Tutor profile: Lisa A.
Write a short response comparing and contrasting Anna Julia Cooper and Frances E.W. Harper's approaches to black American activism.
Throughout American history, black people have lived a hyphenated existence regarding their identity: being “African-American” emphasizes the split between what it means to be black and what it means to be American. Writers Anna Julia Cooper, who was born into slavery, and Frances E.W. Harper, who was born into a freed family within a slave state, both complicate not just being African-American but also what it means to be an African-American woman. Cooper expands on this idea in “Womanhood A Vital Element in the Regeneration and Progress of a Race”in 1892, while Harper does the same in “Women’s Political Future” in 1893. The ways in which Anna Julia Cooper and Frances E.W. Harper substantiate what black American womanhood means vary, but both women have a consistent objective: counteracting societal expectations of women and liberating women of color through suffrage. In Anna Julia Cooper’s “Womanhood A Vital Element in the Regeneration and Progress of a Race,” Cooper first universalizes her language to appeal to oppressed women in a global sense. In order to do this, she speaks of institutionalized systems of oppression, such as Christianity and feudalism which she finds inherently sexist. That is how she opens her essay, stating, “The two sources from which, perhaps, modern civilization has derived its noble and ennobling ideal of women are Christianity and the Feudal System” (Cooper 619). She then provides examples of different women under oppressive practices that immobilize them physically, politically, or both: she references Chinese women and the practice of footbinding, to Muhammad making “no account of woman whatever in his polity” (619-620). Cooper uses her universal approach to segue into a more specific conversation regarding American racist, patriarchal systems that oppress black women. She emphasizes the importance of being productive in black retrospection and how in a post-slavery society, black people, especially women, are still marginalized, have no voice, and remain disenfranchised. Regarding productive black retrospection, Cooper argues all American people could learn from historical black oppression. She states, “We look back, not to become inflated with conceit because of the depths from which we have arisen, but that we may learn wisdom from experience. We look within that we may gather together….and [with] improved and more practical methods, address ourselves to the task before us” (626) Here Cooper asserts that America historically failed black men and women, and that something can be found through understanding the systems implemented in the country to avoid serially failing these people. Cooper then tries to address where to start in reconstructing and building up the African-American community. She sees black women as the genesis for black re-centering; she argues, “The regeneration….of the race….and starting point of its progress upward, must be the black woman” (626). This ties into her idea that there’s an interconnectedness between race, gender, and national progress; she asserts that if one holds back one of these, none of these can ultimately progress. The most marginalized citizen of the United States is inferior regarding the standard privileged voice of the nation. White males had the most political power, therefore Cooper insists on firstly giving political power to black women, the counterpart to the privileged class in America. Frances E.W. Harper’s argument about womanhood and the importance of suffrage slightly differs from Cooper’s discourse. In Harper’s “Women’s Political Future,” Harper centers her argument around a general sense of womanhood, their marginalization a given concept that need not be explained to the same extent Cooper explains it. Women playing an essential role in the development of America is just as poignant as a discussion as it was for Cooper, nonetheless. Harper states, “The world has need of all the spiritual aid that woman can give for the social advancement and moral development of the human race” (Harper 470). Harper emphasizes the importance of all women being included in having a political voice, as Americans must “demand justice, simple justice, as the right of every race” (472). What exactly justice entails is about inclusivity of women and black people being able to vote; Harper describes better voters as varied voters, since the only voters are mostly white men. She asserts, “What we need to-day is not simply more voters, but better voters” (470). Cooper and Harper both fought for the voices of black women to be heard, and as two black, highly intellectual and spiritual women, they did not lose their fight. For decades to come their works would be circulated and receive national traction. Though both women had slightly differing rhetoric, both weaponized their intellectualism to accentuate political, social, and national change.
Discuss a novel and juxtapose it in a contemporary context.
