Anna J. Cooper – A Voice from the South
In her book, A Voice from the South, Anna J. Cooper expressly addresses two issues: the participation of women in American society and America’s race problem. These are two issues very close to Cooper as an African American woman herself and she claims to speak for all African American women on these points. She argues that for America to be a truly democratic country that has freedoms for all people, it must have participation by women and blacks.
The first half of her book is concerned with the role of women in society. She compares a healthy family structure to a democratic society. In both cases, men and women have distinct roles they must fulfill in order to create a balanced, healthy environment. Since political participation for women was limited at the time of Cooper’s writing, she argued that not only were women suffering, but so was all of society. She argued that women’s sensitivity to emotion and intuition and their nurturing nature would balance out society that was controlled by aggressive and reason-oriented men. She argues that men and women are equals but their responsibilities to society are distinctive.
In the second half of her book, Cooper addresses America’s race problem. She argues that, yes, there is a problem concerning race in America and the only way that it will eventually be solved is by the power and grace of God. Until He intervenes, Americans must stand ready and be prepared to go to battle with racism. She argues that racism is un-Christian in practice although it may be justified by certain ideologies. The only measure of Christianity however, is the activities people engage in, not their prayers, hymns, or Sunday services.
This approach to Christianity differs from previous writers in this course (although it bears some resemblance to Douglass) because Cooper relies less on biblical passage to prove her point than she does on history, logic, and Christianity as exemplified by practice. This lack of scripture may weaken her argument for some critics but it is consistent with what she is arguing. I find her call for Americans to stand ready in the fight against racism a little ambivalent but I think she envisions actively asserting God’s displeasure with racism rather than standing around and literally waiting.
What I found most intriguing and problematic with this work was Cooper’s theory on the role of women in society. I think she is envisioning women as a political caucus who vote similarly on issues because of their shared experiences of being women. Perhaps this was accurate to a certain extent when women were first granted the vote, but I think this burden of representation that she is putting on women is unfair and poor reasoning. I don’t think that women should vote because they’re women, but they should vote because they’re people. Cooper lived to the 1960s and the second wave of feminism and I would be very interested to know her thoughts on the idea that women should not be limited by biology and can do anything that men can do. I suspect that she would have problems with women in the armed services, fighting fires, or making important business decisions and I wonder how she felt as her progressive ideas of the 1890s became hopelessly old fashioned in the 1960s.