be indeterminate, however many unknown quantities it may possess" (Cooper, "Negro in Literature" 147-48). Unfortunately, she notes, "We meet it at every turn--this obtrusive and offensive vulgarity, this gratuitous sizing up of the Negro and conclusively writing down his equation" (Cooper, "Negro in Literature" 147). In this biting critique of the supposed objectivity of Western scientific inquiry, Cooper points out the inadequacies of this epistemology by stating that "Anglo Saxon" interpretations and conclusions about African Americans are based on incomplete information. Moreover, her caustic language reveals that the incomplete information and erroneous conclusions are the result of willful blindness and that the position of the observer is inherently flawed by his own unacknowledged place of power and privilege. His conclusions are couched in the discourse of scientific inquiry and presented as natural, absolute and reasonable. To combat the "gratuitous sizing up of the Negro," Cooper argues that what is needed is the perspective of black men and women, explaining, "What I hope to see ... is a black man honestly and appreciatively portraying both the Negro as he is, and the white man, occasionally, as seen from the Negro's standpoint" (Cooper, "Negro in Literature" 159).
Just as Cooper advocated for the necessity of including African American perspectives on African American and American life in her address to black male clergy, she saw it as essential to build her argument based on her own experiences and the experiences of other black women. While several of Cooper's other addresses in A Voice from the South include specific personal recollections regarding her direct experiences with racism and sexism, in her "Womanhood" speech she professes an overarching "oneness with her subject both in feeling and in being," stating that her inextricable connection with the topic does not give rise to "opinions," but is in concert with what has already been "proven," that "the race cannot be effectually lifted up till its women are truly elevated" (Cooper, "Womanhood" 69). As Elizabeth Alexander asserts in her now seminal essay, "We Must Be about Our Father's Business," "Cooper places herself as an active, visible agent in the writing of the book" (345). Alexander further argues that Cooper's use of the first person establishes Cooper's essays and speeches as having "a definite sense of source and agency" (345). By drawing on her own experiences and utilizing first person narration, Cooper validates, rather than dismisses personal, subjective and located knowledge. In her address to the clergy and throughout her writings, the personal and subjective take place alongside more traditional forms of knowledge. Her personal experiences are intertwined with Christian theology, legal discourse, Roman history and writings from English Romantic poets such as Byron and Wordsworth. She also cites and paraphrases prominent African American men, such as Martin Delany and Alexander Crummell. Indeed, in her preface to the collection, and directly preceding the "Womanhood" essay, Cooper argues "that truth from each standpoint be presented." She notes, however, that the one voice that has been entirely mute thus far in the proceedings is that of the black woman of the South (Cooper, "Our Raison d'Etre" 51). Thus, the voice of the black woman is not only valid alongside other forms of knowledge, but is necessary, Cooper argues, if a "fair trial" is to be had. By utilizing personal experience or located knowledge, Cooper offers an alternative methodology that enables access to alternative forms of knowledge. This approach creates a mix of different voices and perspectives and from these varied perspectives a more complete understanding of reality is possible, thereby creating a genuine basis for progress.
In her work with the Hampton Folklore Society (the first predominately black folklore society in the U. S.), Cooper again marries her epistemological concerns regarding alternative ways of knowing African American life and culture with her social activist agenda. Through her work with the folklorists, she participates in constructing the counter-narratives of nonelite African American life that challenge dominant literary and cultural representations of poor and working-class blacks. She also models for the black male clergy an alternative way of approaching and understanding nonelite populations. Imploring the African American folklorists to "free themselves from the Anglo-Saxon standards by which their own traditions were judged primitive and lacking," Cooper beseeched the black folklorists to "collect and present folklore based on their own observations, memories, and experiences rather than rely on popular constructions of black folklore" (Moody 18; see also Cooper, "Paper" 132-33). In this way, Cooper first sought to challenge Western claims to "certified" knowledge, especially insofar as that certified knowledge pertained to African Americans. She then worked to validate African Americans as both producers and theorizers of alternative forms of knowledge, or as she states, "when we have been sized up and written down by others, we need not feel that the last word is said and the oracles sealed" (Cooper, "Negro in Literature" 159). Cooper's efforts to foreground black folklore as collected by black folklorists and to locate agency with the producers of such cultural knowledge is clearly within the Africana studies tradition of documenting and preserving cultural knowledge in a way that challenges uncritical, supposedly objective approaches to representing the cultural traditions of Africana peoples.
