Brittney Cooper’s Eloquent Rage
She’s Brought Some Joy Inside Our Tears
I have been listening to Brittney Cooper read her book, Eloquent Rage, for weeks now. I picked up momentum during Black History Month and thought that since 2020 is a leap year when we get this beautiful 2/29 bridge into Women’s History Month, I would just keep it going. Her voice was with me on a bunch of trips, professional development zones, long waits, and social distancing. There were times when I actually had to press pause because her words would expose wounds that I had buried deep under years of emotional band-aids and hydrogen peroxide. This is an appreciation of the pauses.
Whenever I know I have to deal with those pain points, I do a few things for myself. First, I add it to my therapy list. Yup, I go to therapy. Dr. Cooper would approve and so would my mom. Second, I try to remember what my mom told me about pain. She always had such strong words for me to use as antiseptic – balm of a believer in Blackness. My mother loved Black cultures from the stews of Haiti to the rainy jazz festivals of Montreal. She counted on it to heal so many broken places. And third, I add music and art. Over the past few weeks, I have needed a lot of that. Sometimes I get lost in Reyna Noriega’s work and dream of walking through a gallery of her portraits. Sometimes, I blast Tina Turner and pretend I have her legs (I don’t…at all…but it’s nice to pretend). This weekend it was Stevie Wonder’s magnificent 1976 gift to the people Songs In The Key of Life. Turns out it was perfect for my breaks from Brittney’s breaking it all down.
Like SITKL, Eloquent Rage is a compilation of tender moments, personal experiences, and the lucid absolute rejection of oppression right along with any neat or tidy explication of how to defeat it. Cooper’s account of the literal death defying feats that led her mother to have her and raise her so well are a familiar tone of recognition. Black mothers’ resilience is indeed the stuff of legend but it is also this way because we have endured so many years of myth making about home structures and the demise of the Black community being about who had a baby when and how. Cooper offered me the chance to celebrate my own single mother, my own not-supposed-to-be-here-ness, and yes, resilience while also acknowledging that the notion of this as exceptional is tired and maybe even a little insulting.
At every turn of her voice expressing a bold truth like how many times she had to endure the internal homegrown politics of hair and body and beauty clapping against smarts and depth and commitment, I gulped down my own resentments. It was hard to know that someone so talented and beautiful had also felt erasure and felt like she was not enough. I thought of all the parts I didn’t try out for when I wanted to be part of the high school theater geek squad. I thought of all the jobs I decided I wasn’t right for because my nose was too wide and I hadn’t lost enough weight yet. I thought of every person who had forgotten they had met me before because I wasn’t my modelesque blonde bombshell office mate they all wanted to work with. I thought of everyone who told me how pretty I was when I dyed my hair blonde and got it blown out on the regular after an ugly divorce left me feeling permanently de-romanced. I thought of all the things I did to try to deal with the pain of being Black and woman in so many spaces where that means nothingness. Brittney Cooper recognizes this pain and lifts up love for us. It is a much needed love that grows forth from the powerful declaration that “One of feminism’s biggest failures is its failure to insist that feminism is, first and foremost, about truly, deeply, and unapologetically loving women.” Cooper loves us with that Stevie Wonder “love is in need of love today” love that she has sent in right away for the Black feminists out here. And guess what? I tried a lot of awaying with this need for love, too and I couldn’t. It is indeed a crane in the feminist sky.
Eloquent Rage doesn’t spare any of our feelings and it does not do band-aid/peroxide healing. This book pulls forward the tears of political and religious hope gone unfulfilled right along with ivory tower dreams that still linger in my fears about career and achievement. Cooper forced me to contend with the fact that the so-called hood does not need me to liberate it and no matter how impressed I am with my intellectual pursuits, my exceptionalism is part fiction. That is to say it was not my imagination that lots of Black kids who went to school with me were smart as hell. Smart enough to get PhDs, smart enough to “make it” and not only did many of us not make it; many of us think we did and didn’t. I may not be as crunk as Professor Brittney, but hip hop raised me as well and the truth of Dead Prez’s “don’t think these record deals gon feed yo seeds and pay yo bills” rang in my ears as I read her recognitions that power and economic might are not guaranteed by our accomplishments nor will they spring forward from our hard work and dedication. From God’s favor to the Talented Tenth, we have tried to explain any progress we make. I have tried to reach some sense of reconciliation about my responsibility to Black futures. Earning degrees, buying homes, loving my body’s curves, rolls and folds, teaching my children to lift every voice and sing – I have done all of this in the face of intense loss, degradation, and silencing. Cooper helped me to recognize that these things may not save the world but it is ok for me to rejoice in the way they allowed me to “snatch dignity from the jaws of power and come out standing.”
So while I listened intently to her super sharp analysis of the state of Black womxn union and took seriously the calls to face some systemic oppression music, I also took seriously her delight in grown woman Beyoncé, awkward talks with grandmothers about getting some, homegirl side eye checks, and belly laughter. I listened to Eloquent Rage as joy inside our tears. I decided that if Brittney could make something so beautiful from all this and Stevie could decide to go into the studio instead of writing off our society and give us Songs In The Key of Life, then I could at least listen, feel all the feelings and take in the benedictions of joy. May we be fully in tune with our lives. May we all be “never scared.” And may all our rage be eloquent.