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In chapter 7 of her 2008 book, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route, Saidiya Hartman writes, “I too am trying to save the girl, not from death or sickness or a tyrant but from oblivion. [...] These words are the only defense of her existence, the only barrier against her disappearance” (Hartman 2008: 137-38). Hartman’s project in Lose Your Mother is a search for a life beyond the archive; it is a search for a living narrative, written on, in, and by the body—an act of re-membering. The same sentiment is echoed in Brittney C. Cooper’s Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women. Cooper offers a sympathetic rejoinder to Hartman’s investigation of what it means to be the contemporaries of the enslaved, and what it means to theorize: to produce a living history by a loving engagement in, with, and through the body. Cooper’s approach is to utilize the practice of listing. Listing is the “intentional calling of names [that] create[s] an intellectual genealogy for race women’s work and was a practice of resistance against intellectual erasure” (26).
Beyond Respectability engages with some key thinkers in early Black feminist thought: Anna Julia Cooper, Fannie Barrier Williams, Mary Church Terrell, and Pauli Murray. In this review, I briefly summarize the key theories described in the book. I conclude by arguing that Cooper’s reading is limited when it comes to reading Pauli Murray as a “race woman.”
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