In the past few years, I’ve been reading a lot of books about race, and something I’ve noticed is that, for me, it’s usually the books that aren’t aimed at white audiences that are the most powerful. I enjoyed So You Want to Talk About Race (which isn’t necessarily written for white people, but certainly directly engages a white audience). Last year I read Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, which I found smart, insightful, and moving, but not necessarily earth-shattering. Whenever I find myself reading a book that I feel wasn’t written for me–not for my benefit, not to help deepen my understanding of race and racism–I take it for the extraordinary gift it is.
Eloquent Rage is a book like that. I am a white woman, and this didn’t feel like a book for me, but like a book that I absolutely needed to read. It’s a shut-up-and-listen kind of book. Cooper centers black womanhood in a way that gives the book tremendous power. These essays opened up news ways of thinking for me, especially about intersectional feminism.
Cooper writes beautifully about the uses of rage and anger, and I could feel her rage pulsing through the book. It was funny and conversational at times, and even, occasionally, lighthearted. I was captivated by her cultural and historical analysis, her black feminist philosophy, and by the personal stories that anchored the book. But what made these essays so powerful was the anger running through them. In these pages, Cooper does exactly what she’s writing about: she uses eloquent rage to startling, lasting effect. She uses it to tell truths, to push back against patriarchy and white supremacy, to illuminate pain that is sometimes hidden to those not experiencing it. This book felt alive, vital, urgent, and I think that had to do with how angry it was.
My favorite essays were the ones in which Cooper looks at the intimate lives of black women. She writes about sexuality and spirituality and friendship and romantic relationships, and the ways that sexism and racism have been devastating to black women in all of those realms. She writes about the ways that black men have not always stood up for black women, and explores this in both broad terms and also on a deeply personal level.
I also appreciated her analysis of white women, and of all the ways in which white women are so often complicit in upholding white supremacy and patriarchy. She’s not pulling any punches here. If you are a white woman, reading this book will most likely make you feel uncomfortable, and that is just right. She writes about the ways she’s personally been betrayed by white women, and by white women’s larger betrayal–in our continued refusal to truly center black women and women of color in feminist thinking. If you’re a white woman committed to racial justice, or if you consider yourself a feminist, this book is a must read.
Something else Cooper does extraordinarily well is hold space for love, joy, and connection. Many of these essays revolve around her deep friendships with black women, and about the importance, for feminist, of truly loving women. She applies the same careful analysis to her experience of black female connectedness as she does to toxic masculinity, the sexism of black men, and the racism of white women (among many other things). This made the book feel whole. It’s full of eloquent rage and powerful anger, but it’s also a celebration of black womanhood and girlhood.
I listened to the audiobook, which was fantastic. Cooper’s narration is fast, sometimes almost breathless. It felt very intimate–her voice lent weight and urgency to the already urgent subject matter. At times, the essays got a bit circuitous, and I found myself losing the thread of her argument in the midst of her fast, constantly moving narration. But I always found it again, and it was absolutely worth it to listen to her read.