Eloquent Rage: Black and Intersectional Feminism for "Grown-Ass Women".
Feminism is slowly but surely picking up steam in the 21st century. The stigma is slowing fading and the word is shedding its supposed dirtiness, overcoming its shame. In other words, in many circles, "feminist" is becoming a socially accepted identity. The Internet is partly to thank--women and girls all over the world now have a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips and can read about and learn from other people's experiences. Acts of resistance can go viral. We can even purchase merchandise to proudly announce we're feminists. Moreover, our president and the bigoted misogynists he's chosen to help lead our country and decide the fate of women's healthcare have forced women to come together on common ground. Finally, the fact that many celebrities are using their platforms to tackle things like police brutality, rape culture, and the gender wage gap helps make feminism more mainstream.
Unfortunately, however, mainstream feminism often overlooks millions of women, opting instead to focus on a select group who usually have only their gender working against them. For example, when you think of prominent, contemporary feminist icons, who comes to mind? Is it bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, Melissa Harris-Perry, and Marsha P. Johnson? Or is it Emma Watson, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham, and Taylor Swift? For many people these days, it's probably someone from the latter group. But lack of awareness of the former can have unintended--and sometimes deadly--consequences for women who aren't included in mainstream or "white" feminism.
Dr. Brittney Cooper, a feminist scholar and professor, sets out to dispel the myth--and reveal the dangers--of white feminism in her second book, Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower. Cooper makes it clear from the first page that this is a book for "grown-ass women" (p. l) to learn about Black Feminism, "capital B, capital F," which she defines as a feminism "situated in the particular ways Black women have understood, thought about, and written about the problems of racism and sexism across space and time" (p. 34).
It is with Eloquent Rage that Cooper gives us what she calls a "homegirl intervention" by calling America out on all its "bullshit about racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and a bunch of other stuff" (p. 5), and she makes clear that Black women have always been calling out that bullshit. After all, she argues,
Haven't white folks learned that Black folks know them far better than they know themselves?... Black survival means being endlessly obsessed with figuring out the depths to which white folks will fall to maintain a position of dominance, (p. 21 3)
And one of those depths can be found in the voting booth. White women typically pledge allegiance to their race before their gender at the polls. "[W]hite women's voting practices tell us that they vote with the party that supports their racial issues," Cooper says, "even though this means voting with a party that hates women as a matter of public policy" (p. 172). This explains why 52% of the white women who cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election, versus 4% of the Black women, voted for Donald Trump, according to exit polls conducted by CNN. (1) Black women do not have the luxury to simply "be" Black women--they are constantly "asked to choose between [their] race and [their] gender" (p. 1 56). It's impossible for Black women to talk about their gender without talking about their race, something white women don't have to consider.
Cooper does not hold back her rage in her critiques of white feminism and American society, and she is right not to hold back. Tackling everything from race and gender to class and religion, she zooms in on different aspects of society with razor-sharp focus, blending statistics with personal experiences and observations into an accessible and educational text. I find her criticisms of white women especially interesting, as they give me a chance to understand how many of my actions, whether intentional or not, are complicit in upholding white supremacy, which is inherently antifeminist. This is of course uncomfortable at times...and absolutely necessary. White women need to feel uncomfortable in order to be more effective allies to Black women.
Black women are more disenfranchised than nearly any other group of people in the United States: "[S]ingle Black women in the prime working ages of thirty-six to forty-nine have a median net wealth of $5.... Single white women in this same cohort [have] a net wealth of $42,600" (p. 231). Such a disparity cannot be attributed to choices made by individual Black women; in Cooper's words, "individual transformation is neither a substitute for nor a harbinger of structural transformation" (p. 115).
The simple fact that white people in past generations benefited financially from slavery and passed that money on to the white people of today means that white people were given a leg up on financial, educational, and even marital opportunities. And the advantages multiply:
White families have been the primary beneficiaries of both public and corporate welfare in the form of redlining policies that drove down property values in Black neighborhoods, making those neighborhoods undesirable for businesses, families, and schools. They have been beneficiaries of favorable bank-loan terms to help them purchase safe, affordable, quality housing. They are the beneficiaries of marital and housing tax breaks and the disproportionate beneficiaries of the dwindling number of quality public schools that we have left. (pp. 116-117) Eloquent Rage is the perfect book for a number of audiences: for white women like me who are relatively new to intersectional feminism and want to increase their awareness of how a racist and patriarchal America affects those whose identities are different from ours; for Black women who may need an extra reminder of their strength and resilience; for other women of color to get a better grasp on what it's like to be Black in America. This book was not written for a white audience--and that is exactly how we white people can know it's the type of book we should read. Eloquent Rage forced me to shut up and listen to the voices of Black women--a learned practice I try to get better at. My hope in writing this review is that I can use my racial privilege to amplify Dr. Cooper's voice and encourage other white women to learn feminism from Black authors, scholars, and activists. "Black rage and Black fear are fundamentally more honest [than white rage and fear]," says Cooper, "because they are reactions to the violence of white supremacy" (p. 169). Feminism taught by Black women is automatically inclusive of other identities, because all identities suffer at the hands of a patriarchal, white supremacist regime. Tuning in, with eagerness to listen and learn, to speeches and essays by Black feminists is key to making mainstream feminism more intersectional. In fact, if your feminism is typically what we think of when we think "mainstream feminism," it often overlooks Black women, Native American women, transgender women, poor women, disabled women, Muslim women, fat women, immigrant women, sick women, queer women, and working women. And unless your feminism includes those identities, it's not feminism at all.
Reviews and Interviews by Women of Color
* Maiysha Kai, "Eloquent Rage: Brittney Cooper Knows the Beauty of the Angry Black Woman,'" in "The Glow Up" [column] in The Root, March 20, 2018; theglowup.theroot.com/eloquent-rage-brittney-cooper-knows-the-beauty-of-the-1823684559.
* Evette Dionne, "Eloquent Rage: How Brittney Cooper Created a Black Feminist Manifesto" [interview], at Bitch Media, February 20, 2018; bitchmedia.org/article/bitch-interview/Brittney-cooper-eloquent-rage.
* Roxane Gay's review on Goodreads, March 23, 2018: goodreads.com/review/show/2337394710.
* Sasha Panaram, "On How to Stage a Homegirl Intervention: A Review of Brittney Cooper's Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower," in NewBlackMan (inExile), April 29, 2018: newblackmaninexile.net/2018/04/on-how-to-stage-homegirl-intervention.html.
* Joy-Ann Reid, "The Power in Being an Angry Black Woman" [interview], in Cosmopolitan, February 13, 2018: cosmopolitan.com/politics/a16637862/brittney-cooper-joy-reid-eloquent-rage.
1. "Election 2016 Results: Exit Polls: National/President," CNN, cnn.com/election/2016/results/exit-polls.
BY REBECCA CLARK
Brittney Cooper, Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower. St. Martin's Press, 2018. 288 pp. $25.99, ISBN 978-1250112576; pap., $18.00, ISBN 978-1250112880.
[Rebecca Clark graduated with degrees in English literature and professional writing from Miami University, where she served as co-president of The F-Word: Feminists Working on Real Democracy, an intersectional, student-led activist group. She currently does freelance writing and works as an editor in Dayton, Ohio.]
"Suppressed rage will cause us to accept gratuitous violence as a necessary evil. Expressed rage offers us an opportunity to do better." (pp. 166-167)
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|Publication:||Resources for Gender and Women's Studies: A Feminist Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2018|
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