In 1892, Anna Julia Haywood Cooper posed a series of peculiar but thoughtprovoking questions in a collection of essays entitled A Voice from the South: “What are we worth?…what do we represent to the world? What is our market value? Are we a positive and additive quantity or a negative factor in the world’s elements?” (1988:233). With a highly methodical practicality, this black feminist “casts up” and “carefully overhauls” the account of blacks (229). While valuable black resources and raw materials are wasted owing to pervasive antiblack racism, classism, and sexism, Cooper concludes optimistically that no amount of blackphobia can mitigate individual and collective black contributions to “those things the world prizes,” nor deny the aggregate worth of blacks as a race. “What are we worth?” recommends industriousness, black philanthropy, education, and other socioeconomic strategies of resistance as a means through which to change the value of blacks to the world (284-5). And while Cooper, in her practicality, resists “brooding” and “orating” over the black problem, her riveting cognizance of the blacks’ situation compels us to examine further the existential worth of blacks. Troubling from a philosophically humanist perspective, a sentiment Cooper concedes but readily dispenses with, her insightful query opens the floodgates for the contemplation of black existence in the midst of racialized cultural and
economic domination. To ask blacks what they are worth is in fact to ask them to justify their presence, their continued existence. The existential reality is that blacks are still fundamentally worth less in the world economy because of their blackness. Indeed, they are the antithesis of values and value, a not fully human presence-as-absence dispossessed of inalienable rights. As Frantz Fanon observes in his discussion of the “wretchedness” of the colonized, the Arabs, the blacks:
The natives represent not only the absence of values but also the negation of values…they are the corrosive element, destroying all that comes near them; they are the deforming element, disfiguring all that has to do with beauty and morality; they are the depository of maleficent powers and the unconscious and irretrievable instrument of blind forces.