Reflecting on the legacy of bell hooks

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Writer and cultural critic bell hooks poses for a portrait on December 16, 1996 in New York Metropolis, New York. Karjean Levine/Getty Photos cover caption

Writer and cultural critic bell hooks poses for a portrait on December 16, 1996 in New York Metropolis, New York.

« We black girls who advocate feminist ideology, are pioneers. We’re clearing a path for ourselves and our sisters. We hope that as they see us attain our objective – not victimized, not unrecognized, not afraid – they are going to take braveness and comply with. »

bell hooks, Ain’t I a Lady

There are well-worn bell hooks books scattered all through my library. She’s in practically each part – race, class, movie, cultural research – and, as anticipated, her books take up a whole shelf within the feminism part. I doubt I’d have survived this lengthy with out her work, and the work of different Black feminist thinkers of her technology, to information me. I’ve retrieved each bell hooks guide right this moment, and the unwieldy stack comforts me as I assess the impression of her loss.

In the event you ever heard hooks communicate, it might come as no shock that she first attended school to review drama, as she recounted in a 1992 essay. Within the Nineties she blessed my school campus for per week, and I used to be mesmerized by lectures that have been deliciously sensible but stuffed with humor. Her banter with the viewers in the course of the Q&A floated simply between considerate solutions, deep questioning and sly quips that saved us at rapt consideration. Her phrases garner simply as a lot consideration on the web page. She was a prolific author, and her mental curiosity was boundless.

Discovering bell hooks modified the lives of numerous Black girls and women. After selecting up considered one of her many titles – Feminist Idea: From Margin to Heart; Craving: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics; Ain’t I a Lady: Black Girls and Feminism – the world all of a sudden made sense. She reordered the universe by boldly gifting us with the language and theories to grasp who we have been in an usually hostile and alienating society.

She additionally made clear that, as Black girls, we belonged to nobody however ourselves. A foul feminist from the beginning, hooks was clearly bored with being protected, respectable or acceptable, and charted a profession on her personal phrases. She implored us to transgress and wrestle, however to take action with love and fearlessness. Her courageous, daring and exquisite phrases not solely spoke reality to energy, but additionally risked talking that very same reality to and about our beloved icons and tradition.

As we traversed hostile areas in academia, company America, the humanities, drugs and generally our personal households, hooks not solely taught us the right way to love ourselves, but additionally insisted that we search justice. She helped us to raised perceive and, if essential, forgive the ladies who birthed and raised us. She claimed feminism with out apology, and inspired Black girls specifically to embrace feminism, and to do greater than merely establish their oppression, however to ascertain new methods of being on the earth. She known as on us to honor early pioneers corresponding to Anna Julia Cooper and Mary Church Terrell, who first claimed the mantle of ladies’s rights.

The lower-case identify bell hooks revealed beneath challenged a system of educational writing that traditionally belittled and ignored the work of Black students. She additionally used language that was as plain and as clear as her politics. Whereas her writing was deeply private, usually carved from her personal experiences, her concepts have been relentlessly rigorous and stuffed with citations—although she eschewed footnotes, one other refusal of the academy’s requirements that endeared her to these of us decided to remake mental traditions that denied our very humanity.

Rejecting footnotes appeared to represent the truth that the information hooks most valued couldn’t match into these tiny areas. Her writing model hinted at the truth that her concepts have been at all times extra expansive than even her books may maintain. Whereas there have been no footnotes, her books have been love notes to a individuals she cherished fiercely.

Irrespective of the place she taught or lived, bell hooks at all times saved Kentucky and her household ties shut. She regularly claimed her southern Black working-class background and an abiding love for her dwelling. Though she was educated at prestigious faculties, she at all times spoke with the knowledge and wit of our moms, grandmothers and aunties. Her return to the Bluegrass State and Berea School in direction of the top of her profession has a story class. A technology of feminists has misplaced a foundational determine and a beloved icon, however her legacy lives on in her writing, which can present sustenance for generations to return.

Lisa B. Thompson is a playwright and the Bobby and Sherri Patton Professor of African & African Diaspora Research on the College of Texas at Austin. Observe her @drlisabthompson on Twitter and Instagram.

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