Brittney Cooper

America's 'Prince' Problem: How Black People - and Art - Became 'Devalued'

Near the end of the 2015 Grammy Awards, musical icon Prince presented the Grammy for Best Album, with this preamble: “Albums still matter. Like books and Black lives, albums still matter.” In just over ten words, Prince reminded us that the Black Lives Matter movement that captured our attention in the last five months of 2014 is having the necessary consequence of sparking a new chapter in our national artistic imagination. A long-held tenet of our liberal American credo is that art is integral to politics.

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America’s Real Racial Double Standard: How the Law (and White People) Turn “Race-Neutral” Into “Pro-White”

In 2011, high school senior Taylor Bell, a local rapper in Itawamba County, Mississippi, made a song in support of several female classmates who claimed they had been inappropriately touched and subjected to harassing comments by two male coaches. In Bell’s song, he rapped: “Looking down girls’ shirts / drool running down your mouth / Going to get a pistol down your mouth.” For these remarks, school officials accused Bell of harassment and intimidation. He was suspended and sent to another school. In the next few weeks, the Supreme Court will decide whether to hear the case of Bell v. Itawamba County School Board.

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The Big Father Figure Lie: Race, the Kardashians and the Latest War on Black Moms

Cosmopolitan magazine has declared the Kardashians America’s new first family. Certainly, this symbolic dethroning of the Obamas is shot through with every kind of upsetting racial implication, a point Black Twitter has been swift to point out. Apparently now that the official first family is African-American, achievement of a nuclear family is no longer a mainstream cultural aspiration. While Black families continue to labor under the burden of being exceptionally normal like the Obamas or escaping the supposedly normal “pathology” of the non-nuclear Black family, Cosmopolitan is now giving white Americans an opportunity to visually revel in and experiment with embracing a white female-centered family structure. The cover image for Cosmopolitan’s November issue features America’s new chosen “first family” consisting of six white women, including Kris Jenner and her five daughters, three by her first husband, and two by her former husband Bruce Jenner, who has now transitioned into Caitlyn Jenner.

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Matt Damon’s Staggering Meritocracy Lie: What His 'Project Greenlight' Blow-Up with Effie Brown Really Shows

The uncomfortable exchange that occurred between Matt Damon and movie producer Effie Brown on the season four premiere of HBO’s “Project Greenlight” is indicative of everything that is wrong with current cultural understandings of diversity. The incident went like so: When challenged about her preference for a directing team composed of a Vietnamese man and a white woman, Brown (a respected producer in her own right) defended her choice by asking her white colleagues to consider the optics of a room full of white people choosing a white male director to make a film about a Black female prostitute.

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The Vengeful God of Kim Davis: The Powerful Forces We Ignore When We Fixate on One Kentucky Clerk

I used to be a conservative evangelical Christian. As a teenager, I was obsessed with remaining a virgin until marriage, appalled at the choices of a couple of my friends who needed to terminate teen pregnancies, and obsessed with my “sins” and everyone else’s. So I understand the thinking that informs the asinine and misguided show of (un)righteous indignation that is Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis’ refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

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The Psychological Warfare Being Waged Against Black Lives Matter

Earlier this week, just before bed, an old high school debate teammate, a white man that I once loved affectionately as a younger brother, posted on my Facebook wall, “Do you have sympathy on police officers who are killed on duty?” Though we have been Facebook friends for a number of years, it has also been literal years since our last significant interaction via the site. This was a curious question that seemed forthrightly accusatory in its tone.

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The Ludicrous Reason These Black Women Were Thrown Off of a Train

Over the weekend, the Sistahs on the Reading Edge Book Club, composed of 10 Black women and one white woman, were kicked off the Napa Valley Wine Train for laughing and talking too loudly on their way to a vineyard tour. These women were enjoying themselves and participating in a wine tasting when several passengers began to complain about them being too loud. They admitted to talking loudly, but indicated that they were just having a good time, and were not being disrespectful.

