Time tends to alter collective perspectives. And where it does not, it may be reasonable to question whatever conservative strands of thought have caused changing dynamics to retard.
In Anna Julia Cooper’s A Voice From The South, there is a patriotic sentiment that reminds me of my own times. In her first chapter, “Womanhood A Vital Element In The Regeneration And Progress Of A Race”, she discusses treatment of Women by various patriarchies. She speaks of what she refers to in this writing as “Oriental countries”(in her words this includes those of China and Islamic nations such as Turkey) as well as Europe and United States of America. She does not mention in these earlier pages any nations of Africa. Her thoughts of Europe and America(USA) are affectionate, they seem to find more in common with propaganda than intellectual rigor. Of course, academic USA has always had its profit motivations sacrificing its more noble potential for propaganda or even more grossly, marketing.
Let me sprinkle some quotes so that I am not mistaken for putting words in her writing.
Ms. Cooper states:
“Happiness,” says Madame de Stael, “consists not in perfections attained, but in a sense of progress, the result of our own endeavor under conspiring circumstances toward a goal which continually advances and broadens and deepens till it is swallowed up in the Infinite.” Such conditions in embryo are all that we claim for the land of the West. We have not yet reached our ideal in American civilization. The pessimists even declare that we are not marching in that direction. But there can be no doubt that here in America is the arena in which the next triumph of civilization is to be won; and here too we find promise abundant and possibilities infinite.
“A Voice From The South”, Anna Julia Cooper, pg. 12
Paranthetically, I really need you to understand that context which this was delivered and received. This was composed in 1886. We are discussing a scholar who only knows 31 years of US existence without US Black forced southern subordination prior to those national hostilities of 1910s and 1920s. Her only understanding of US as an embryo is while US Blacks are slaves and discriminated against in every position in lieu of wealth and pedigree.
She continues this line of thought with:
Respect for woman, the much lauded chivalry of the Middle Ages, meant what I fear it still means to some men in our own day–respect for the elect few among whom they expect to consort.
The idea of the radical amelioration of womankind, reverence for woman as woman regardless of rank, wealth, or culture, was to come from that rich and bounteous fountain from which flow all our liberal and universal ideas–the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
ibid., pg 14
Ms. Cooper’s is a dangerous analysis that attempts to frame one set of oppressions as better than another without considering whatever benefits each influence on that other. Islam nor Christianity lives historically in a vacuum unfiltered by that other set of beliefs. Islam is not limited to that Arabian Peninsula any more than Christianity was limited to Constantine’s reign. As “Mahomet” is inspired by stories visited upon of Jesus to speak into Quran an entire surah(chapter) devoted to Mary(not to mention another entire surah translated,”The Women”).
I do, however, want to applaud her feminism. While limited to a late 1800s Black Church interpretation of Christianity, there is a criticism I want to be associated with Black Media Trust. She does question purpose of male praise of Women at a cultural(systematic) level where it reinforces systemic oppressions of Women. This is something she does often throughout this piece that I simply adore her for.
Ultimately, my concern with her religiosity here is its lack of research and appreciation for other religions solely because they are not Whyte European religions. This writing is read by Ms. Cooper in front of a “convocation of colored clergy of the Protestant Episcopal Church at Washington, D.C.” according to a footnote. David Walker’s Appeal is also written as from a heavily religious centered perspective. I am reminded of when Dr. John Henrik Clarke in “Who Betrayed The African World Revolution?” discusses not being able to discuss socialism in anti-religious terms with Black Church goers. If I am being harsh here, it is not because of Ms. Cooper’s religious tone, it is because her tone is dripping with Whyte Supremacist notions hidden by a group think centered processing of religion.
This chapter, once again, is addressing Washington D.C. clergy at that end of 19th Century USA. You as a well-researched reader should automatically think Talented Tenth level patronizing negroes and pandering to Whytes. No disrespect to this grand Woman, but she definitely does not disappoint in either of those departments. However, for those of us who live by a critical thinking based on Black Media Trust, she does leave even us a few redeemable gems like that one I discussed above.
One of such snippets from this writing I am quoting here:
Stranger and more significant than all, the leading men of this race (I do not mean demagogues and politicians, but men of intellect, heart, and race devotion, men to whom the elevation of their people means more than personal ambition and sordid gain–and the men of that stamp have not all died yet)
ibid., pg 35
Tasty, right? I think it important to reflect that even over 130 years ago, US Black politicians and leaders had to be called out for exploiting obligations of fictive kinship.