Bellhooks will forever be the underlying force of black feminist thought | Barbara Landsby

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Me I first met bellhooks at a feminist conference in the late 1980s. There, the meeting was overbooked, so I and many other graduate students slept on the floor of the hotel suite. For the next 30 years or more, we were colleagues, intellectual comrades, interlocutors, sometimes disagreeable, but shared mutual respect and solidarity. I miss her words and her presence in our lives.

A feminist writer, radical thinker and teacher, Bellhooks (aka Gloria Jan Watkins) died at his home in Berea, Kentucky, on Wednesday, December 15, at the age of 69. She was the daughter of working class parents born in the small town of Jim Crow South. She eventually went to Stanford University on a scholarship and worked as a telephone operator to cover other costs. Borrowing her pseudonym from her candid great-grandmother, Hook became one of the best feminist intellectuals and radical writers of her time. Her writings ranged from capitalism and imperialism to education, masculinity, beauty, and love. Her influence is enormous, and her death leaves a painful gap for those who knew and loved her. An overflow of respect and compliment is a testament to the breadth and depth of her work and heritage.

Hook was as prolific as she was provocative. She has written and co-authored more than 40 books, from children’s books to accessible theoretical texts. The title of her book tells a lot about her political message and her intellectual framework. In one of her most influential texts, Feminist Theory: Margin to Center (1984), she tells us everything, including holistic, democratic, anti-capitalist, and masculine. Challenge to embrace feminist politics, including gender. She rejects bourgeois white feminist writers who are rewriting other levels of power and domination in politics and practice. These messages are reinforced with her relevant text. feminism For everyone. Her work (Teaching to Transgress, Breaking Bread: Insurgent Intellectual Life (co-authored with Cornel West), Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work) all speaks of her love for books and ideas as a tool for fundamental social change. increase. “My writing is a form of activism,” she once told me.

Hook has always been a feminist, but she wasn’t a friendly feminist. She was a critic, a provocateur, and an interrogator. “Do we need to call all female sisters?” She wondered in an essay, sisterhood and feminism are not essentialist concepts of biology or collective identity, but politics and values, and Suggested that it was about a struggle. Instead of the more academic term “intersectionality,” Hook preferred to name “imperialist-white supremacist-capitalist-patriarchy” as an interlocking system that needed to be fought. rice field. There was power in naming the problem and she wasn’t shy about it. She is also shy about the criticisms of other women, from mainstream self-promotion scholars to popular pro-capitalist pop stars, when the politics and views of other women, including black women, disagree with her. did not.

Hook is a theorist, rigorous thinker, brave and eloquent writer, and his books are taught in university classrooms around the world. But what was most important to her was accessibility and relevance. She wanted her ideas to be diverse and attract a grassroots audience, and they did: from kitchen tables to reading clubs to prison yard. One of the strongest evidences of Hook’s influence and ability to reach people in unexpected places is the feminist research group initiated by a group of men imprisoned in the California prison system. Their project was featured in a 2018 documentary called Feminist in Cellblock Y. Their syllabus featured the writing of bellhooks. According to them, her words changed their lives.

Hook made so many people, so many levels, so many differences boundaries, because she told the serious truth and was defenseless and transparent about her life, pain and contradictions. I was able to touch beyond. “I was in an abusive relationship,” she confessed in an interview. In her writing, she openly talked about her difficult childhood and the father of a despot, sometimes protective and kind. She opened up about her own personal struggle, her anger and disappointment, her trauma and her fears, especially in later writings.

From time to time, theoretical writers distance themselves from the topics they are writing with false bloodless objectivity. Hook did the opposite. She cared, felt, and invited us to experience the world through her lens. For her, it all starts and ends with love. “The moment we begin to love, we begin to oppose domination,” she once wrote. But not everyone loved her when she told the truth to power. Hook told her truth wherever she went and wasn’t afraid of opposition. As a college graduation speaker in Texas, a year after the 9/11 attack and the start of George Bush’s so-called “war on terror,” Hook loudly condemned war, violence, and racism. I experienced a booing chorus from my parents and graduates. She was never accused of being a sunny radical. She took her black left-wing feminist politics with her wherever she went.

Hook had an unconventional career path, depending on his choice. She made her way, told her truth, and in the process caught the hearts of many. Social media tells her how her huge work changed her life, started her career as an activist, affirmed her values, and saved others from isolation and despair. In honor of. In addition to her fans and followers, she also had a handful of devoted lifelong friends.

The next touching memory of Hook was shared with my dear friend and her, Dr. Beverly Guy Chef Toll, a black feminist passmaker. I only know it now. We met at Spellman, Oberlin, New School and, of course, the University of Berea. We talked about books, politics, shopping, partners, the life we ​​created, the friends we shared, our dreams and disappointments. When I met her at her house in Berea on November 25th, I thought it might be the last. I always told her I would love her and her writing … “

She is the underlying force of black feminist thought and practice forever, and all that is trying to take us beyond paraphrasing hooks, imperialism, white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy. In the work of exercise. Dear sisters, rest in power, your work is done, and we are better for it.

  • Barbara Ransby is a historian, writer and activist. She is the author of the Ella Baker and Black Freedom Movement, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and directs the Social Justice Initiative.

Bellhooks will forever be the underlying force of black feminist thought | Barbara Landsby

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