Black Bodies, Not Black People: The Threat Dressed in New Clothes in Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. HarperCollins, 2017. 444 pages. Ask any white reader to hand you a contemporary young adult novel about racism, and they’ll emphatically hand you a copy of Angie Thomas’ The Hate You Give and rave about it as if she were the anti-racist, black second coming of Christ. It is the perfect touchstone text for those new to the Woke Lifestyle; it is a tragic black bildungsroman following a teenage girl, Starr, who navigates through protest the murder of her friend, Khalil, at the hands of the police. She comes to terms with the systemic brutalization of black people in America and ends up hopeful for a future where she does not have to worry about becoming a statistic, headline, or hashtag. Starr’s journey resembles the only one about violence against black people that white Americans are ready for, even three years after the novel’s initial release. Though racial violence against black people continues, those murdered remain marginalized, maybe even more so, in death, when tied to modern day activist causes. The Hate U Give aids us in understanding how that works though its narrative using Starr’s activism. The politics of a black person in America are clear as day according to The Hate U Give. If black people are not commodified into “bodies”, then they are disposable. Thomas commodifies Khalil into this symbol that represents police brutality against black people. As the narrative pulls Khalil’s memory along, he also becomes Starr’s motivation for her activism. Though Starr’s grief and growth is concrete, Khalil as a person Starr was close to becomes abstracted by her activism. Thomas only describes Khalil as a person, or as a character, in two instances: once, before a cop murders him, and lastly, in one childhood memory Starr has of him. In those in-between narrative spaces, Khalil is part of a movement: a tragedy to be reacted upon, a vessel through which Starr changes and matures into a more racially aware individual. Once he is done filling this narrative purpose for Starr, the one in which she becomes more “woke,” Thomas disposes of him. Because of this framework in which we view Khalil, I can say The Hate U Give is not about him at all but about Starr instead. It seems like building this narrative around Starr as the protagonist is completely intentional, but I would say this choice is dangerous in using black brutalization as a plot device where Khalil could have very well been a dimensional character. I could have felt the loss of him without needing Starr’s understandable, reactionary response to feel that way. The loss of Khalil as a person is the greatest loss of this text and for all the wrong reasons. We scroll through videos of black people being murdered online all the time. Their last moments are cropped in the portrait mode, snowy quality footage of a smartphone. Their names become a hashtag – an electric blue blur; their first and last names are squished into one un-spaced line. If they’re lucky, their hashtag becomes a protest soundbite: “Justice for ____” or something else rally-like. Even they become a sort of fiction or a body thrown around for a story, like Khalil. The Hate U Give embodies all that white America can digest. At least a fraction of its success can attest to how narratively pliable a black boy becomes when he dies.
Write a short reading reflection on a major figurehead during the Harlem Renaissance.
Zora Neale Hurston was the member of the Harlem Renaissance family who crashed the barbeque; she wasn’t invited, but here she was. She was the bloom that didn’t wait for the season, believing wholeheartedly in her message: that is exactly why she is one of America’s greatest influential writers of the 20th century and a great inspiration to me. One cannot talk about Hurston without talking about her magnum opus, Their Eyes Were Watching God. To talk about how this work reshaped art in African-American culture, it is imperative to first discuss the historical context in which Hurston published this work, in the midst of the 1930s. Alain LeRoy Locke coined the name for a black intellectualist movement in 1920s America, which we now know as the Harlem Renaissance. This movement ended in the late 1930s, though even that ending is disputed amongst black historians. Otherwise known as the “New Negro Movement,” the movement revolved around counteracting negative stereotypes of black people through race consciousness and mass producing “intellectual” art to uphold the ideal standard for “black intellectualism.” He essentially wanted to rebrand blackness in the eyes of racists throughout America, who equated “blackness” with “ignorance.” It is critical to understand what exactly the “New Negro” meant varied, as “black success” is a subjective matter that should not paint a monolithic idea of the civilized, perspicacious black American. This is where Zora Neale Hurston comes in ‒ she challenged this notion of alienating blackness from facets of life that touched on “less” intellectual aspects of being black. For example, in Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston forces her audience to intellectualize the dialects her black characters use. These dialects harken back to the traditional oration Locke would argue are a part of the “Old Negro,” something no other black artist would dare to do. In some ways, segregating the “Old Negro” from the “New Negro” sounds like renovating a people by disembodying themselves from their roots. This dichotomy makes Locke’s idea seem inherently anti-black and reminiscent of the politics that sparked the movement, which is exactly what Hurston wanted to counteract. Where did Locke create this dichotomy? In modernist America, high and low art were categorized by essentially white versus black art (black art dominated blues and jazz musically, which was looked down upon, and visual African art was categorized as “primitive” art). It seems like categorizing the New Negro as separate from the Old Negro reflects these ideals, and Hurston was absolutely in tune with that conclusion. Indisputable aspects of black identity that existed at the time period, such as dialect, was part of the Old Negro. Though Alan Locke in “The New Negro” tries to dismantle the monolithic portrayal of the Old Negro being merely “more myth than man,” he rejects some notions of black people that were simply a part of mundane life depending on class and location. Locke, by dismissing Hurston’s use of dialect as a minstrel show counteracting black agency in how black people are portrayed in America, fed into the racism he wanted to oppose (Locke 1). Unfortunately, Hurston’s championing of black dialect was met with contempt by people who aligned their beliefs with Locke. Nonetheless, Hurston’s drive against the Harlem Renaissance's status quo is an admirable example of her self-advocacy and devotion to her community, and millions of readers are grateful for her work to this day. References Locke, Alain. (1925). The New Negro. http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/maai3/migrations/text8/lockenewnegro.pdf
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