BY BEATA GARRET ’20
“Friendships with Black girls have always saved my life,” Brittney Cooper said, reading an excerpt from her 2018 book, “Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower.” Cooper delivered her BOOM! conference keynote on April 3, and is a writer, public speaker and professor at Rutgers University. Her website describes her as a “next generation Black intellectual” who believes that Black feminism can change the world for the better. Her talk demonstrated how communities, especially educational institutions can be improved through Black feminism. In line with her book, “Black” will be capitalized in this article to describe people of the African diaspora who understand themselves as sharing an ethnic or racialized identity on par with other peoples and nationalities.
After reading the excerpt from her book, Cooper told the Chapin audience that “it is not an academic tome” but a celebration of all Black feminists and friends who helped her become a Black feminist. “Fetishization of white men’s intellectual production persists,” said Cooper. “We use sophisticated academic language to cover our lack of effort.” She noted that academic spaces are still white-dominated, and that we must undo the privileges that still exist within our schools, especially those held by white feminists.
“The callout of white feminism and performative ‘wokeness’ was merciless and necessary, and especially relevant to our Mount Holyoke campus,” said Ren Dinh ’19. “As Brittney pointed out, the people who are doing diversity work on campuses are all people of color, because they do not have the privilege to choose whether they want to be involved in social justice or not.”
“I really enjoyed her talk and wish that more people had been able to come,” said Verity O’Connell ’20. Like Dinh, O’Connell felt moved by “talking about performative wokeness because there’s a lot of that on this campus.”
“She offered practical ways for addressing racism among peers and with professors and institutions,” said Sage Mahannah ’20. “Her talk also got me excited for Mount Holyoke’s first chief diversity officer Kijua Sander-McMurty’s presence on campus. Brittney seemed to genuinely believe Kijua would make a difference, so long as we make sure the administration gives her the power to do so.”
“Too often Black women are told that the problem of patriarchy is a distraction from combatting white supremacy,” said Cooper. Black women are expected to be submissive to “a structure that hates Black women and girls” but won’t let them talk about it. Often, this silencing by Black men and white feminists can lead to rage. “Black women have the right to our rage, hence the title of my book,” said Cooper. “I’m angry as hell and unapologetic about it.” The title of Cooper’s book was also inspired by a student who said that her lectures were powerful because “‘it was the most eloquent rage’” she had ever heard.
Cooper then addressed what to do with this rage. First, she said to “recognize we have the right [to rage].” Cooper described the detrimental costs of repressed rage on one’s health, social ability and spirituality. Instead of suppressing rage, she wants to “use its energy to build a world [she] wants to see.” To do so, she advocated that “rage should be clear about what you want to change.” For college students in particular, she advised that they “keep pushing, make demands, have things connected to those demands and create accountability structures,” while also taking care of themselves first.
The theme of self-care and community building that Cooper brought to her talk is central to her worldview and activism. In an interview with Bitch Media’s Evette Dionne, Cooper said, “Maybe you can’t change anything else, but you can make the choice every day to love yourself. There’s something deeply revolutionary about that.”