On the evening of the day we recognize and celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, James Madison University welcomed Dr. Brittney Cooper to speak. As a Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana Studies professor at Rutgers University, Dr. Cooper was quite different from past guests of honor. Her message was deeply rooted in the uncomfortable facts; she refused to be confined by “political correctness” and to construct a pretty picture for the minimal work of universities to increase their diversity.
She also recognized the faults and humanness of our “heroes”. As much as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did for blacks, his fight was catered more to men. Despite his concern and efforts towards racial equality, he chose the aspect of his identity that would get him further. And at a more relatable level, she criticized universities for “trying”, but not actually accomplishing anything. Hosting events like this are nice, but, in her words, “this can’t be the only pop of color.” Our professors cannot continuously teach the concept of intersectionality without actually understanding what it is and means. Our society has a tendency to half-ass everything; it’s the quality of doing just enough to say, “We tried,” without dismantling relationships with white, rich sponsors.
Dr. Cooper also spoke to the blatant disregard of the black woman in society. It is no secret that at the foundation of almost everything lies a black woman’s blood, sweat, and tears. In her life, she has experienced the importance and impact their presence. Her words crafted the understood, yet overlooked identity and complex of those individuals at the core of our world: the superhero. Her message not only emphasized the strength of her spine in adopting this mentality and carrying the future of her students, but recognized how her powers were crafted by the superwomen before her.
From the moment she began speaking, the atmosphere of the auditorium was instantly, and undeniably, authentic. The content of her words made it impossible to exist in the room without expressing your true self. Between her humor (that was only funny if you agreed and felt that it didn’t apply to you) and her unwillingness to dismiss the problematic experiences of minorities at the hands of hegemonic power, there was little room to hide. And believe me… those who weren’t clapping or smiling, made their discomfort quite obvious.
Let me be clear, though. If there was anyone offended by her message, they probably should have been.
Dr. Cooper’s message only stung those it applied to.
Thank you, Dr. Brittney Cooper, for being unapologetic about your blackness, your womanhood, and for refusing to abandon your truth for the sake of anyone else. The world needs more people like you.