Beyond occupying a space as a forerunner to contemporary Africana theories regarding epistemologies and sites of knowledge, Cooper's methodological approaches to scholarship and activism embody what James Stewart in "Riddles, Rhythms, and Rhymes: Toward an Understanding of Methodological Issues and Possibilities in Black/Africana Studies" identifies as the (at least) five characteristics that differentiate Africana studies analyses from traditional modes of inquiry. He enumerates the following as indicative of an Africana studies approach: (a) rejection of "victimology" orientations in favor of approaches focusing on efforts by African Americans to shape their own destiny (Africana agency); (b) interpretation of contemporary developments through a framework of analysis that explores the effects of historical forces in shaping current conditions (i.e., the role of continuing historical influences); (c) use of multiple analytical methods and modes of presentation to understand and articulate the complexities of the experiences of peoples of African descent (i.e., wholism/multi-dimensionality); (d) exploration of policy implications (i.e., the simultaneous pursuit of academic excellence and social responsibility); and (e) exploration of historical and continuing cultural and political linkages between Africans in Africa and Africans in the diaspora (i.e., pan-Africanism).
Throughout her life, Cooper advocated an activist-centered approach to improving the conditions of African American women and poor and working-class blacks. She stressed personal agency as a vehicle for creating an informed and empowered black citizenry. She was not naive, however, about the continued impact of white domination; as a scholar and orator, she meticulously documented and analyzed the long history of what she identified as a pathological use of power and fear of difference. (5) To supplement her historical analyses of the white abuses of power, Cooper validated personal experiences, observation and "folk" histories as a way to recover the often submerged experiences of African Americans whose stories were part of neither the dominant cultural narratives nor the narratives of exceptional black men. Instead she highlights the stories of black women, of rural teachers, of working-class blacks and of African Americans who could not afford to attend Howard and therefore sat in evening classes conducted in the parlor of Cooper's T Street home. Although by the late 1890s there arose a generalized pessimism about the direction of governmental policy regarding the protection of African American rights, Cooper, along with Ida B. Wells, Du Bois and others never ceased agitating for far-reaching policy changes. In her "Ethics of the Negro Question," for example, Cooper protested the U. S. courts' indifference regarding the lynching of African Americans and the activities of the Ku Klux Klan (210). Additionally, her transatlantic analyses of the role of race, class, and power during the Haitian revolution reveal Cooper's diasporan orientation toward the study of Africana history and politics.
While it is evident from the preceding list of activities that Cooper exemplifies an Africana studies approach in both her theory and her activism, and that she chose to locate her work squarely within an early Africana studies paradigm, her contributions to the history and development of the field remain largely unexplored. Indeed, Africana studies faces a continuing challenge of combating the invisibility of Africana women in the public sphere and the marginalization of their historical and contemporary voices. This challenge is not unique to Africana studies; rather it is one that derives from the patriarchal nature of most societies and is reflected in the fields and modes of inquiry. As Barbara Omolade argues, "The historical oppression of black women and men should have created social equality between them, but even after the end of slavery when the white patriarch receded, maleness and femaleness continued to be defined by patriarchal structures, with black men declaring wardship over black women" (15).
A more gender-conscious Africana studies approach would be self-critical about the ways in which its own scholarship has marginalized Africana women. By reading Cooper as part of the development of Africana studies, we gain access to a different history of Africana studies--one that if we let Cooper's voice be heard, has at its base a call for both analysis and activism at the intersection of gender, class, and race. In this regard, there remain two crucial questions: Has Africana studies responded to Cooper's mandates to locate black women's issues at the center, rather than margins of the discipline? Has the discipline acknowledged and adequately accounted for the role black women have played as foundational figures in the development of the field? If the answer to these questions is "no," then we must return to Aldridge's opening query and ask ourselves whether "we need an Africana Studies movement separate from the general movement" or whether Africana studies will "be able to incorporate the experiences of black women" (198).
In light of the historic 2008 presidential elections, Cooper's observations about the continued significance of race, gender and class politics are prophetic. First, Cooper warned against letting the accomplishments and glories of individual members of "the race" overshadow the needs and realities of average black men and women, stating:
Our present record of eminent men, when placed beside the actual status of the race in America to-day, proves that no man can represent the race. Whatever the attainments of the individual may be ... he can never be regarded as identical with or representative of the whole. Not by pointing to sun-bathed mountain tops do we prove that Phoebus warms the valleys. We must point to homes, average homes, homes of the rank and file of horny handed toiling men and women of the South (where the masses are) lighted and cheered by the good, the beautiful, and the true,--then and not till then will the whole plateau be lifted into the sunlight. (Cooper, "Womanhood" 63)
In this poetic exposition, Cooper asserts that certain black men may attain intellectual achievements or class status that might seem to indicate that racial progress has taken place. Much to the contrary, however, Cooper reminds her audience that black women and working-class black men--in fact the masses of black people--continue to face challenges, inequities and hardships that are not alleviated by the elevation of a few fortunate individuals. Cooper maintains that racial progress will only take place in earnest when the intertwined oppressions arising from race, gender and class issues are sufficiently addressed.
