bell hooks Wasn’t Afraid to Burn It All Down and Begin Again

bell hooks was a radical feminist, a scholar and author who spent the ‘90s publishing about a book a year. A poet, mentor and professor she was an iconic figure whose impact is unmeasurable. When I was 19 and began talking back to hip-hop in my own essays and articles, I’d cite her again and again. My name was published in lowercase letters just like hers. When I wrote, I was determined to be decisive and ready for battle.

As a young Black woman, I considered myself to be part of her army. Her daughters are ready to integrate her writing and thought into their personal lives. Her debut Ain’t I A WomanShe was a guide to a liberation that didn’t just consider gender, but also focused on it. Like the Black feminist scholars who’d informed her, giants like Audre Lorde, bell was producing work that provided tools. Without questioning patriarchy, she refused to confront white supremacy. With rigor, she was able to go deep with her wit. Bulletproof arguments were made that moved us beyond mere rhetoric toward true freedom. She wrote about gender and class and race, but she also complicated theorists like Michel Foucault and Laura Mulvey when she wrote about the white and male and capitalist gaze, affirmed the way Black people practiced a kind of critical intervention when we “talked back” to their televisions, interrupting the bombardment and assault that Hollywood images transmitted into our very homes.
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As a poet, she followed the works of famous Black visual artists Kerry James Marshall and Renee Cox. This was back when they were still relatively unknown and in trouble. Their ability to create parallel universes through their art was a key to her belief in a form of liberation. “Using images, we connect ourselves to a recuperative, redemptive memory that enables us to construct radical identities, images of ourselves that transcends the limits of the colonizing eye,” she wrote.

1984 bell hooks
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She wrote entire books about Black love, inner life and healing. It was the work that most feminist scholars shy away from, as they might not be considered serious. But she knew we’d have to set cis normative, patriarchal norms on fire to begin the work of healing Black trauma. She didn’t hesitate to set it on fire. To get back on track.

About five years ago, I received a letter from Richie Reseda who’d been incarcerated in California prisons. He was in prison teaching bell hooks and having anti-patriarchy conversations with fellow prisoners. bell hooks’s radical and logical arguments were forcing them to interrogate a wider culture that had encouraged the very violence for which they were being punished for committing. Bell enjoyed learning more about the work.

Last week mutual friends began making their sojourn to bell hooks’s bedside at her home in Kentucky to pay tribute, to say goodbye. Beverly Guy Sheftall, the former president of Spelman College, was caring for her. At the age of 69, bell passed away Wednesday. Her belief in ancestral communication was a transcendental one. She died Wednesday at the age of 69.


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