“There is no Black Freedom Project if you don’t care about Black women.” If there’s one belief upon which “crunk feminist,” author, scholar and educator Brittney Cooper has based her life’s work, it’s this core tenet of Black feminism, as previously maintained by brilliant minds from the Combahee River Collective to 19th-century pioneers like Maria Stewart, Sojourner Truth and Anna Julia Cooper.
These are the women from whom Cooper has descended in the Black feminist tradition, and those who, along with her own incisive reading of history, intersectionality, and racial and social justice movements, formed the foundation for her third book 2018's Eloquent Rage, a groundbreaking manifesto that landed Cooper in the 2018 class of The Root 100. She earned the honor again for our 2020 class, as in the wake of our current civil rights movement, Eloquent Rage found its way onto the bestsellers list; a triumph Cooper says was understandably “bittersweet.”
“What does it mean to be a writer and an artist in the moment when you’re being called to testify on behalf of Black people who are being killed?” she asks during a conversation with The Root’s Editor-in-Chief Danielle Belton, and myself, The Glow Up’s Managing Editor Maiysha Kai, for the second episode of our new literary podcast, It’s Lit! Additionally, what does it mean to be a Black feminist in the midst of our current unrest?
“I think patriarchy is a system that deeply shapes Black women’s lives,” says Cooper. “I think that if we’re talking about freedom, that we’ve got to get rid of all the systems that beset us. So that means that I feel compelled to be a feminist...And so what I like to point people to is that there is a Black feminist tradition, a tradition of Black women who have written and said ‘here is how we think about gender as being relevant to our lives.’”
That tradition includes examining the role Black women have played in the formation of America’s democracy—which has never been more relevant as we not only fight for that democracy (and for it to extend to all of us equally) but face the possibility of a Black woman as second-in-command of the nation.
“America has this deep sense of Black women as people who come in to clean up the mess that they make. That has historically been our position. I call it us doing the custodial work of democracy,” Cooper maintains. Nevertheless, like us, she can’t help but maintain faith in “the thing that Black women typically do, which is that we clean up the mess and then we, we make some new possibilities.”
Hear this and more in Episode 2 of The Root Presents: It’s Lit!, featuring the always eloquent rage of Brittney Cooper, now live on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, Google Podcasts, Amazon, NPR One, TuneIn, and Radio Public.
A transcript of The Root Presents: It’s Lit, Ep. 2: Brittney Cooper is available below: