Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower

Beyonce Eloquent Rage
When Beyoncé tells all the fly chicks to get in formation, she is asking us to get our shit together so we can do the work that needs to be done. An the stakes are high as hell, because Black people are being killed. So, she reminds us, ‘Slay, trick. Or you get eliminated.‘ Now that might be a reference to some kind of dance competition. But it’s also a revision of ‘Never let them catch you slipping.’ Be the best. Be exceptional. Or get eliminated.

Part memoir, part lecture series, these essays cover some serious ground. Cooper tackles everything from domestic abuse to intersectional feminism to Respectability Politics and the racism within the War on Drugs – all informed by personal experience but transformed into well-researched lessons on deconstructive sociology. The title was born from her journey learning to channel rage at injustice into productive, academic pursuits and it perfectly captures the thematic undercurrent of collection.

Cooper is well-educated and well spoken, a self-designated know-it-all and high achiever. This is both a strength and a weakness in her narrative voice. She is obviously brilliant and her insights challenge the reader, forcing us to reconsider our own preconceptions. But at times this is preached with a level of certainty that sidesteps her own personal journey: the roundabout mental side-streets that she has taken to end up with her current understanding of the world. Much of the book showcases how her beliefs have evolved over time with little forgiveness for those who still exist in these planes of ignorance. I certainly had a lot to learn from these essays, so perhaps this criticism comes from my own internal defensiveness. Actually yea, that’s probably it. Still, Cooper herself says, “Intersectionality is not only not objective, it sneers at claims to objectivity, arguing that none of us is purely objective. We all come with a perspective and an agenda. We all have investments. We all have skin in the game.” So part of this learning process is for us as readers to acknowledge our own sets of privilege and being willing to listen to each other’s experiences and truths without judgement. Another part is taking a step back from our knee-jerk defensiveness and rather than saying to yourself “But I’m one of the good ones!” ask yourself, “What if I’m one of the bad ones?” and work from there.

Eloquent Rage is an excellent and necessary book that is somehow as funny and irreverent as it is solemn and deadly fucking serious. Highly recommend it to anyone interested in Black Feminism – in Cooper’s own words, “America needs a homegirl intervention in the worst way.” The text falls somewhere between Ta-Nehisi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power and Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist on the highbrow-to-accessible scale of discourse (both of which are obviously also fantastic and eye-opening in their own right). To wrap up, here are some gem pull-quotes:

All voters should have access to candidates that make them feel recognized, but there’s a problem when your notion of recognition is predicated on someone else’s exclusion. There’s a problem when visibility becomes a zero-sum game, where making one group’s demands visible make every other group’s political concerns obscure. Only white supremacy demands such exacting and fatalistic math.

 “The term ‘feminist killjoys’ is well-earned. Sometimes, in the bid for rightness, feminists and hyperwoke folks can take the joy out of everything. I actually think its irresponsible to wreck shop in people’s world without giving them the tools to rebuild. It’s fine to quote Audre Lorde* to people and tell them, ‘The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.‘ The harder work is helping people find better tools to work with. We have to smash the patriarchy, for sure. And we have to dismantle white supremacy, and homophobia, and a whole bunch of other terrible shit that makes life difficult for people. Rage is great at helping us to destroy things. That’s why people are so afraid of it.

 

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower
by Brittney Cooper
Published Feb 20 2018

// I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All quotes are taken from the advance reader’s copy and may not accurately reflect the final published version.

Want more Brittney Cooper? Check out her Salon.com essays, her personal site / twitter, the Crunk Feminist Collective she co-edits, or this interview on Popsugar she did to promote Eloquent Rage!

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Audre Lorde standing next to a chalkboard where she has written Women are powerful and dangerous
Audre Lorde, self described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”

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