The first paragraph of Brittney Cooper’s Eloquent Rage lets us know she’s not playing with or scared of you motherfuckers:
This is a book by a grown-ass women written for other grown-ass women. This is a book for women who expect to be taken seriously and for men who take grown women seriously. This is a book or women who know shit is fucked up. These women want to change things but don’t know where to begin.
The power and the urgency behind those words reminded me of the first time I met Brittney. In 2015, we were part of a panel at Harvard on race and the media (Panama Jackson and Kimberly Foster from For Harriet were also there). Within the first five minutes of the conversation, I wanted to get up and take a seat in the audience. That’s how long it took for me to realize that everything I planned to say and every point I’d try to make, Brittney could say better and more powerfully, and somehow more succinctly and more descriptively.
I was spellbound and, to be honest, a little shook. I’d never seen someone meld the academic and the colloquial together so seamlessly while speaking with such a stream of consciousness fury and verve. It felt like watching the world’s best Baptist preacher but with sermons about intersectionality and Beyoncé instead of Ecclesiastes.
I shared this memory with her and the audience during our talk at Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C., Wednesday evening and asked where she gets that power. She laughed and claimed that she had no idea what I was talking about. And then, five minutes later, after she delivered an impassioned and witty and funny and heavy articulation of her journey to accept and channel the same rage she’d been loath to embrace, I turned to the audience and said, “See what I mean?”
Of course, Eloquent Rage is a book about feminism. Its subtitle reads, A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower. It is also a book about the Williams sisters, Howard University, Judy Blume books, white tears and dozens more topics she weaves through while explaining how and why she is who she is. Brittney Cooper is Brittney Cooper because she has to be. That we also need her to be matters, too, but not as much.
Out of those dozens of themes and topics, two had a particular resonance with me. The book’s fourth chapter, “The Smartest Man I Never Knew,” excavates her relationship with her father, who led a remarkably full and remarkably tragic life. In attempting to grapple with how this man could be so abusive to her mother (and such a deadbeat to Brittney), yet so worldly and intellectually curious and so empathetic to everyone except the people who most needed him to be, Brittney intersects his story with what she now understands about toxic masculinity—specifically how racism and capitalism and sexism and America converge to damage black men.
But while she explains why her dad and many, many, many others like him came to be the way they are, she doesn’t excuse their behavior and the effect it has on the women (and men) in their lives. Yet throughout that refusal to excuse their behavior, she stops short of damning and discarding. And as someone who’s also writing a book—a book that prominently features and attempts to understand my dad—parts of this chapter felt like they were sitting directly on my chest.
Brittney also repeatedly reflects on and nods to the importance and the power of friendships with other black women. In an excerpt published by Cosmopolitan two weeks ago, she connects this to her feelings about Beyoncé and her place in modern feminism.
From “Why Feminism Needed Beyonce”:
Friendships with black girls have always saved my life. I give the side eye to any black woman who doesn’t have other black women friends, to any woman who is prone to talk about how she relates better to men than to women, to anyone who goes on and on about how she “doesn’t trust females.” If you say fuck the patriarchy but you don’t ride for other women, then it might be more true that the patriarchy has fucked you, seducing you with the belief that men care more about your well-being than women do.
It isn’t true.
I came up in an era when black girls loudly proclaimed that they didn’t have friends. They had associates. It has always rung false to me, maybe because the introverted parts of me had absolutely no interest in spending sustained time fake-grinning at people with whom I couldn’t be my whole self. I wanted friends to snicker, giggle, and pass notes with, to share secrets with. I wanted people who would have my back. I worry about a world in which black girls on their way to becoming women are taught to distrust women. We wonder why young men hate women and, sometimes, the sad truth is that their mamas and aunts and sisters act as an arm of the patriarchy by parroting the refrain that “girls simply can’t be trusted.”
The book is littered with references to friends pulling her aside and pulling her card and setting her straight as well as celebrating and encouraging and supporting and amplifying her, and her doing the same for them. Brittney makes clear that the black women who are her friends are as vital to her as plasma.
And, well, she is not alone.