bell hooks changed the way we think about black femininity, class and capitalism

“I choose to reappropriate the term ‘feminism’, to focus on the fact that being ‘feminist’ in the authentic sense of the term is wanting for all, women and men, the liberation of sexist role models, domination, and oppression.

– bell hooks in “Ain’t IA Woman: Black Women and Feminism”, 1981

THE world lost a forward thinking thinker and feminist last week. Professor and social activist Gloria Jean Watkins, better known by her pen name, has died aged 69. She leaves behind a legacy of work that has challenged the status quo thinking about gender roles, black femininity, class and capitalism.

His family released a statement that the Hooks died Wednesday in Berea, Ky. The iconic educator was born in Hopkinsville, Ky. To a working class African American family. She was one of six children born to Rosa Bell and Veodis Watkins.

Her father worked as a janitor while her mother was a maid in white family homes. hooks would complete her doctorate in English at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1987 with a dissertation on another prolific black author, Toni Morrison.

Even before completing his doctorate, Hooks was creating work that challenged oppression in the late 1970s. His collection of poetry, And There Wept, came out in 1978, with his first published book, Ain’t I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism, debuted in 1981. The author took the name Bell Hooks in homage to her maternal great-grandmother. She explained that the deliberate use of lower case letters was a symbolic choice to decenter the author and put more emphasis on the work. She was quoted as saying that importance should be given to “the substance of the books, not who I am.”

In 1992, Publishers Weekly correctly named Ain’t I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism, one of the 20 most influential women’s books of the past two decades. In the book, Hooks examines the effects of racism and sexism on black women, the civil rights movement, and feminist suffrage movements in the 1970s.

She argued that the combination of racism and sexism during slavery contributed to black women having the lowest status and the worst conditions of all groups in American society.

This approach of examining intersectionality – the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class and gender as they apply to a given individual or group – would become a central focus in the extensive bibliography of hooks.

In 2014, she founded the Bell Hooks Institute at Berea College in Kentucky. hooks was an advocate for prioritizing communication and literacy (the ability to read, write and think critically), as she felt that without these skills within the feminist movement, people might not come to recognize gender inequality in society.

The author and educator has also made headlines for her refusal to remain silent in the face of injustice even when it ruffles the feathers. In 2002, Hooks gave a keynote address at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, in which she sparked controversy over the topic she decided to speak on. In her speech, she criticized “every imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist and patriarchal nation on the planet” for teaching citizens “to care more about tomorrow than today”. She also addressed the students in the audience who could have spent their college years “engaging in the core violence of self-betrayal – getting along to get along, following the crowd, [and] compliant.

Instead of an over-exaggerated American exceptionalism discourse often shoveled at graduates ready to join a workforce where their work will be exploited (unless they are children of the rich), Hooks decided to focus on the many ills in society, such as government sanctioned violence and oppression. She took backlash and criticism for her choice to do so, but it spoke to the mind of a woman who knew that tackling injustice is not always easy or practical, but always necessary.

Like her contemporaries, such as Angela Davis, Elaine Brown and the late Audre Lorde, Hooks has spent much of her life and career shaping intersectional analysis while giving voice to the struggles of black women. It was crucial work when it started in the late 1970s, and it still is today.

When Hooks began his journey in activism, it was during what is known as the second wave of the feminist movement. Meanwhile, women were fighting for things like the right to abortion and access to contraceptives that increased women’s control over their bodies.

Although much progress has been made since then, we still find ourselves fighting for these rights today. That’s because we live in an age where a woman’s right to choose is still under threat, as states like Texas aim to strategically eliminate Roe v Wade. Fortunately, we have the work of the hooks as a vital resource in recognizing the oppressive sexism we still live under.

This can also be said for the struggle of black women in particular. Great strides have been made, but much remains to be done to empower such a crucial group for the betterment of society as a whole. Black women are still undervalued and criminalized in a system of sexism and racism. Great educators like Hooks are part of a legacy that charts the way forward.

There is much to do, but we can take comfort in the fact that we are not fighting these battles blindly. It’s because someone like Bell Hooks has existed and leaves behind a body of work that society can learn from and learn from.

She was not only talking about the problems of the present, but also about the hope for the future. The author said it best in his book Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations, published in 2012: “The function of art is to do more than to say it as it is, it is to imagine it. which is possible ”.

We know what’s possible for tomorrow, thanks to the bell hook work Gloria Jean Watkins left us today. Let her rest in power.

This article appeared in people’s world.


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