BUI POSSIBILITIES: Why We Should Read Anna Julia Cooper
Representation is important. Virginia Woolf, in her thoughtful, sort of circular way, creates a world in which women and men exist on an equal plane – a world that can only exist when and if women are granted the same economic, educational, and domestic freedoms as men. The argument Woolf makes for equal representation, however, is limiting, as she speaks only for white, upper-middle class, novelist women with the desire to publish. I do not wish to denigrate Woolf’s writing, but we have to realize that the context in which she writes is not representative of all women. I do, however, have a solution to this problem: the Blount program should consider another (arguably more skilled) writer to include in their curriculum: Anna Julia Cooper.
First, it is important to note the literary successes of Virginia Woolf in Room of One’s Own. As a 19th century English woman, she introduces fairly new, arguably revolutionary ideas: to eliminate the “poverty of [the female] sex” (Woolf 21) through a proper liberal arts education, to secure meaningful work for women, and, most importantly, this idea that feminism is beneficial to both women and men. While British men quarrel over free will and determinism and other illustrious concepts and conversations limited to those properly and thoroughly educated, Woolf simply argues for a seat at the table.
But this trend transcends the white spaces in which Woolf wrote, and begged, for that seat at the table. While men like Booker T Washington and Dubois are placed at opposite ends of this table, arguing over the necessity of industrial education, and Dr. King and Malcolm X sit perpendicular to their predecessors, perceived falsely as antithetical, antagonistic beings, Black women simply argue for a seat of their own. Woolf proposes that we consider English women and their perspectives, and I agree. However, I also agree that, in discussing issues of race, we should include more Black women and their perspectives. It is true that the Blount curriculum features prolific Black female writers such as Harriet Jacobs and Toni Morrison. But, they exist in a sphere of their own, as we continue to let men argue without consideration of the woman – where are the Anna Julia Coopers in the discussion on Black education, and where are the Angela Davises in the discussion on Black revolution?
Cooper, in her Reconstruction-era argument for the higher education of women, parallels Woolf, in that she argues, similarly, for the domestic freedoms granted by a liberal arts education and against an oppressive system of menial work that prohibits intellectual and economic uplift. However, I would dare to say that Cooper’s argument is better. Unlike Woolf, Cooper is well-versed in history and is exceptionally talented in conveying the method in which she thinks. For example, she argues “that equilibrium, not repression among conflicting forces is the condition of natural harmony, of permanent progress, and of universal freedom” ("Anna J. Cooper (Anna Julia), 1858-1964. A Voice from the South." 160) citing conflicts in other nations and among other races and religions that took place beyond the bubble in which she exists. She continues to argue for the education of the woman by adopting a Marxist worldview, as she is aware that the plight of the woman is similar to the plight of the worker, and that struggles between genders mirror struggles between class. Cooper strives to create a world in which women resist societal norms; not one which “cries laissez faire and the lawyers explain, ‘it is the beautiful working of the law of supply and demand’” (Cooper 58). Not only does she employ the ideas of Marx, but Cooper, in her essay, unleashes an artillery of rhetorical and persuasive genius – her argument for feminist education is multifaceted, showing the inextricable ties between race and gender and class and religion through a variety of lenses, lenses that we read and write about in Blount.
I argue for the addition of Cooper’s work not simply because of her identity, but because of her ideas. Her essay, in its Marxist undertones, provides a much smoother transition from the discussion of economic theory to the discussion of voice, and, most importantly, it suggests that there may be a link between the two.