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White America Needs to Wake Up: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders & the Unacknowledged Crimes of American Justice

When Hillary Clinton met with the members of Black Lives Matter chapters in Massachusetts last week, they were very interested in hearing her speak about her personal transformation on race. In a later CNN interview, Daunasia Yancey and Julius Jones, BLM leaders who participated in the meeting, indicated that they needed to hear her personal narrative in order to trust her. They began talking to Clinton about what the movement “needs to do to change white hearts,” but she replied, “I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way that systems operate.”

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Ferguson’s Dark, Twisted Lesson: What Police Crackdowns & 'Oath Keepers' Reveal on the Anniversary of a Tragedy

On Friday, the 363rd day after the killing of Michael Brown, Jr., I visited his memorial in the Canfield neighborhood of Ferguson, Mo., where his bullet-riddled body lay for four and a half hours last August 9. Having spent the day speaking at and in participating in a conference at a local church about the role of scholarship and the church in the Movement for Black Lives, I had not readied myself to encounter Canfield for the second time. But as my comrades and I got out of the car, and peered a few feet away at Mike Brown’s memorial, lined with teddy bears and marked on either end by two orange traffic cones, the devastation settled into my stomach yet again. The tears started dripping faster than I could catch them.

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The Hideous Truth About Donald Trump: Why the 'Trump Surge' Is Here to stay - Even If His Campaign Isn’t

Donald Trump’s formidable lead among Republican contenders for the presidency suggests that good political common sense is officially in short supply. My statement does not lack for hyperbole, but it is entirely commensurate with the alarming cultural farce that is a Trump campaign for president. Nothing makes clearer the kind of social hysteria and lack of reason driving politics on the right these days than widespread support for Donald Trump, a candidate who up until now has provided endless entertainment of the slightly racist uncle who vocalizes outmoded views at the dinner table variety. Such characters usually exasperate us and they may even manage to make us laugh, but no one takes such figures seriously.

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“If I Die in Police Custody”: Why Sandra Bland’s Death Is Just the Latest Evidence that Black America Is Under Attack

No one should end up dead after receiving a citation for failure to properly signal a lane change. However, this is exactly what has happened to 28-year-old Sandra Bland, a resident of Illinois who was pulled over in Waller County, Texas, two Fridays ago, where she was traveling to take a new job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University. According to police, after she refused an officer’s instructions to stop smoking a cigarette, she was ordered out of the car, accused of assaulting an officer, and then wrestled to the ground. The video of the arrest only shows an officer’s knees in her back, and her yelling that he had hurt her arm and slammed her head into the ground. She was taken to jail, arraigned, given a $5,000 bond, which she made arrangements with her older sister to pay, and set for release on Monday morning. Instead, she was found dead of an alleged suicide, having supposedly hanged herself with a plastic bag.

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Why Serena Williams Is So Important

On Saturday morning when I dragged myself out of bed to watch Serena Williams compete for her 21st Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, I sent my mother a simple text: “Tennis?” More than a thousand miles away and one time zone behind, Mama texted back, “Yes!”

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Black America’s Bill Cosby Nightmare

This week, a judge ordered that depositions given by Bill Cosby in a 2005 lawsuit be unsealed. Those depositions reveal that the actor/comedian admitted to drugging women as a prelude to raping them. Given more than three dozen accusations from Cosby’s victims dating back to the 1960s, his confession merely confirms what we already know – America’s favorite TV dad is a heartless predator who used his power and prestige to prey on women for the better part of the 20th century.

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Why America’s Emblems of Hate Matter - and Their Disappearance Should Be Celebrated

When I was sixteen years old, my high school debate partner and I found ourselves in an Effingham, Illinois, convenience store, very late one night, buying a pack of Confederate flag stickers to decorate our debate file boxes. Stopped there on a long road trip, we were taken aback that those reviled flags, prominently on display in this rural Illinois town, had followed us out of the South. File boxes were statement pieces that boasted all kinds of bumper stickers, restaurant coasters, bottle tops, and any other kinds of adornment debater-nerd types were inclined to use to prove their cool. Hyper aware of how uncommon teams of Black debaters were, we figured that a couple of Black girls from the South rolling around tournaments with the Confederate Flag prominently displayed were sure to raise eyebrows.

