Anna Julia Cooper: Radical Relationality and the Ethics of Interdependence

Carol W. White, cwhite


In her range of activities as orator, scholar, community activist, and educator, Anna Julia Cooper addressed problematic gendered, racialized, and class power dynamics in various institutions. With

a proto-feminist politics based in intersectional analysis, Cooper sought a readjustment of relationships among all Americans that would ensure the dignity and worth of each individual. This chapter offers a close reading of her corpus, where Cooper consistently identified principles that advanced nuanced approaches to justice, freedom, and equality. It features Cooper’s mature intellectual vision of a transformed America, as well as viable ways of achieving its transformation. Advancing this view, the chapter builds on a core theme across Cooper’s work—her politics of radical relationality—in which the fate of each individual (or the one) is inextricably connected to all (or the many). Central to this vision is Cooper’s conception of humanity, often described in naturalistic, evolutionary terms, which she used to challenge racial, gender, and class injustices of her day. She also appealed to a communal ontology in her view of humanity in order to assert the inherent worth and value of African Americans and other marginalized groups in North America at a time when their humanity was questioned or ignored.