“I started growing my hair out in 2008. I pick it out every morning and made extra-sure it looked good for the show. It’s what protects my brain.”
It's not so much that Mr. Cooper is black, it's that he's apologetically who he is. And part of who he is is a bright man of color in an area famous for its race issues.
I would love to know what tee shirt he is wearing underneath--a peek of purple lettering protrudes from where the other contestants wear a tie.
His final answer gives us a reason to gawk--it's brilliant, and it's funny. He's poking fun at all of us, which makes him safe again.
We like "safe," especially in our young, black brilliant youth who wear Afros and sneakers.
Why do we react as we do?
Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated. ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I do not know Leonard Cooper. I reacted to him anyway. So, apparently, did millions of others.
I have many children in my class who are similar--bright, engaging, with an edge of fearlessness that does not usually work well in institutionalized settings.
Leonard Cooper, whoever he is, reduced the separation between what we see and what we carry internally. We risk reducing him to a caricature, and indeed, his features, emphasized by his Afro, add to the dissonance that makes this vignette work.
I bet that's no accident. In a brief Daily News article, Cooper's hair gets more notice than his intelligence.
I learned about Leonard Cooper through an acquaintance of mine, another older white male with a different worldview than mine. He sent it out on G+ to poke folks, as he will:
A fairly interesting thing happened today. Several years ago, a perfectly competent black man was the superintendent of public schools here in Little Rock. Everyone seemed to agree he was doing a good job. However, he was not playing nice with the unions, the school boards, or the race-hustling plaintiffs lawyers who had been bleeding this school district dry for years and years....This is the story we tell ourselves. But it's not exactly true.
Today, on Teen Jeopardy! One of his students won the entire tournament along with $75,000.
The "perfectly competent black man" Roy Brooks was not supported by all on the board. He was chosen over another man, in a vote divided along racial lines, and not the way you might think.
Have you ever heard anyone chat up "a perfectly competent white man"?
Didn't think so....