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America's War on Black Girls: Why McKinney Police Violence Isn’t About 'One Bad Apple'

In just over two months, we will commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a natural disaster that ravaged communities along the Gulf Coast. This tragedy was made infinitely worse not only by decades of governmental neglect and far-ranging poverty, but also by the fact that so many Black people could not swim.

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Segregationists Never Went Away: We Just Call Them “Small-Government Conservatives” Now

The continuing decline of public sector jobs at local, state, and federal levels is having an abysmal economic impact on African Americans, for whom steady, stable government employment opportunities have provided a sure path into the middle class. The New York Times reported yesterday that “roughly one in five black adults works for the government, teaching school, delivering mail, driving buses, processing criminal justice and managing large staffs.” Because Black people hold a disproportionate number of government jobs, cutbacks that affect everyone hit Black communities even harder.

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White America’s Waco Insanity: The Shocking Realities it Ignores About Racism & Violence

Malcolm X, the famed Civil Rights leader and minister of the Nation of Islam, would have turned 90 years old this week. While America annually marks the significance of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is only in Black communities nationally, and locally in Harlem, that we mark and celebrate the birth of King’s most formidable racial adversary. Undoubtedly this has something to do with the very forthright and unflinching manner in which Malcolm X talked about race in the 1960s. El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, as Malcolm X was otherwise known, did not have any hope that white people could or would change when it came to race. Although King was far less optimistic at the end of his life about the capacity of white people to change, too, he still has the March on Washington speech, which represented the zenith of his racial optimism.

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America's Disgusting, Boundless Hatred for Poor People

Conservative disdain for the poor has reached new heights with the recent passage of the HOPE Act in Kansas earlier this month. This bill, signed into law by Governor Sam Brownback, prohibits those who receive TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) from using funds to go to movies, to go swimming, to go to theme parks, to gamble, to visit strip clubs or bars.

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Blood Money, Killer Cops: How Privatization Is Funding the Racist Logic of America’s Police

On April 2 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a sheriff’s deputy named Robert Bates shot and killed Eric Harris, a man fleeing a crime scene where he was about to be captured for selling illegal weapons. Bates, a reserve deputy who is allowed to work on cases because he is a big donor to the sheriff’s office, was charged this week with second-degree manslaughter, after claiming that he meant to reach for a taser and not a gun.

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Black Death Has Become a Cultural Spectacle: Why the Walter Scott Tragedy Won’t Change White America’s Mind

The most recent coldblooded police slaughter of an unarmed Black man is not the story of “one bad apple.” I refuse to narrate this story as another “isolated incident.”

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America Is Criminalizing Black Teachers: Atlanta’s Cheating Scandal and the Racist Underbelly of Education Reform

Last week, an Atlanta jury convicted 11 teachers and school administrators of racketeering in a system-wide cheating scandal. Yes, you read that correctly. Teachers and administrators inflating student scores on standardized tests is now considered “organized crime” in this country, and is punishable by more 20 years in prison, in these cases.

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The Right’s Made-Up God: How Bigots Invented a White Supremacist Jesus

Just in time for Holy Week, the State of Indiana has passed a new Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The law explicitly permits for-profit corporations from practicing the “free exercise of religion” and it allows them to use the “exercise of religion” as a defense against any lawsuits whether from the government or from private entities. The primary narrative against this law has been about the potential ways that small businesses owned by Christians could invoke it as a defense against having to, for instance, sell flowers to a gay couple for their wedding.

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Why Does Our Culture Sexualize Young Black Girls?

Mo’ne Davis is a Black girl wunderkind. At age 13, she has pitched a shutout at the Little League World Series, becoming the first girl ever to do so, and she has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Disney is now planning to do a movie about her called, “Throw Like Mo.”

