Winter Review – The Works of bell hooks

I’ve been listening to the work of Black, feminist writer *bell hooks on audio books. I listened to “Sisters of the Yam”, “Feminism is for Everybody” and “Ain’t I a Woman, Black Women and Feminism”. I don’t remember the interaction but someone on social media recommended that I read Black feminist theory after I stated that I am not a feminist. I took the advice and my stance hasn’t changed. I appreciate some of bell hooks’ work and ideas but I reject significant parts of her theories. Ultimately I don’t think her beliefs are beneficial to Black Americans if someone follows Ms. hooks’ teachings religiously. And many follow bell hooks religiously. Ms. hooks states in one of her books that she had admirers that say her books are their Bible. That’s very unfortunate.

bell hooks is the godmother of social media. Her thoughts, ideas and wording have been repeated on social media for over a decade. bell hooks is often copied without being credited and cited. I’m unsure if this is intentional. She used the phrase Black women are seen as mules. She uses the word bodies often, as in “Black bodies”. She talks about Black women being unprotected. All of these expressions are common among social media users that like to discuss liberal women’s issues. At this point social media pundits are likely repeating other social media accounts. There isn’t much originality on social media. People simply post what they think will go viral or get pushed through the algorithm.

I certainly think it’s a worthwhile academic pursuit to study Black women in America. I appreciate Ms. hooks’ scholarship on Black women and our place and image in society. bell hooks notes in her work that the Black Civil Rights movements focused on freedom for Black men. I think that is debatable but hooks uses the fact that Black men were offered suffrage before women of any race. hooks also states that White women are the focus of the feminist movement. I agree with that and that’s one reason I don’t subscribe to the belief system. Studies about Black women in America can be enlightening and beneficial.

hooks made note that Black women have always worked in America. Professional opportunities that feminism created were given to White women. hooks also states that the professional opportunities that were offered to White women kept Black men out of high paying professional opportunities. The Feminist movement conveniently came about on the heels of the Black Civil Rights movement that broke the boundaries that were set in place by segregation. Black Americans made a step forward due to the Civil Rights movement but the feminist movement was a step back, road block or detour. To me that sounds like Feminism is meaningless to Black Americans at best and destructive at worst. So why should any Black women call themselves a feminist?

bell hooks thinks the answer to advancement for Black Americans is communities that aren’t necessarily centered around nuclear families and non Christian spiritual paths. hooks encouraged Black women to explore new aged and Eastern religions because Christianity is a patriarchal religion that encourages traditional gender roles. As a believer in Christ I think both suggestions are detrimental. I think the institutions of Black families and Black Christian churches are the two entities that helped Black people advance in this country. The abolition movement, Underground Railroad and Civil Rights movements were all Christian faith based movements.

hooks thought of Christian teachings as anti female because it encourages male leadership and gender roles. She used the word patriarchal often. Ms. hooks sees patriarchy as a system in which women are dominated. She doesn’t see male leadership and provision as potentially beneficial for women. Bell didn’t seem to think relationships between men and women can be respectful, loving and enjoyable. bell hooks acknowledged that Black women suffered because they were/are unprotected but she sees male leadership and provision (patriarchy) as domination. It doesn’t make any sense.

bell hooks acknowledged in “Ain’t I a Woman, Black Women and Feminism” that it was a shock to the post Antebellum economy when Black families decided that Black women would devote more time to their families as opposed to labor outside of the home. I don’t know why she didn’t see the act of investing in Black children and families as rebellion, revolutionary and creating a foundation for economic advancement.

bell hooks describes herself as queer. bell hooks never married and did not have children. She revealed in an interview that she was celibate for seventeen years and she would love a partner. It’s hard to say if that influenced her opinions of nuclear families.

bell hooks didn’t seem to have much admiration or respect for Black Americans period. She doesn’t say anything about Black American contributions, perseverance and accomplishments despite what we’ve faced in the United States. Her view of Black American history is all a matter of being a victim despite new opportunities that become available with each generation. She has a similar view of being a woman within Black communities as if we have no agency and more opportunities than ever.

bell hooks died in December 2021 at age sixty nine due to kidney failure. bell hooks spoke a lot about history but not the present. I enjoy learning about Black American history. I think history paves the way for the current events but we have to acknowledge that we are further down the path of time.

bell hooks and her admirers act as if we have experienced the same circumstances as our grandmothers and those that came before them. I don’t feel like her work offers many realistic solutions to challenges that affect Black women in 2023. bell hooks and I don’t even agree with what the problems are.

bell hooks speaks of Black women and Black people through a lens of comparison and how we are viewed by White people and Black men. I also don’t see the purpose in making comparisons between Black women/people and others because we have a unique history in the US. The comparisons can’t be discussed without discussing the factors that made the circumstances so different. We know that we were/are viewed with a distorted, self serving lens and have lived under a different set of circumstances. I don’t think a personal ideology should take the opinions and actions of those that we agree are racist and have self serving biases. Centering the actions and opinions of your oppressors is the opposite of liberation.

I also take issue with bell hooks’ scholarship. She frequently makes statements like “Many Black women feel…”. Who are the women? How many? She doesn’t talk about her research and how she obtained her information or came to her conclusions. I don’t know if she surveyed Black women or if her information is anecdotal. bell hooks had a BA from Stanford and a PhD from the UC system. She knew better.

bell hooks’ had some interesting and valid things to say. She points out some injustices against Black women that tend to be over looked but her solutions to social problems undermine Black American history and culture. I don’t think that liberation is found in her ideology. hooks’ work is more of a hindrance and hasn’t yielded any positive results that I see. I think her work isolates Black men and women from each other and fans the flames of disrespect. Even if individuals forego participation in a nuclear family or regardless of who they may choose who to create a family with society can not function without respect between men and women.

There’s nothing wrong with Black individuals exploring ideology, spirituality, careers and relationships that aren’t traditionally Black. That’s a natural consequence of fewer societal boundaries and growing affluence. But there is no reason to disregard and or disrespect those that came before us. We’re standing on the foundation that our ancestors laid for us and it should be recognized; and we should continue to fortify the foundation through family values and Christian beliefs. I’m in favor of empower and opportunities for women but feminists never get it quite right.

*bell hooks chose not to capitalize her pen name because she wanted readers to focus on her work. Her given name is Gloria Jean Watkins. She was just being weird.

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