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An ‘unapologetic’ black feminist on accelerating the pace of change

Transcript

Judy Woodruff: Questions of race and power are obviously not limited to the movies.

In tonight's Brief But Spectacular, we hear from cultural theorist, author and professor Brittney Cooper. She calls on us to look at the past during this Black History Month and recognize change shouldn't always be gradual.

Cooper recently came out with a new book, "Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower."

Brittney Cooper: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower: I'm a black feminist, capital B, capital F. I'm unapologetically black, and I'm unapologetically a feminist.

And, look, depending on what circles you're in, it's hard to be both those things at the same time. But I think that being both those things is the thing that will save us.

If time had a race, it would be white. White people feel like they own time and control history. And there's a way that, even if you go back to the early Western philosophers that everybody loved -- my least favorite is Georg Hegel, who said, you know, Africa is no historic part of the world.

So, in the 1700s and 1800s, various groups of white European men got together and just decided that Africa didn't matter in the span of world history. I mean, talk about having some cojones.

Time has a history, and so do black people. And part of the reason that we have, for instance, Black History Month in this country is because we literally have to make the argument that black people have actually done things that are significant to the creation of the nation-state.

And it turns out if we didn't have things like Black History Month, apparently, people wouldn't believe that black people were actually significant historical actors.

We keep on relitigating basically the 1860s in this country. We have racial animus the likes of which we have not seen in my lifetime, a resurgence of law enforcement engaging black folks in ways that are often deadly and often with impunity.

White people dictate the pace of social inclusion. And they do so by saying, we will get there. Why are you trying to push us so fast?

That kind of pushing back the clock, which is a phrase that we use all the time, is a way in which those in power like to say to those of us who don't have power, we're going to determine not only what you get, but when you get it.

And that is the critical difference between young activists who are in the streets saying, change it now, change it today, we don't want your gradualism. They remind me of the debates over slavery in this country and ending slavery. In the 1800s, there were gradualists who said, we want to end slavery, but we want to do it in steps. So, we will free you, but, you know, can you work 10 years? Can we sort of gradually phase you out of slavery?

And there were others who said, we're going to pass this amendment and, at that moment, you will be free.

And for those of us who continue to struggle with a white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal power structure, immediate freedom is what we want. Gradualism doesn't serve us.

There is a truth-telling that happens at that nexus of blackness and feminism, at that space of having to work twice as hard to get half as far, which is a black proverb, and at that space of knowing that, so often, you can be the dopest chick in the room, and they will give it to the mediocre white man in the room.

Putting those things together gives you a clarity and a vision about where we can go if we stop oppressing black folks and women and gender non-conforming folk.

And, so, black feminism taught me that, and I think it can teach you that, too.

I'm Brittney Cooper, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on my eloquent rage.

Judy Woodruff: And you can watch additional Brief But Spectacular episodes on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

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