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Clueless White People Are Not the Only Ones Screwing Up on Race

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in local protests in Madison, Wisconsin, over the killing of Tony Robinson, a 19-year-old unarmed Black teenager killed by a police officer. It was an unusually warm early March day in the city, which encouraged several hundred people and many media outlets to show up for the protests. Despite my fatigue at yet another killing of an unarmed Black youth, I took heart in the sincere rage and unapologetic stance of the people. Their presence at the protests proved wrong all those naysayers who hoped that the burning embers of the Black Lives Matter movement would be extinguished in the harsh cold of winter.

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'It’s the Blackness That Scares Everybody': Why White People Favor 'African Americans'

A new study from professor Erika Hall of Emory University’s Goizueta Business School suggests that white people have a far more negative view of the term “black” than they do of the term “African American.” For instance, study participants routinely concluded that a person had a higher level of education and job status, if that person was referred to as African American rather than Black.  

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Dear Patricia Arquette: Here's What Your Oscar Speech Failed to Mention

Black women have a long history of advocating for fair wages and access to decent employment opportunities for African-American communities. In her recent remarks at the Academy Awards championing the fight against wage inequality, Patricia Arquette seemed wholly unaware of these histories, elaborating backstage that it was now time for all other groups to fight for white women, because they had fought for everybody else.

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Maureen Dowd's Clueless White Gaze: What's Really Behind the 'Selma' Backlash

New York Times critic Maureen Dowd saw “Selma” last week “in a theater of full of black teenagers.” Her ethnographic impressions of the “stunned” emotional responses that these D.C. teenagers had to seeing four little girls blown up in an Alabama church basement and watching civil rights leaders viciously clubbed during a march in Selma reek of the kind of voyeuristic and clueless white gaze often used to devalue and pathologize urban youth.  They become fascinating objects of study to those who don’t get to spend a lot of time with them.

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Why Is Hollywood So Politically Tone Deaf?

Race and gender politics at this year’s Golden Globes took an unexpected range of twists and turns. First, hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler shamelessly mocked the many rape allegations against Bill Cosby. Given that there has been a significant strain of public resistance among some African Americans to the racial politics of a group of white women dethroning a powerful black man through the accusation of rape, Fey and Poehler’s bit was ballsy, to be sure. But the reality is that Cosby most probably did drug and/or assault many women, white and black. And in the absence of a day in court, he, at the very least, deserves our highest ridicule. 

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How Fox News and Tucker Carlson Distort 'White Privilege'

If we hope in 2015 to make any changes that will shift the dismal trajectory of our national record on race, perhaps we should begin by clarifying a definition of racism that is not so utterly elementary and reactionary as that which Tucker Carlson offered recently on “Fox and Friends.” Tucker Carlson defines white privilege as “attacking people based on their skin color.” He further says, “That’s not moral. It’s wrong. And it shouldn’t be allowed.” That racism is immoral and wrong is a fact on which we can agree.

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Why Is America's Sense of Black Humanity So Skewed?

The failure of a St. Louis county grand jury to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael Brown, created a maelstrom of protests last week. In more than 137 cities and on college campuses around the country, including Rutgers University where I teach, protesters walked out of classes, marched with signs, linked hands to stop traffic on interstate highways and train routes, staged a massive “die-in” to shut down the Galleria Mall in St. Louis, and chose to boycott Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the biggest shopping days of the year. On Sunday, five players for the St. Louis Rams entered the field with their hands up, a silent and peaceful protest in solidarity with Michael Brown’s final act as he attempted to save his own life.

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I am Utterly Undone: My Struggle With Black Rage and Fear After Ferguson

If I have to begin by convincing you that Black Lives Matter, we have all already lost, haven’t we? So let’s not begin there. Let’s begin at the end. At the end there is only Michael Brown Jr.’s dead body, no justice, and weeping and gnashing of teeth.

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