Brittney Cooper is mad, and she’s not afraid to show it. The author and cultural commentator has a unique ability to harness that anger in her writings on sexism, political extremism and other hot-button issues affecting black women. She explores the intersection of race and feminism in the classroom at Rutgers University, where she’s an associate professor of women’s and gender studies and Africana studies, and online as co-founder of the Crunk Feminist Collective blog and a contributing writer for cosmopolitan.com. In her new book “Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower,” out Tuesday, Cooper talks about love, sex, gender, friendship and cultural icons (and sometimes lightning rods) like Beyonce and Serena Williams. Cooper will discuss the book Wednesday at Politics and Prose with Damon Young, editor-in-chief of black culture website Very Smart Brothas.
What does the term “eloquent rage” mean to you?
Eloquent rage is a way to think about black women’s anger as a political response. Rather than thinking about anger as an emotion we should attempt to quell or suppress, that anger is the emotion that keeps us honest. Typically when you see black women’s anger being expressed in public, it is in response to systemic levels of injustice, and that anger is what I call clear and expressive. You know why black women are mad. In many ways this book is a celebration of that rage in the face of the angry black woman stereotype.
And what makes it your superpower?
For a long time, I wanted to resist the angry black woman stereotype, because it dogs you. Anger is often ascribed to you even if you’re simply being assertive. I talk about this encounter early in the book, when one of my students years ago said she liked to listen to me lecture because it was like the most eloquent rage she had ever heard. I felt really exposed. I had been attempting to hold that at bay, and for her it became a thing that made her feel empowered. I realized that I could either continue to do this dance around that anger, or I could embrace it and think about the ways it made me powerful.
What do you see as the differences between being a feminist and being a black feminist?
My understanding of what it means to be a feminist comes primarily out of thinking about how black women have had to combat these systems, whether in the workplace or in church or in their families, and to recognize that there are cultural differences. One classic example I talk about in the book is [how] black feminists and white feminists had really different responses when Michelle Obama decided she would become the “mom in chief.” White feminists read that as a rollback of the years of trying to challenge the idea that a woman’s role should be as a stay-at-home mother. Black feminists said black women made it possible for white women to go out in the workplace because we took on some of that domestic labor at home. So we consider it a feminist thing for Michelle Obama to be able to make that choice at that high of a level.
What do you hope people take away from this book?
Some sense of hope and some sense that even if we don’t know how to fix all that ails us, we can tell the truth about the depths of our problems but also keep getting up every day and trying to fight. I also hope that people laugh. I’m not interested in a politics that is stuffy and inaccessible and alienating. We can have all these cultural arguments that exist above us in the clouds, but what does it look like every day to come home and try to contend with how racism or sexism shows up in your intimate life or with your friends? When we figure out politics at a personal level, then perhaps it wouldn’t be so hard to figure it out at the more structural level.
Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW; Wed., 7 p.m., free.
More to do in D.C. this week: