The National Association of Colored Women and the Creation of the Black Public Sphere
This chapter expands the intellectual geography mapped in Beyond Respectability by examining the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) as a site of Black female knowledge production. In particular, this chapter uses the work of Fannie Barrier Williams, a Chicago based clubwoman, to map many of the key intellectual interventions of the NACW as a school of social thought. Drawing on Williams’ theorization of what she calls organized anxiety, Brittney Cooper takes up and critically examines her claim that the NACW was responsible for creating “race public opinion” and, by extension, giving shape and form to an emergent Black public sphere. As a concept, organized anxiety politicizes the emotional lives of Black women and constitutes one more iteration of the ways that race women invoked embodied discourse in their public intellectual work. The chapter also examines Williams’s invocation of a discourse the author terms American peculiarity, a kind of oppositional discourse challenging claims of American exceptionalism. Finally, the chapter interrogates her concept of racial sociality, a sophisticated way to think about ideas of racial unity and social connections between African Americans of different geographic and class backgrounds. Williams was a formidable political theorist, who, through her work in the NACW, introduced a rich conceptual milieu through which to think about Black politics, Black organizations, and gender politics in the late nineteenth century.
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