Brittany Cooper talks ratchet at UConn

Dr. Brittney Cooper from Rutgers University spoke on Wednesday, October 19, 2016 about "Dis-Respectability: Toward a Ratchet Black Woman" in the Student Union Theater at UConn. (Yuwei Zhao/The Daily Campus)

Dr. Brittney Cooper from Rutgers University spoke on Wednesday, October 19, 2016 about "Dis-Respectability: Toward a Ratchet Black Woman" in the Student Union Theater at UConn. (Yuwei Zhao/The Daily Campus)

Brittney Cooper taught the audience the real definition of “ratchet” in the Student Union Theater on Wednesday night.

Cooper is a black feminist theorist and assistant professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers University.

She is originally from the South, where she learned the term “ratchet,” which is not the ghetto synonym that many believe it to be, she said.

“Ratchet” refers to a range of African acts to support or oppose something; including doing excess or the most one can do until something breaks down.

Cooper discussed “ratchet” as a way to support dis-respectability politics. This idea opposes respectability politics, which ask black people to regulate themselves and behave or look certain ways in order to be treated well, she said.

Respectability politics emerged after the end of reconstruction. Black people felt that they needed to fit into certain norms in order to prove to white people that they were human, Cooper said.

Respectability is a way for black people to fit into our society, she said. Cooper said that Rachel Jeantel, who spoke about what happened to Trayvon Martin in court, was not taken seriously due to her appearance as an overweight black woman with a speech impediment who was reluctant to be in the courtroom. She did not follow the respectability quota, Cooper said.

Black people were disappointed by the way Jeantel represented the black community.

“Rachel was cast as a racial failure,” Cooper said.

Cooper stressed that one cannot buy into the respectability politics.

Dis-respectability politics are effective when they are carried out through acts of “ratchet radicalism” and “ratchet formation,” Cooper said.

An example of “ratchet radicalism” was when black women stood topless in San Francisco to raise awareness of black vulnerability in May 2015, according to Cooper. It was ratchet because it was extravagant and unexpected.

Cooper noted several times during her talk that Beyonce plays an active role in feminism and dis-respectability. Much of this is obvious in her lyrics and music videos, Cooper said.


Sarah Maddox is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at sarah.maddox@uconn.edu.