T
his is a book by a grown-ass woman written for other grown-ass women,”
Brittney Cooper, aka Professor Crunk, writes at the beginning of her new
book Eloquent Rage. “This is a book for women who expect to be
taken seriously and for men who take grown women seriously. This is a book
for women who know shit is fucked up. These women want to change things but
don’t know where to begin.”

More specifically, Eloquent Rage is a critical memoir situated in
the politics of America’s deeply problematic relationship with gender,
race, and violence. Cooper explores how being a “fat, Black, and Southern”
woman informs not just her own identity but the cultural definitions of
these identities: “woman,” “black,” “southern,” “feminist.” It’s also a
love letter to every woman whose existence has been stifled, stolen, or
straight-up murdered because she had the audacity to be fat or smart or
feminist or angry.

Black women exist in these intersecting identities of gender, race, and
class in a way that white women do not. “This is not mere propaganda,”
Cooper explains in the opening chapter of Eloquent Rage, “The
Problem With Sass.” “There is no other group, save Indigenous women, that
knows and understands more fully the soul of the American body politic than
black women whose reproductive and social labor has made the world what it
is. Black women know what it means to love ourselves in a world that hates
us.”

Consider Cooper’s anecdote about a childhood pool party with her white
friends. Having recently had her hair washed, permed, and braided, Cooper
felt she had to remain more of a spectator than a participant in order to
protect her hair from the damaging effects of water and chlorine. Staying
close to the edge of the pool, Cooper overheard two of the mothers
whispering about not understanding why hair was such a serious issue: “It’s
just hair. Kids should be kids.” <Insert side-eye emoji> Cooper’s own
mother wasn’t in attendance at the pool party because she was a single
working mom-and now a mom who was going to spend her Friday night after a
long week redoing her daughter’s hair. Cooper sees this as a metaphor for
the disconnect between black and white women.

“This is not a one-comb-fits-all nation,” Cooper quips as she dives into
the politics of black women’s hair and American beauty standards. “The
ability to have a world centered on the prerogatives of white femininity is
so far from the truths of so many Black girls’ lives.” Cooper’s mother’s
worries about her daughter’s hair go beyond the superficiality of fashion
and presentation. The norm in America is whiteness, and this extends to
hair salons, products, and styles. Black girls and women don’t have the
luxury of walking into any given beauty salon, in any given neighborhood,
and knowing there will be someone equipped to style their hair. Black girls
and women live in a world where they have to spend a great deal of time and
money either modifying their hair to be more like their white peers or at
least keeping it clean and kept, as Cooper’s mom aimed to do.

In Eloquent Rage, Cooper describes the long process that brought
her to feminism and her commitment to telling the truth about black girls’
lives. Born on the cusp of Generation X/Y, Cooper came up with the
Baby-Sitters Club, the birth of the Internet, and, most importantly,
hip-hop’s emergence into mainstream culture. She earned a PhD from Emory
University, where her research focused on the contributions of black women
to America’s race dialogues; she now teaches at Rutgers. In 2010 she
cofounded the Crunk Feminist Collective. (It recently published its own
collection of essays.) The group was founded with the mission “to create a
space of support and camaraderie for hip hop generation feminists of color,
queer and straight, in the academy and without, by building a rhetorical
community, in which we can discuss our ideas, express our crunk feminist
selves.” The website challenges the problematic pop culture we ingest while
also recognizing the potential it holds for revolution.

Articulating the complicated relationship of feminism, pop culture, and
patriarchy is central to Cooper’s work, but in Eloquent Rage she
offers a foundation each of us can build upon: “Feminism is, first and
foremost, about truly, deeply, and unapologetically loving women. My job as
a Black feminist is to love Black women and girls. Period.” Cooper credits
Beyoncé as her feminist muse. “Some of my best academic theorization around
feminism has coming from pondering what kind of space Bey might be making
for the particular ways in which Black women can be and lead,” she writes.

Black-girl magic is at an all-time high right now, and in an e-mail
interview, Cooper writes that she “stans” for Ava DuVernay, whose upcoming
remake of A Wrinkle in Time casts a young black girl in the
formerly white lead role. She’s also excited about the resurgence of women
in hip-hop. “I came of age in the 90s,” Cooper writes, “and so the
mid-aughts were such a drag until Nicki. But now we have Cardi and Dreezy
and Princess Nokia, and a range of others.” Her dream Crunk Feminist
Festival lineup includes MC Lyte, Mia X, Lauryn Hill, and, of course,
Beyoncé.

Cooper’s work has inspired a generation of young black feminists, and she
in turn has been inspired by them. “Black feminist bloggers [are]
cultivating the internet as a woke political space that was the necessary
antecedent to the rise of movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo,”
she writes over e-mail. “So much of the work of justice happening now—Black
feminists built this house.”   v