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Beyond RespectabilityThe Intellectual Thought of Race Women$
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Brittney C. Cooper

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780252040993

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252040993.001.0001

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The Problems and Possibilities of the Negro Woman Intellectual

The Problems and Possibilities of the Negro Woman Intellectual

(p.115) Chapter 4 The Problems and Possibilities of the Negro Woman Intellectual
Beyond Respectability

Brittney C. Cooper

University of Illinois Press

This chapter returns to the question of what it means to be a Black woman intellectual by interrogating the claims in an article in Ebony Magazine in 1966 called “Problems of the Negro Woman Intellectual.” Given the ferment of racial crises in the 1960s, this chapter argues that much like the transitional period of the 1890s, the transition from Civil Rights to Black Power was marked by a tension over the roles that Black women would play, not only as political activists, but as intellectual leaders. Thus Harold Cruse’s Crisis of the Negro Intellectual erased a long and significant history of Black women’s intellectual labor in order to sustain his narrative of racial crisis. What really seems to be in crisis are the terms of Black masculinity. Cooper reads Toni Cade Bambara’s book of essays The Black Woman as a critical corrective to Cruse’s assertions because The Black Woman presses the case for Black women’s centrality as thought leaders and public intellectuals in racial justice struggles, and Bambara and her comrades approach the same political moment as an opportunity for creativity around the articulation of new modes of what she terms “Blackhood” rather than embracing the narrative of crisis. This chapter makes clear that the struggle to be known and to have the range of Black women’s experiences properly articulated in the public sphere is a recurring struggle for Black women thinkers. At the same time, these women engage in a range of creative practices to make Black women’s lives legible in public discourse.

Keywords:   Toni Cade Bambara, negro women intellectual, Civil Rights, Black Power, public intellectualism, blackhood

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