A lineage of black female scholars

Black women's contributions continue to be rendered invisible. Brittney Cooper offers a critical intervention.

As a student in academic theology I quickly learned the significance of intellectual lineage. People whose theology was shaped by Karl Barth called themselves “Barthians.” Those who organized their theological or political commitments around the work of Michel Foucault were known as “Foucauldians.” I wasn’t in graduate school more than a year before I had been exposed to several different readings—and rereadings and readings of the rereadings—of some aspect of “Du Boisian” thought or politics. While my courses may have mentioned or given a reading to a woman of color, they were never framed around the theoretical assumptions or contributions of black women. There was no lineage related to black women.

The question of black women’s representation in classrooms, scholarship, and society is not new. What Brittney Cooper offers so brilliantly is a critical intervention in a time when black women’s contributions to American life continue to be rendered invisible or misrepresented. Immersing readers into the intellectual thought of black women activists such as Mary Church Terrell, Pauli Murray, and Toni Cade Bambara, Cooper presses us past the question of representation into an understanding of the forces and patterns that diminish the significance of marginalized people.

Cooper frames her book with a “Cooperian” approach, building upon the theory and practice of another Cooper, Anna Julia Cooper, an early 20th century black scholar and activist. Brittney Cooper argues that a critical difference between the approach of A. J. Cooper and that of her more celebrated contemporary W. E. B. Du Bois is in how they balance the competing identities of race, gender, and class. “In [A. J.] Cooper’s account of racial identity, a Black female experience of embodiment brought these competing national identities into generative tension, whereas in Du Bois’s account, competing identities threatened to dismember the Black self.” Brittany Cooper’s use of A. J. Cooper highlights a theme that resounds throughout the text: black women thinkers navigated multiple points of marginalization.