Conversely, in her essay "Woman versus the Indian," Cooper warns against the divisive ways the middle- and upper-class white woman's vote and influence were being used to promote white supremacy and continue the disenfranchisement of African Americans. As Clenora Weems-Hudson explains, the National American Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman's Suffrage Association had by the 1890s departed from Susan B. Anthony's original posture, contending "that the vote for women should be utilized chiefly by middle-class white women, who could assist their husbands in preserving the virtues of the republic from the threat of unqualified and biological inferiors (Africana men), who, with the power of the vote, could gain a political foothold in the American system" (309). Conservative suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt, for example argued, "there is but one way to avert the danger. Cut off the vote of the slums and give the vote to [white] women," thus asserting, in the words of historians Peter Carrol and David Nobel, that middle-class white men should recognize "the usefulness of woman suffrage as a counterbalance to the foreign vote, and as a means of legally preserving white supremacy in the South" (qtd. in Hudson-Weems 209). Recognizing the shift away from gender coalitions across racial lines, Cooper attempts to avert the fissuring, asking an audience of white suffragists not to align against African Americans or Native Americans in an effort to secure the vote for themselves. "Why," Cooper implores her audience, "should woman become plaintiff in a suit versus the Indian, or the Negro or any other race or class who have been crushed under the iron heel of Anglo-Saxon power and selfishness?" ("Woman versus the Indian" 108) Just as Cooper had seen the need for an Africana studies approach that recognized black women's issues as a priority, she also saw the need for women's rights to be won not at the expense of other women, but to be realized for all women, regardless of race or class. Given the political and economic events of 2008 and 2009, Cooper's penetrating analyses of race, gender and class remain as instructive today as they were over one hundred years ago.
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Turner, James E. "Africana Studies and Epistemology: A Discourse in the Sociology of Knowledge." Conyers 91-107.
(1.) Subscribing to the definition articulated by Conyers, the authors of the present article utilize the term "Africana" as a "descriptor that identifies land, history and culture as it relates to African-diasporic phenomena" (1). Africana studies and black studies are used somewhat interchangeably, although both have slightly different etiologies. Africana studies is the more "formal" term with broader historical and geographical connotations, and black studies is the more "common" term directly connected to the movement to establish an academic discipline in the 1960s (Turner 92).
(2.) This would not be the last time Cooper would assert herself and the issues affecting black women into the center of the male-dominated racial uplift discourse as it was being carried out by her black male peers. For example, when in 1897 Alexander Crummell founded the American Negro Academy (ANA), an association devoted to classical, higher education, "the promotion of Literature, Science, and Art" for African Americans, and the general "defense of the Negro against vicious assaults," Cooper became "the only woman ever elected a member of the Academy" (Davis 556). Similar to her position in relation to the male clergy of the Protestant Church, Cooper again located herself and the issues she represented at the center rather than at the margins of the discourse. Cooper, for example, assumes authority for representing this all-male group (Cooper excepted, of course), as she contributed the write-up on the ANA's first meeting for Southern Workman. The irony of her position as the only female member of the group and the one responsible for authoring one of the ANA's first publicity pieces could not have escaped her. Indeed, one must wonder if Cooper's sarcastic wit was not at play again as she began her article by noting, "it's [the ANA's] membership is confined to men," and ended it with a comment that the meeting closed with an "acknowledgment" of "the committee of ladies who furnished luncheon each day" ("The American Negro Academy" 35-36).
(3.) While the present essay focuses on Cooper's relationship to the traditionally male-centered racial uplift efforts, it is important to note that Cooper was not working in isolation, but was very much part of the expansive black women's club movement and as such worked along side other black women activists such as Ida B. Wells, Frances E. W. Harper, and Fannie Barrier Williams, among many others. The black women's clubs provided an array of social services not available to poor and working-class African Americans, spoke out and organized against racism and various discriminatory practices, and provided social outlets for middle and upper- class African American women. For further discussion regarding the history of the black women's club movement, see Shaw.
(4.) For contemporary examples of black womanist theologians working within the context of both Christian theology and African spiritual and religious systems to recover a religious/spiritual discourse that elevated rather than debased womanhood, see Cannon and Grant.
(5.) For a detailed discussion of Cooper's analysis of the dynamics of power and difference, see Lengermann and Niebrugge.